It’s Black History Month!
Every time we circle around to this part of the year I feel a rush of excitement. And yet, there is also a kind of caution. Black people in the United States and elsewhere are continuously subject to a number of injustices. If the past few years have taught us anything, they have demonstrated how increased visibility does not lead to better conditions. Much of the allyship that has come out of the past few years has been performative. There are brief flares when people indicate that they are willing to change, only to settle back into the status quo, albeit slightly shifted.
What is a “good” person like?
This is not to say that everyone has been disingenuous in their actions. I also do not mean to imply that many people do not believe that they are sincere in their actions. That said, breaking out of one’s comfort zone is difficult. I personally am often caught wondering, am I doing enough? Am I a “good” person? Yet I am doubtful that there even is such a thing as a “good person”. Here is a quote that has stuck with me since the first season of Loki aired in 2021.
“No one bad is ever truly bad. And no one good is ever truly good.”Loki to Mobius, Loki S1 EP2: The Variant (2021)
I am someone who takes comfort in media. No book or television show or movie is uniformly good, even my favorites. One can always find room for critique. Yet many of them provide nuggets of wisdom that have continued to stick with me such as this one. At first glance it might seem like a cliche or a cop out.
Oppression by people in power
Yet as the words roll over in my brain, I have to stop and wonder. There are many people in power who seek out to destroy many of our rights, who seek to uphold the systems of oppression in order to keep that power. When I think of these people I admit that I am filled with loathing. I cannot bring myself to say that there exists any good in them. The levels of harm that they have brought into the world and the damage they have done is too great.
All the same, I refuse to let such people live rent free in my head. I am committed to doing what I can to make the world a better place. I cannot afford to let hatred consume me and prevent me from doing that work. People have taken enough from me. Protecting my peace is paramount if I am going to make lasting change.
So while I will not give anyone a pass for acting as an oppressor, I also refuse to let their actions dictate how I live my life. What I’m trying to say is that I will not tolerate intolerance, and at the same time I will not perpetuate the cycle of harm. Some things I cannot forgive, and I am not always capable of “being the bigger person”. All the same, acting with grace and integrity where I can in order to find points of mutual understanding is how we can create a better world.
Vulnerability can be scary, but I do not want to let myself entirely harden to the world. I want to make space to be soft, even as I stay ready for what the universe has in store for me. What does that look like in practice? I admit that I am unsure. Nothing feels certain or stable these days. I often find myself unsure of my footing.
The Importance of History and the Value of Ancestor Work
The saying goes that those who do not engage with their history are doomed to repeat it. Black History month is a reminder that we can learn a great deal by studying the history that came before, and from learning from our elders. Not everything can be learned from a book. Much of history lies in community, in word of mouth and histories shared between loved ones.
There are many kinds of ancestors. Sure, there are those that one is biologically related to. Yet biology is not everything. Spiritual ancestors also exist, people whose stories become a part of ours, whose impact on us can match if not exceed the blood we come from. Nonetheless, generational trauma and grief exist as well.
Where we come from matters. Reckoning with the world our families have left for us matters. We can disavow ties with our families of origin, but they will always have an impact and a legacy no matter how much we might run from it. We can condemn our ancestors, we can shout from the rooftops how different we are from them, but their legacy and actions still affect us. Unraveling our history means unraveling harsh truths about ourselves and where we come from. It’s hard but necessary work.
Black History Month is a celebration. Black History Month is also a reckoning. Who we are, who we have been, and who we will be. The bill always comes due, and we must pay the price even if the people who came before us are the ones who incurred the charges.
Holding you all in love and with care,
Note: I currently work part-time at a historical organization in the place we call Cambridge, Massabusetts. If you’re interested in learning more information about Black History in Cambridge we have two History Hubs, Black History in Cambridge: Online Resources and the Early Black Cambridge Resource Hub that I highly suggest you peruse. On another note, check out my Black History Month 2021 post for some fiction recomendations ❤️