Expanding the borders of Black History Month

by: DeniseVelez

Sun Feb 03, 2013 at 13:31:52 PM EST





Photobucket

Vicente Guerrero, Afro-Indio 2nd president of Mexico, who abolished slavery in 1829

Once again, the month of February is here, marked as Black History Month on calendars in the United States and Canada (October in Great Britan).  

Schools, community groups and bloggers will focus attention on the historical contributions of blacks to our culture. When I was growing up it was called "Negro History Week."

DeniseVelez :: Expanding the borders of Black History Month
lBack History Month had its beginnings in 1926 in the United States, when historian Carter G. Woodson and the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History announced the second week of February to be "Negro History Week". This week was chosen because it marked the birthday of both Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. Woodson created the holiday with the hope that it eventually be eliminated when black history became fundamental to American history. Negro History Week was met with enthusiastic response; it prompted the creation of black history clubs, an increase in interest among teachers, and interest from progressive whites. Negro History Week grew in popularity throughout the following decades, with mayors across the United States endorsing it as a holiday.

In 1976, the federal government acknowledged the expansion of Black History Week to Black History Month by the leaders of the Black United Students at Kent State University in February of 1969. The first celebration of Black History Month occurred at Kent State in February of 1970. Six years later during the bicentennial, the expansion of Negro History Week to Black History Month was recognized by the U.S. government.  

We have come a long way since 1926, in addressing the whitewashing of history, but perhaps we should address some of the almost artificial borders and boundaries we have set on that history, and examine peoples and histories who are not usually part of the package.

We have just celebrated the reelection of our first black president, Barack Hussein Obama. Yet my students have been unable to answer the question, "Who was the first black President in North America?"  
None thought to mention Jean-Jacques Dessalines, as first head of state of a liberated Haiti. But if we are defining North America as Canada, the U.S. and Mexico (excluding the Caribbean), there is little excuse to be ignorant of the historic figure of Vicente Guerrero, who became Mexico's second president on April 1, 1829. His father, Pedro Guerrero, was an Afro-Mexican and his mother Guadalupe Saldaña, was indigenous.


Disparagingly nicknamed "el Negro Guerrero" by his political enemies, Guerrero would in the United States have been classified as a mulatto. According to one of his biographers, Theodore G. Vincent, Guerrero was of mixed African, Spanish and Native American ancestry, and his African ancestry most probably derived from his father, Juan Pedro, whose profession "was in the almost entirely Afro-Mexican profession of mule driver." Some scholars speculate that his paternal grandfather was either a slave, or a descendant of African slaves.

Guerrero was born in 1783 in a town near Acapulco called Tixtla, which is now located in the state that bears his name. It is the only state named after a former Mexican head of state, and it is the location of the Costa Chica, the traditional home of the Afro-Mexican community in Mexico.

If we are to obfuscate his heritage under the term "mulatto or mestizo," how is this not true for Barack Obama? What we also know about Guerrero was that he was kept from attending school because of his mixed caste.  

Portraits of Guerrero were "whitened" over time


In 2011, a research investigation about Vicente Guerrero's African ethnicity won an award from the Scientific Committee on the Slave Route Project of UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization).  Researcher, Maria Dolores Ballesteros from the Mora Institute, was recognized for her analysis of the representations of Vicente Guerrero in Mexico pictorial iconography...Guerrero, was represented more and more white in the paintings of the time, as prejudices developed about Africans and African descendants.

De castas y esclavos a ciudadanos. Las representaciones visuales de la población capitalina de origen africano. Del periodo virreinal a las primeras décadas del México Independiente

Then there is the story of Jose Nieto Gil, the first black president of Colombia (1861), who was left out of history books, until sociologist Orlando Fals Borda spent years documenting his history and the whitewashing of his legacy. See: The black president Colombia forgot

Part of the problem is the acceptance of "the West Indies" (those parts of the Caribbean which were formerly British colonies) and Haiti as "black." Yet on the same island with Haiti, the next door neighbor the Dominican Republic is "Hispanic or Latino." We include historic political figures like Marcus Garvey or cultural icons like Bob Marley (both Jamaican) but do not do the same for latino revolutionary leaders like Don Pedro Albizu Campos (whose mother was black) and who served in the all-Black 375th Regiment.  

So rarely does our Black History Month cross borders, and artificial boundaries (and yes "race" is itself one of those) but the huge segment of African diasporic history in the New World fails to embrace Afro-Latinos, or Afro-Brazilians.  

