This post about Black History Month is rebellious. I write it in March, after Black History Month is over, because a people’s history – though highlighted in one month – should not be confined. I’ve found that reading provides a way for me to celebrate black history throughout the year. This post explains why.
February crams black history into twenty-eight days of concerts, exhibitions, workshops, lectures, you name it — all informative and exciting, but unfortunately, as fleeting as an addict’s high. I feel like that addict, jonesin’ for the taste of something black, desperate for events that have the slightest trace of my experience, running (literally) from venue to venue, chasing a history the colour of my skin. I absorb every last drop of this excitement, knowing that my high ends on February 28th.
Truthfully, my identity would starve after Black History Month, if not for books. Alive with the individual and collective stories of black people, books force black history out of its claustrophobic calendar month. History, when written, becomes an accessible, tangible thing that we read and reread to remind us of us.
Since I started this internship at House of Anansi / Groundwood Books, I’ve been able to touch some of that history. Groundwood publishes beautiful books, and they also publish books with faces that look like mine, with stories that sound like mine. That is how black history stays alive. Groundwood proves that black people are still writing a space and a history for themselves.
I read my history in these books. My history looks like Baba Wagué Diakité’s A Gift From Childhood, a gorgeous illustrated memoir about progress and international accomplishments despite humble beginnings. My history feels like The Name of the Tree, where Celia Lottridge and Ian Wallace show how humility mixed with determination succeeds where false superiority and classism fails. My history is brave like Viola Desmond Won’t Be Budged! In that book, Jody Nyasha Warner and Richard Rudnicki depict how just one person can rally a national movement. And my history looks like Arthur Flowers and Manu Chitrakar’s I See the Promised Land, graphic in both form and content. Most powerful, the book ends with a notion that black history did not end with Martin Luther King Jr. There is plenty still to be written.
These stories give black children a mirror that they won’t find in most children’s books. I can feel my childhood self getting excited. If I took her on a tour of Groundwood’s shelves, she’d smile at me with that sheepish one-front-toothed smile, fold those books in her dark chocolate arms, and thank me for sharing tangible history.
Then, I’d be smitten for sure! I’d have no choice but to read her life full of black history.