Disclaimer: this really isn’t an essay, but it will have to do. Like many of my #52essays2017 cohort, I’m struggling to write this week. But hey, words are words, right?
So while I celebrate and educate folks on Black history and culture (American history and culture) EVERY SINGLE DAY, this year, I’ve decided to be a bit more intentional about sharing some of that material in this space. I credit my parents, especially my dad, for instilling in me a desire to want to know as much about the history and accomplishments of African Americans in this country as I could. I started at an early age, devouring Black history books and reading all the Black literature I could find.
We’d watch Eyes on the Prize every year (y’all know it came on PBS every February), and one year, we even checked out the Roots mini-series (on VHS) from the library and watched the whole thing. You see, we didn’t grow up with Google or the internet. And to be clear, my high school had no Black history courses, (I took my first one in college), and the only Black writer I learned about in class was Langston Hughes. Our main sources of Black history were oral history, passed down from parents and grandparents, documentaries, and the good old Bradley library, where my sister and I spent pretty much every Saturday afternoon as kids.
If Beale Street Could Talk was one of the first “grown up” novels I read as kid. I’d read Roots when I was 12, but it felt more like history than a novel, so I never considered it an adult book. I think I was 15 or 16 when I read it, and what I remember most about this experience was that I was told by my English teacher that I couldn’t do a book report on this novel because it wasn’t on our list of approved readings. Nor were any of the other texts by Black authors that I wanted to read. That upset me, and stubborn child that I was, I did it anyway and dared her to fail me, knowing already that I was one of her best students. She didn’t, and thus my reputation for being “militant” was born. She really had no idea, nor did I, how far that one little act of defiance would take me.
If you know anything about Baldwin, you know his novels are emotional, thought-provoking, and gut-wrenchingly honest, especially in regards to Black experiences in urban America. This novel is no different, and re-reading it reminded me of how spot on Brother Jimmy was about all things America. The other thing it did was remind me of how little has changed in American society in regards to the incarceration of so many Black men and women, as well as the ways in which Black communities are still struggling to save all of our children from the legacy of slavery and white supremacy in this country.
Now, more than ever, it is important to remind ourselves that we have much to celebrate, this month and indeed, every day. As we fight 45 and his minions, let’s remember to read, write, and talk about our history, our fight to end oppression, and our joy.