Anthropologist Sidney Mintz has designated the entire Caribbean basin region as the Afro-Caribbean, a culture area linked by roots in the transatlantic slave trade and plantation slavery, whose cultures are rooted in blackness, no matter the current phenotype of the citizenry.  

Thankfully, some of this is changing. A major breakthrough in the media was Henry Louis Gates' series Black in Latin America was first aired on PBS in 2011.

Latin America is often associated with music, monuments and sun, but each of the six countries featured in Black in Latin America including the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Cuba, Brazil, Mexico, and Peru, has a secret history. On his journey, Professor Gates discovers, behind a shared legacy of colonialism and slavery, vivid stories and people marked by African roots. Latin America and the Caribbean have the largest concentration of people with African ancestry outside Africa - up to 70 percent of the population in some countries. The region imported over ten times as many slaves as the United States, and kept them in bondage far longer. On this series of journeys, Professor Gates celebrates the massive influence of millions of people of African descent on the history and culture of Latin America and the Caribbean, and considers why and how their contribution is often forgotten or ignored.

Gates speaks about how his eyes were opened to this history of the "other Americans":

It wasn't until my sophomore year at Yale, as a student auditing Robert Farris Thompson's art-history class, the Trans-Atlantic Tradition: From Africa to the Black Americas, that I began to understand how "black" the New World really was. Professor Thompson used a methodology that he called the "tri-continental approach" -- complete with three slide projectors -- to trace visual leitmotifs that recurred among African, African-American and Afro-descended artistic traditions and artifacts in the Caribbean and Latin America, to show, à la Melville Herskovits, the retention of what he called "Africanisms" in the New World. So in a very real sense, I would have to say that my fascination with Afro-descendants in this hemisphere, south of the United States, began in 1969, in Professor Thompson's very popular -- and extremely entertaining and rich -- art-history lecture course.

In addition, Sidney Mintz's anthropology courses and his brilliant scholarly work on the history of the role of sugar in plantation slavery in the Caribbean and Latin America also served to awaken my curiosity about another Black World, a world both similar to and different from ours, south of our borders. And Roy Bryce-Laporte, the courageous chair of the program in Afro-American studies, introduced me to black culture from his native Panama. I owe so much of what I know about African-American culture in the New World to these three wise and generous professors.

But the full weight of the African presence in the Caribbean and Latin America didn't hit me until I became familiar with the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database, conceived by the great historians David Eltis and David Richardson and based now at Emory University. Between 1502 and 1866, 11.2 million Africans survived the dreadful Middle Passage and landed as slaves in the New World.

I am using segments of his series in my classes, along with other resources available online.

Afro-Latinos: The untaught story, a documentary that is still in the works, has a wealth of resources on their website.

High school and college age students have appreciated these contemporary actors sharing their stories about dealing with being Black and Latino.

I admire the work and activism of my friend Dr. Marta Moreno Vega, an Afro-Boricua, one of the founders of El Museo del Barrio, and the Caribbean Cultural Center in New York, who has worked tirelessly over the years to bring these histories to the forefront.

There are also blogs like Afro-Mexico, AfroCubaWeb and projects like LatiNegr@s


This award-winning project started as the formal US focus on Black History Month (February 1-28/9) was upon us. Please know that our goal to celebrate all of the peoples who have influence and history via the African Diasporas. Expanding the inclusively of Blackness is not just during Black History Month but all year round for several of us, self-identified LatiNeg@s, Afro-Latin@s and Afro-Caribeños.

This site is 365 days a year 24 hours a day 7 days a week! As people who recognize and claim the African heritage and history, we have often been excluded from US History, whether it be Black history, Womyn's Herstory (March) or Latino history (September 15-October 15) (to name a few).

As we move forward, forging new and stronger progressive political coalitions for the future, we need to have a clearer understanding of how to build stronger bridges between people in the artificial demographic divides used for our voting analyses.

Though much has been written about immigration reform, and how that will affect the voting choices of "Latino/Hispanic" communities, let us not forget that the virulent racism of the Republican Party does not play well in Afro-Latino households.

Does that mean that there is no prejudice between ethnic groups? No. But one of the ways to combat racism and bigotry is to broaden our understanding of the depth and importance of the black historical and contemporary experience for all of us.  

Cross-posted from Daily Kos

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I'm not watching the Super-Bowl (2.00 / 19)
and thought I'd find some conversation here :)

"If you're in a coalition and you're comfortable, you know it's not a broad enough coalition"

Bernice Johnson Reagon


As always, Denise, your writing stuns me only slightly more than the depth of your knowledge. (2.00 / 5)
As you mention at the top, our terminology has changed quite a lot. While our President mocks us in himself for trying to categorize at all, we grope for words to define each other.

