Black History Month has always been a strange time for me; a time in which I am painfully aware that the story of my ancestors, who built this country, is largely written out of the history books, save for this abbreviated month. I know I am supposed to feel proud of the 28 people (max) who will be lauded for their contributions to the American experience, but mostly, I just feel invisible the other eleven months of the year -- and not really all that seen this month, either.

As an African American descendant of U.S. chattel slavery on one hand, and an Afro Latina on the other, I have had to make interesting choices; choices which have largely dictated the trajectory of my life. Only that isn't quite true. My trajectory was dictated in large part by my dark skin and kinky, coily hair -- and also by my parents, who are intelligent and self-aware, who raised me to work harder, jump higher, be smarter, and do more. Because they understood the stakes -- even in this country our ancestors built, WE were considered less than. And sadly, the hurdles were ours to clear -- never theirs to equalize. Equality is a myth; equity, a unicorn.

As a grade school student in Virginia, the one holiday set aside for the one Black hero we were permitted to have was celebrated on the same day as Confederate "heroes" -- men who would have preferred to see my beautiful, intelligent, articulate, Black male hero in chains. As a grade school student, we did not discuss the merits of Black writers at all, and instead, celebrated white authors as the whole of the American literary canon, as if Black American writers weren’t American at all. It made me feel like I wasn’t American. I was Other. It made me wonder how my dad felt, how his uncle felt, how my grandfather felt, and how those ancestors before them felt -- enlisted in a military and fighting for a country that saw them as Other. That they could come home heroes and still be steered away from purchasing homes for their families, refused jobs, prevented from voting either through law or acts of terror, or be shot down by cops who felt threatened by strong Black men who knew their rights and spoke their minds.

So here I am, forty-something year old attorney me, reaching back to 4 year old, aspiring attorney me. And all the mes in between. The times I was hungry; the times I had plenty. The times I stared Death in the face; the times I was permitted to carry on my way without incident. Recognizing that many times of comfort and opportunity and at times, safety, came courtesy of my proximity to whiteness. In fact, my very life depended on that proximity when I was pregnant and experiencing multiple life-threatening complications. And wondering what it all means for me and my baby girl.

I know no other way to raise my child, light bronze and blond though she may be -- than as anything other than a Black woman. That is my experience, it is how the world will see her as she stands next to me, and that is who she is. I will teach her that though our story was historically and systematically withheld from the American narrative, it is beautiful, and encompasses more than some names and dates and accomplishments. All of our ancestors are worthy of veneration because they survived. They survived a 4 centuries' long genocide, to make her life possible. They were raped, beaten, forced to work under the most inhumane of conditions, stripped of their identities, religion, language, bodily autonomy, and families. Then, when they were "freed," they were subjected to unspeakable acts of terror as they attempted to pursue their American dreams. And then once they fought tooth and nail for minimal gains, they were overpoliced, incarcerated, and shut out of so many facets of American life. In many ways, being Black has historically been an American nightmare.

Even today, in 2022, I feel Othered in this America. As brother Langston Hughes wrote, "America was never America to me." The push to bury our history under the guise of “parental choice,” just as so much of it is being unearthed, feels a lot like a final push toward our extinction.

So while I encourage my child to be a good citizen, to understand and participate in the system that governs her, and to respect the Constitution I am sworn to uphold, I also teach her that there is a debt long overdue her people. And maybe we will never see it paid, but we must never accept the empty gestures of politicians or "allies" who would wish to substitute their voices and their judgment in place of our own, and ignore our cries for what is rightfully owed. That our ancestors didn’t die for us to settle for hollow symbolism, or to put Black pain, or even our accomplishments briefly on display for white consumption -- they should teach this all year. Black history is American History. Let me say that again:

Black history is American history.

Its truth should be studied every month.

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Single Lawyer Mom, Thinker, Whiskey Drinker, Hip Hop Head, Occasional Shitposter.

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Kareema Mitchell Allen

Kareema Mitchell Allen

Single Lawyer Mom, Thinker, Whiskey Drinker, Hip Hop Head, Occasional Shitposter.

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