I don’t live in real time. Does anyone? It seems the practice of being present has gone the way of the dinosaurs. But I digress. My profession requires me to always think ahead. I’m forever mired in planning future speaking events, booking flights, scheduling school visits, preparing future conference presentations, navigating book deadlines—always looking ahead. So, although it’s only October, my thoughts are already running to February. More specifically, to Black History Month.
I have mixed feelings about Black History Month. Don’t get me wrong. I love the attention on heroes and heroines of the African American persuasion, though I see no reason not to highlight them year round as part of, say, American History. BTW, I loved Chris Crutcher’s comment on “Color Me Perplexed,” in Hunger Mountain, regarding a bookstore’s mind-boggling segregation of black history books from American history books. As Dyamonde Daniel would say, “Puleeze!” And yes, I get why there’s a Black Studies section in many bookstores, but what about shelving key titles in both sections? Why not shelve a biography of Bessie Coleman, say, in both the biography and the black studies sections? Who knows? A body might actually be able to find the book they want. Okay. Enough on that subject, for now.
Black History Month definitely has its plusses. I especially appreciate some of the wonderful films and documentaries featured that month on network and cable television. One of the things I do have a problem with, though, is being trotted out as the lone black act in a conference or book festival held during that month. I often get the distinct impression that the inviter has no particular liking, passion, or even knowledge of my body of work. All that matters during the month of February is the color of my skin. Period. My name on the program takes care of the requisite quota of color for the conference sponsor. One black author booked for Black History Month. Check!
I rarely accept invitations to speak during the month of February. Can you blame me? If someone wants to pull me away from my writing desk, I prefer it be because my work is known and respected, and not because I am the politically correct choice for Black History Month. I’m just saying.
That said, I’ve spoken to enough librarians and reading specialists to know that, in some cases, author invitations are tied to special funding for multicultural programs, which can most easily be exploited on holidays such as Martin Luther King jr.’s birthday, or during Black History Month, (or Chinese New Year, or Cesar Chavez Day, etc.) For those sponsors in that position, by all means, make hay while the sun shines. But do choose an author whose work matters to you and your students, please. Don’t choose him, or her, based on skin color alone.
How about we invite, support, recognize all worthy authors—of whatever color— year-round? How about that? It’s just a thought.