The other day, just sitting at home watching MUCH Music, I saw a commercial for what might initially be thought of as an advertisement for, well I wasn’t really sure. The images of several familiar music artists flashed by on the screen (i.e. Ray Charles, Prince, Fats Domino), then at the end it was revealed that it was an ad made in recognition of all the African American artists that have made major contributions to the music industry. And, let’s face it, there wouldn’t be much of an industry if it hadn’t been for African American influence.
I was completely floored by the ad, however it wasn’t because I had thought it to be overwhelmingly exceptional or inspirational in it’s production value — though it was effective. Instead, it was genuinely moving because I had completely forgotten that it was Black History Month.
The initial reaction to this realization wasn’t necessarily one of guilt, nor should it be for anyone else who may have neglected the occasion, rather it was more of a surprise.
Having always been one that was aware of the significance of the month, it stunned me that for some reason it had slipped my mind this year. But after discussing the issue with other people, it suddenly became clear that this wasn’t another case of one segment of society being apathetic towards the injustices facing another.
The reason I had always remembered was because there was usually someone in my ear beforehand reminding me how important it was that we all be treated equally, and that it wasn’t so long ago that these rights were being infringed upon. It’s not that this notion doesn’t still play an important role in the way society functions, as we must always treat our fellow humans with respect, regardless of skin colour or any other potential origin of discrimination.
The dilemma, if it can even be referred to as such, is that the role Black History Month once played is not the same one it does now. Concern over discrimination and unequal treatment isn’t as widespread as it once was and has faded into the back of a lot of our minds.
When one considers the events that have had the greatest impact on Black culture in America, they will quickly realize that no major struggles have been overcome in more recent years, simply because there aren’t as many struggles to be overcome. However, it also can’t be overlooked that this segment of society continues to garner increased respect and prominence in a multitude of areas in North American culture.
On Dec.1 of this year it will be 50 years since Rosa Parks, known as “the mother of the Civil Rights movement”, refused to give up her seat to a white man in the front of the bus. Next year will be the 20th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday becoming a national holiday in the United States. And two years down the road it will be the 60th anniversary of Jackie Robinson breaking baseball’s colour-line. While there are far more events and acts that formed the foundation for what Black History Month is about, each new generation looks at them with less wonder than the one before.
Last month, Edgar Ray Killen, a now 80-year-old Baptist minister, was charged in the June 21, 1964 murders of three civil rights workers in Mississippi. Anyone who has seen or read “Mississippi Burning” knows the story of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner whose deaths were the basis of the book and film. While the arrest is an important development, it didn’t created the type of frenzy in the media and public that it would have 30 or 40 years ago.
Because of these reasons, for Black History to maintain it’s impact and significance in the eyes of every new generation that enters the world, it will have to change with the times. The importance of Martin Luther King Jr.’s march on Washington and the Civil Rights Movement will never be questioned and will forever be taught in history books around the world. However, it’s the promotion of where the culture is today rather than where it was 40 years ago that will keep Black History Month fresh in the minds of all human beings.