Is he Black for having brown skin; White for having a white mother; black for having a black father; African-American for having brown skin; or African-American for having an African father (and what about Irish-American, and, but...)?

While I remain not at all comfortable with the slicing and dicing we do to ourselves, this ambiguity of labels itself is progress over words like "Negro", with it's all-encompassing walls. My step-father Karl Lutze has not republished his 1967 book To Mend the Broken because of exactly that, which is a shame. The terminology of the time was all that - even someone as enlightened as Karl - had to work with.

Even he - who older Moose will know I do not hold highly without good reason - was trapped by the memetics of the times into using words which themselves impeded the progress he has committed his life to.

Both in freeing ourselves from words which build walls instead of doors, and also in correcting our views of where we have been as you do here, we find the ability to bridge from where we are to where we need to be.

John Askren - "Never get into a pissing match with a skunk."


[ Parent ]
I'm guessing you've seen this: (2.00 / 5)
Native rights documentary has local ties


The film also draws on the work of another former Muskogee man; a Lutheran named Karl Lutze who was assigned to minister to the local African-American community and wrote a book titled "Awakening to Equality."

Beane, who left Muskogee in 1970, said the link with Lutze is the National Indian Lutheran Board, which was a primary organizing force behind many of the more visible activists who have pushed for Native American rights.

You have a lot to be proud of. :)


[ Parent ]
Yes, Karl was very excited about that documentary. (2.00 / 5)
NILB is another of his works, along with the Lutheran Human Relations Association.

At this point in his life (92 going on 93) you would think he would be only looking backward, but he isn't. He is working on another book and maintaining a hand in many of the organizations and efforts he has been building since 1945. The network of contacts he has developed is, I believe, literally second to none (Mom and Karl send 2,000 Christmas letters every year, as just one metric).

And he is mostly unheard of, by his own preference. I don't agree with his modesty, so you will see me put his name out there a lot. There are few who deserve more thanks from all of us.

He is getting an honorary doctorate and is extremely upset about it.

He, honestly, does not believe he has earned it.

John Askren - "Never get into a pissing match with a skunk."


[ Parent ]
The person I've been looking for chianti for (2.00 / 5)
Is quite a bit like this.

Lucky, lucky you. It's an honor to be around my friend (which is why it's so important to me to find him just the right chianti).

I can't even imagine what it would be like to grow up with a family member like this. What a wonderful blessing!


[ Parent ]
Thanks. (2.00 / 4)
I missed growing up with him, he and Mom got married a little while after Donna and I. But it has been an education these past twenty something years and I get just a little bit more humble and grateful the more he has become part of my life.

If I can do nothing else for him in return for making my Mom so happy and everything else he has done in his life, at least I can help others learn from him as well.

My favorite book of his is Awakening to Equality, as good a view of the Civil Rights movement from before it started as you can find from anyone alive.

John Askren - "Never get into a pissing match with a skunk."


[ Parent ]
the book is available (2.00 / 4)
http://www.amazon.com/Awakenin...


"If you're in a coalition and you're comfortable, you know it's not a broad enough coalition"

Bernice Johnson Reagon


[ Parent ]
Thanks Denise, (2.00 / 4)
If you don't have a copy I would love to send you one. It would be interesting to hear your thoughts on it.

I would also love to be able to connect you two, sometime and somehow.

John Askren - "Never get into a pissing match with a skunk."


[ Parent ]
I don't have a copy - and would love one Chris (2.00 / 4)
thank you

"If you're in a coalition and you're comfortable, you know it's not a broad enough coalition"

Bernice Johnson Reagon


[ Parent ]
for me the essential issue is not which term we use (2.00 / 4)
but the demonization of blackness (by any name) as a class/caste. As long as black=bad,black=the bottom rung of the social hierarchy and the racism that sustains that is alive and well, we will not be able to escape the ill effects of over 500 of brainwashing.  

"If you're in a coalition and you're comfortable, you know it's not a broad enough coalition"

Bernice Johnson Reagon


[ Parent ]
True, but the two are linked. (2.00 / 3)
You start by defining who a group is, then what it is.

It creates nice, stable, simplistic views.

Breaking that static lock requires shattering all sides of it. If you don't have a simple way to define "them" (or "us" for that matter) it becomes harder to link it with some simple descriptor.

