Photo courtesy of Abernathy Family Photos

Embracing Black History Month

A reflection on the Black History Month and representation in the global popular culture.

Mar 3, 2018

I was not aware of the Black History Month until this year. It is not ignorance. I am simply faithful to my country’s holidays. I am aware of Valentine’s Day, yes, and Halloween too. In fact, all celebrations are great, be it of the dead or of those of us left pondering the whole death thing. This Black History Month has, therefore, been a month of awareness for me. Awareness of great black people, black history, black girl magic, Black Panther, black excellence, black dance moves … you get the idea.
For me, the highlight of this celebratory month has been Marvel’s new film, Black Panther. Not knowing much about Black Panther’s protagonist, King T’challa, meant that I was not willing to divorce Iron Man just yet. But what I believed to be mere entertainment turned out to be significantly influential on my views regarding identity and power. As female, black and African, hoping to contribute to changes in the film industry soon, I was terrified about my choice to pursue a career in the arts, simply because I am well aware of the discrimination suffered by people of color in the industry. I remember one of my professors reminding me that this industry is not very kind to people like me. Well, Black Panther made me feel like I could do and be anything.
The film may not mean much to some people, but to me, it is revolutionary. Black people may not colonize the world tomorrow, but we sure as hell have changed our minds about how we view each other and how we want to be perceived: as heroes, warriors, kings, queens, rich and humble. To see the chokers, the bags, the hairstyles and the patterns that I identify with featured in the film, after years of seeing black people without any distinction as Africans, African Americans or Black Americans, was exceptionally empowering. What I loved about Black Panther is that it has sparked a conversation.
My day brightens each time I witness the reactions of people like myself, not just part of the conversation, but driving the conversations about Black Panther. However, some have chosen to ignore the rhythmic dances outside the theaters, the children celebrating by dressing as the characters, the discussions about the social impact that the film is having and the fact that the film has broken a Box Office record within just a few weeks of its release. Others have also chosen to believe that Wakanda is an actual place in Africa. Jimmy Kimmel showed pedestrian interviews where people reacted to the crisis in Wakanda and whether the King should share Vibranium. I just laughed. In fact, I realized I would rather have people believing in a certain Wakanda in Africa than in “sh*t hole countries” as President Donald Trump graciously called them.
Even so, Black Panther is but one of the many factors that will continue to inspire me from this month on. Janelle Monae recently released the song, Django, which reminds society of the never-ending resilience of black women. “Black girl magic, y’all can’t stand it…” are some of her prevailing words resonating with elegance, making chills run down my spine. She also refers to Black Panther, stating, “Box Office numbers and they doing outstanding” and to Lupita Ny’ongo’s nomination for Tony Awards, stating, “probably give a Tony to the homies.” Yes, President Trump, that’s us, Kenyans! No more “thieving, laziness and love making” as you so smartly alleged. These great figures, especially Lupita Ny’ongo, mean a lot to an aspiring artist like myself, especially since she comes from the same place, if not necessarily the same background, as I do. Her achievements in Hollywood inspire me to continue in my pursuit of filmmaking.
Aside from Monae, there is Drake’s God’s plan, Kendrick and SZA’s All the Stars, Joyner Lucas’ I am Not Racist, which are songs that serve as reminders about giving back, love and setting your facts straight. Not to mention that African artists like Sauti Soul — you should be noting these names down — are also acknowledging the beauty of melanin. There is an endless list of artists, particularly in Hollywood, that I have come to know this month who continue to open my mind to the endless possibilities of the black community. Directors, designers, screenplay writers, cinematographers, comedians — hail the last Black Unicorn — all of whom continue to educate me on what it means to be black and how to ensure that I do not allow my light to dim, God willing, when I get to the industry.
Black History Month is also the one month of the year where I have had to say, “I am not anti-white,” although Get Out made me think twice. Although not celebrated in my country, I was more than happy to become aware of the holiday, and its significance. The celebration is pro-black for a reason. I, too, dream of a harmonious society that sees and appreciates color. Yes, sees. People should stop this Oh no, I don’t see color talk. There is nothing wrong with seeing color, we just also need to appreciate it and not kill each other over it. I strongly believe that these not-so-little steps that the black community in Hollywood is taking towards change, change on the general view of melanin, the African continent and of history are the answer to stronger and better-willed future generations.
This is our time.
Ivy Akinyi is a contributing writer. Email her at
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