Since 1926, February was known for the celebration of black American history. Dr. Carter G. Woodson, a Harvard Ph.D., initiated “Negro History Week,” which it remained until 1976 when Black History Week became Black History Month as part of America’s bicentennial celebration.
For those of us over 40 years old, Black History Week was one of the few times we learned about famous black Americans like Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth, George Washington Carver and Booker T. Washington, as our American history books were pretty mostly devoid of black folks. For those of us who were fortunate enough to have parents committed to furthering our awareness of black contributions to this country, we learned about Malcolm X, Marcus Garvey, Mary McCloud Bethune and W.E.B Dubois to name a few. I have to admit that I still get a little bit excited when February rolls around as American and black history is one of my passions. However, this February I feel a complex mix of emotions.
Super Bowl Sunday was Feb. 5. And thanks to stupid tweets by Roland Martin, a CNN contributor, during the Super Bowl, the black LGBT community was once again forced to confront the great divide of being LGBT and black. Gay media watchdog organization, Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) wanted him fired (and perhaps tarred and feathered as well) for making homophobic tweets. In my judgment firing Martin would have been an extreme act; CNN probably did the right thing in suspending him.
Many in the black LGBT community have weighed in on this on blogs, Facebook, Twitter and other social media. Some of my friends and associates that I spoke to felt caught in the middle once again in the way described by W.E.B Dubois in his landmark book, The Souls of Black Folks (1903). Dubois wrote about the duality of being black and American: ”One ever feels his two-ness,—an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two un-reconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.” The same can be said for being black and LGBT in America. Do you side with the white LGBT organization that’s calling for Martin’s head – while largely remaining silent on issues of race – or do you stand with the black man who has a history of making homophobic remarks?
Meanwhile, as this controversy swirled in early February, yet another black transgender woman was stabbed to death in Washington and a young black gay man was beaten up and taunted with homophobic remarks by a gang in Atlanta. Then pop music icon Whitney Houston died after the specter of drug addiction destroyed her career. And Black History Month wasn’t even half over.
All this should be a cause for reflection in the black community. It’s time the entire black community started to have serious dialogues about the violence in our community – not just violence perpetrated toward the LGBT community, but the entire black community. We also need to talk about drug addiction, which is still a serious issue in black community and far too often ignored, while those with addictions are marginalized and treated as society’s throwaways. Black History Month should be a month of celebration of our contributions to American history and human civilization. It should also be a time to reflect and seek solutions to all the ”isms” in the black community.
Earl D. Fowlkes Jr. is the president/CEO of the International Federation of Black Prides Inc., the largest black LGBT organization in the world.