I don't like any human labels, for just that reason. Neither you or I (or, I would argue, anyone) fits precisely into some neat box. Not genetically, not memetically, not sociographically - none of it.

I try to ride a balance of understanding folks' desire to belong to something larger. To "self-identify as" thus and such a group. But at the root of it - while there are better and worse ways to self-identify - none of it sits well with me. Even if for the best reasons, too strongly identifying with a limited group of people creates gaps and voids that may not be real but nonetheless create real schisms in society.

It is why I have always preferred the Melting Pot to Multiculturalism. Love the variety of culture, but I would rather we weave one big tapestry than knit a million socks that don't match.

John Askren - "Never get into a pissing match with a skunk."


[ Parent ]
I could relate to that if we lived in a world where (2.00 / 2)
people are not oppressed specifically because of some culturally defined "difference".  

"If you're in a coalition and you're comfortable, you know it's not a broad enough coalition"

Bernice Johnson Reagon


[ Parent ]
We do, (2.00 / 2)
so our mission - should we choose to accept it - is to break down those definitions.



John Askren - "Never get into a pissing match with a skunk."


[ Parent ]
To be clear, I mean" (2.00 / 1)
"we do live in a world where people are oppressed...", not the other way around.

Words can be tricky, that way...

John Askren - "Never get into a pissing match with a skunk."


[ Parent ]
Being more aware of our ancestors is a cool thing - (2.00 / 13)
I don't get into that genealogy crap at all , but knowing about our ancestors as a geoup or groups of people is pretty neat  - "why I am who I am today ". Why my community does this or does that on holiday X , Y , or Z.".
Nice post , Denise.  

"COUNTY OFFICIALS TO TALK RUBBISH"- from 'Anguished English'

I am a genealogist :) (2.00 / 11)
as well as an anthropologist - but for me genealogy is a useful to get a better sense of history - not just the "great leaders" view, but where my family fit into different eras.

I find it helps my students too - I assign them to do family trees.  They can then look at change over time - migrations, family size, ethnicity, religion, social class and status.

 

"If you're in a coalition and you're comfortable, you know it's not a broad enough coalition"

Bernice Johnson Reagon


[ Parent ]
Cool indeed - I have a BA in Anthro , and now when retired that general (2.00 / 12)
subject is most of my non -fiction reading. Still endlessly fascinating. The genealogy searching is just drudgery to me , but I see how peple could really enjoy it.

"COUNTY OFFICIALS TO TALK RUBBISH"- from 'Anguished English'

[ Parent ]
ack " a useful tool" (left a word out) n/t (2.00 / 12)


"If you're in a coalition and you're comfortable, you know it's not a broad enough coalition"

Bernice Johnson Reagon


[ Parent ]
Thank you so much for this. I think that family trees are (2.00 / 5)
really useful. I have learned a lot by trying to research my family tree.

[ Parent ]
A quote from Abraham Lincoln seems apropos (2.00 / 2)
"Some folk worry about who their ancestors were. I am more concerned with who my descendants will be"


"Most people worry about their own bellies and other people's souls when we all ought to worry about our own souls and others' bellies" Israel Salanter

[ Parent ]
Thank you (2.00 / 12)
I recced you on Kos, and was waiting for you to cross-post here, as I'll have Moose up most of the day and wanted to do some research on this later on.

I'm working with some students on ideas for Black History Month and, given the sheer diversity of our student population (and the students I'm working with), this is a goldmine!


Thanks! I debated about bringig it over here (2.00 / 10)
usually cross post only Tuesday's Black Kos segment, but took the privilege of fp-ing this here too.  Cause I love purple people.

"If you're in a coalition and you're comfortable, you know it's not a broad enough coalition"

Bernice Johnson Reagon


[ Parent ]
I'm so glad you did. (2.00 / 10)
There is no possible way I could have even begun to tap into this info without this diary. I am many things, but a historian is not one of those things.

[ Parent ]
You might want to look through (2.00 / 9)
the Black Kos archive  Lots of great stuff there for Black History month ideas.  

"If you're in a coalition and you're comfortable, you know it's not a broad enough coalition"

Bernice Johnson Reagon


[ Parent ]
Yes. (2.00 / 8)
Such a tremendous resource, and such a blessing.

Thank you so much again. :)


[ Parent ]
Purple People Love You Too. (2.00 / 9)


Words have meaning. Our words will reflect what is in our souls.


