DALLAS — It happens every February. People who are passionate about the black experience are pressed into a whirlwind schedule that ends as quickly as it begins, some 28 days later. Welcome, we are told, to Black History Month.
While I love the heightened awareness of being African-American that comes for one brief month, how I wish this feeling of inclusiveness extended to March, May, September, through December. Each year I vow to do something to change the thinking about a concept that started with historian Carter G. Woodson as Negro History Week. Isn't it time Black History Month (BHM) continued its evolution into a year-round celebration to ensure that any indifferent citizens can begin to understand that what we teach, preach, lecture, and conjecture about is really American history?
Last February, I was speaking to an audience about ownership of pain when I blurted out, "Black and white are in a marriage arranged by God, neither one of us can get a divorce so we ought to stop trying." The room went dead silent in the wait to see what possible logic could be offered for the simple analogy. This year, as I ponder all the BHM events I've been tapped to speak at, I will say it again, believe it again, and offer the same explanation again. Historical accuracy and inclusion translates into greater respect for the contributions of men and women of African descent.
My tiny way of making a difference is to work hard to ensure that the teaching of black history does not wrap on the last day of February. Countless others are committed to the same, but can always use the company of people of all colors who would like to see children educated honestly about painful things that some believe better left in an unacknowledged past. But it was Martin Luther King Jr. who once said, "Truth crushed to earth will rise again."
The marital bond between black and white began with a vow of slavery, a ring of chains fitted for degradation, abuse, and denial of a whole people. One day, according to history, an emancipation proclamation offered hope while the promise of actual freedom took longer to define.
Fortunately, the vow has been renewed with historic legislation and a degree of racial reconciliation, but there is still far to go. And go we shall - together - as the journey has bound black and white for all time, a fact that must extend beyond the borders of February. More than any other people in America, these are the two groups that must deal with embracing and owning the pain of our conjoined history so that we can write a new chapter.
February affords a great starting point for Americans to learn about separate but equal, to learn about the promise of 40 acres and a mule and a million incredible facts. Once a lover of history becomes immersed in the rich resource of truth, understanding can lead to healing and respect.
I used to turn away from history when hard topics like lynching or discrimination came up because it was so heartbreaking to read about, to learn about. But looking history straight in the eye has given me a freedom I had never dreamed of, an unmatched pride in my origins. These days, I urge others to "own" their history, to heal from it and not wait for February to do it.
One day I had intended to spend just a few minutes reading slave narratives commissioned by the US government. A few hours later, I literally felt myself walk in from hell-baked fields where I had picked cotton and witnessed whippings. In the silent reverie, I closed my eyes and had certainly been in the bloody footsteps of ancestors who deserve 12 months a year alongside those who declared all men created equal.
February is a short month and the clock is ticking.
• Joyce King is a freelance writer.