This is the time of year when we are supposed to celebrate Black History Month.
Black churches organize potluck dinners featuring dishes that reflect foods rooted in the African diaspora. Cultural institutions put on events that honor Blacks in the arts, film, music and theater. And schools immerse their classrooms in Black history facts.
But this year I find myself struggling to make sense of the hoopla.
My reticence starts at the White House.
In President Trump’s proclamation of “National African American History Month,” he acknowledged, “Over the course of our Nation’s history, African Americans have endured egregious discrimination and bigotry.”
But the president won’t acknowledge racial injustice that still exists.
For instance, during his State of the Union address last week — which was supposed to be a unifying moment — Trump couldn’t resist taking a shot at former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
Kaepernick saw his career go down in flames after he began protesting police brutality in the U.S. by refusing to stand while the national anthem was being played.
Other athletes joined the protest by kneeling on one knee or linking arms in a show of solidarity.
But Kaepernick was the only athlete to pay a price for his activism.
After he opted out of the final season of his contract with the San Francisco 49ers, another team didn’t pick him up.
Trump used the State of the Union to heap praise on 12-year-old Preston Sharp, who led a campaign to put flags on the graves of 40,000 veterans.
“Preston’s reverence for those who have served our Nation reminds us why we salute our flag, why we put our hands on our hearts for the pledge of allegiance, and why we proudly stand for the national anthem,” the president said.
His words drew loud applause in the chamber, though I suspect the audience was showing appreciation for the youth’s ingenuity and not for Trump’s jab.
But the president’s failure to acknowledge the reason behind Kaepernick’s protest shows how easily history can be manipulated.
The response to Kaepernick’s activism is a lot like what happened to civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer when she tried to register to vote in Indianola, Mississippi, in 1962.
Her decision also proved to be life altering.
A sharecropper, Hamer and her husband were fired and run off the plantation where she had lived for 20 years.
Hamer went to work for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee where she organized other blacks to register to vote.
But she was subsequently harassed, threatened and beaten.
So when the president says in an address to the entire nation: “No matter where you have been, or where you come from, this is your time. If you work hard, if you believe in yourself, if you believe in America, then you can dream anything, you can be anything and together, we can achieve anything.”
Black history teaches us that has not been the African American experience.
Carter G. Woodson, known as the “Father of Black History,” said: “Those who have no record of what their forebears have accomplished lose the inspiration which comes from the teaching of biography and history.”
Those forebears aren’t only found in history books. They are older relatives and neighbors who have been there, done that.
I encourage the young activists who are fighting racial injustice today to spend real time with the activists who were on this battlefield a long time.
Talk to them. Listen to their stories. Heed their advice. They can show you where the march for equality took a wrong turn.
Because when children as young as 12-years-old are committing so many carjackings that the Chicago Police Department has to put together a task force to try and stop it, we obviously failed to pass along the history that matters.
While it is fine to hold up the lives of famous civil rights leaders who paved the way for my generation, what about the next generation? Who is paving a way for them?
Black people can’t assume that their children’s road will be much smoother than the one Hamer trod.
Kaepernick showed us that.
Black history is American history.