[ Parent ]
Dee waves magic wand and turns the whole world (2.00 / 8)
lavender :)

"If you're in a coalition and you're comfortable, you know it's not a broad enough coalition"

Bernice Johnson Reagon


[ Parent ]
No place I see to reccomend this diary ,but count me as one who would (2.00 / 10)
if i could.

"COUNTY OFFICIALS TO TALK RUBBISH"- from 'Anguished English'

far right corner of your screen (2.00 / 10)
then down a bit is a recommend button.  

[ Parent ]
On just this one diary the only thing there is "Request Moderation" (2.00 / 4)
Not seen the "Recommend" missing except this one time.  

"COUNTY OFFICIALS TO TALK RUBBISH"- from 'Anguished English'

[ Parent ]
OK - as soon as I posted reply to you it appeared , LOL! NT (2.00 / 4)


"COUNTY OFFICIALS TO TALK RUBBISH"- from 'Anguished English'

[ Parent ]
raina has teh magic (2.00 / 4)
:~)

John Askren - "Never get into a pissing match with a skunk."

[ Parent ]
In my economic circle... (2.00 / 10)
"Though much has been written about immigration reform, and how that will affect the voting choices of "Latino/Hispanic" communities, let us not forget that the virulent racism of the Republican Party does not play well in Afro-Latino households."

I don't actually know any low-income POC who vote Republican, or lean that way in the slightest. Even devout religious people who are disinclined to support abortion rights are so put off by the hate demonstrated by the Republican party that they vote for Democrats.


My experience, as well (2.00 / 9)
Several of my friends and acquaintances are pastors of predominately Black churches and, despite some divergence from the White (maybe non-POC?) party line, not a one supports Republicans and all are proud Democrats.

I can't say the same is true for my Native and Latino friends, sad to say, although there are more complicated reasons for that, esp. among my Native friends.


[ Parent ]
Recced here and there (2.00 / 8)
As for genealogy, I am the keeper of such in our family.
I discovered that my gggfather served on a blockade ship during the CW. He also served along with an escaped slave, that they took on board. That slave had quite the future from then on. I spoke with the author and gggson of that slave about his book. I posted a review on gos, to little acclaim.
http://www.dailykos.com/story/...

Thanks for that link (2.00 / 8)
I'm going to add it to my class resources list.  

"If you're in a coalition and you're comfortable, you know it's not a broad enough coalition"

Bernice Johnson Reagon


[ Parent ]
So I'm guessing . . . (2.00 / 7)
the "disparaging" part of "El Negro Guerrero" was "El Negro," not "Guerrero."

Regardless, if ever a term of disparagement was reclaimable, it's this one.

Authentic Native American silverwork, jewelry, photography, and other art here.


yup. You got that one right :) (2.00 / 7)
The N -word  

"If you're in a coalition and you're comfortable, you know it's not a broad enough coalition"

Bernice Johnson Reagon


[ Parent ]
OK, so, how should we define "Black"? (2.00 / 2)
Like most categorizations of humans, it's problematic; as you say, it is an "artificial demographic divide". The census lets people self define, and, as far as I know, doesn't check (how could they?).

That's fine for now, but it's hard for history, because we don't know (usually) how historical figures would have self-defined; sometimes we know how others defined a person, but this often varies by the person.

We do have some legal definitions, e.g. the infamous "one drop" rule; but applying that in a serious fashion would mean we are all Black, or, certainly, all African-American, since the human race got its start in Africa; in addition, the degree of mixtures between the "races" historically is far greater than is commonly acknowledged.

The same problem arises with other groups. "Who is a Jew?" is answered differently by different groups of Jews and by different groups of anti-Semites as well. Even within Israel there are different definitions for different purposes.

I don't know the answer to this.



"Most people worry about their own bellies and other people's souls when we all ought to worry about our own souls and others' bellies" Israel Salanter


it is complex - since depending on where you are (2.00 / 1)
the legal standard varies. Black in the US may not be black in Brazil (where you can be white with a recent African ancestor - depending on phenotype)

The Law and the one drop rule here in 1977:

Susie Guillory Phipps, The State of Louisiana, and the One-Drop Rule
http://1nedrop.com/susie-guill...

At the time, Louisiana State Law declared anyone with "1/32 Negro blood," Negro; and according to a genealogist hired by the state, Susie Guillory Phipps had 3/32 Negro blood - her great-great-great-great grandmother was an enslaved African woman by the name of Marguerite.


"If you're in a coalition and you're comfortable, you know it's not a broad enough coalition"

Bernice Johnson Reagon


[ Parent ]
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