My earliest memory of Black History Month is from the 2nd grade at Edison School in Bridgeport, CT. Our entire school participated in a Black History Month (BHM) show. I remember feeling excited to be inside the school at nighttime. I wore a green dress and read a short paragraph about George Washington Carver from a thin, blue notebook. Some of the other grades sang songs; some gave more in-depth presentations. I loved learning about this history. BHM felt, to my young self, like a culmination of stories about integrity, triumph, and underdogs that won against oppressive forces. And in my memory, Black History was not limited to February. It was, however, amplified for Black History Month. I know now that it did not come to me through a perfect lens. I later learned to take it apart and understand that while I could relate to the human experience of overcoming obstacles, or feeling like an outcast, that my culpabilities do not begin and end with compassion.
My K-8 experience was in global majority public schools. I moved one town over for high school, and suddenly found myself in white majority spaces for the first time. I consider my early education instrumental in constructing a personal worldview that does not accept colonization and the values of white supremacy. I consider my high school years and early 20’s as instrumental in helping me understand how much investment there is from white folks in continuing to uphold the outcomes of colonization and white supremacy. Being in spaces that celebrated Black History Month, even in imperfect ways, laid the groundwork for me to continue to grow into a person invested in a just universe.
In sitting down to write this, my purpose was to examine what Black History Month means to me and how to best celebrate it with the children in our My Reflection Matters (MRM) in CT Home Education homeschool co-op. But I am increasingly aware that I must consider the impact of Black History Month as a national recognition for everyone. It is impossible for me to have a full perspective through my own white lens. I was trying to explain my affection for Black History Month to a friend the other day, and I said that I have never considered it to be confinement of Black History. It comes up in my life as a time to soak in stories and resources that remind me who I am supposed to be all year. It’s a walk back to my own first encounters with my role in white supremacy and a sharpening of the tools to dismantle it.
We started something very similar to my 2nd grade Black History Month presentation with the students at our MRM co-op. I realize now that it was probably not entirely a coincidence, however subconscious, for me to replicate it. The students are doing mini-research projects on historical Black figures and completing a sentence about why each one is dope. I’m glad that we started it. But I also think it gives all of us the opportunity and responsibility to evolve our kids’ understanding of their own history.
I came across a meme, of all things, last night that brought this all together for me. It depicts a Native American woman, with the statement: “Colonization and assimilation isn’t our history. Colonization and assimilation INTERRUPTED our history.” I know that my personal experience with Black History Month has shaped me for the better. And I wonder who would my white peers in Stratford have been with the same education? How much more value would they have for Black Lives now? That’s an easy consideration. But what I am now forced to reckon with is: what is the detriment to black folks and the global majority in the way that Black History Month is framed? We must take a minute to realize that to acknowledge the “first” of any Black American figure can be a wonderful moment in one frame, but that it also ignores the accomplishments of African folks before enslavement. It ignores the trajectory of every single human stolen in the slave trade. It fails. Because it still confines history to a white supremacist narrative.
I thought I would be sitting down to write something. But it turns out I’m processing something. And this February is providing me, again, with a visit to myself, my values, and an opportunity to renew them all.
Tamsyn Ambler has been a big mouth since kindergarten, where her seat was frequently changed. She has a knack for making perfectly pleasant conversations suddenly uncomfortable for white people. She lives with her family in Bridgeport. She and her husband Mathis home/unschool their children, all three of whom take their own autonomy way too seriously.