Black History Month

by Lisabritt Solsky, VP Strategy & Corporate Development at Granite State Independent Living and NHPHA Board Member

The NHPHA has committed to centering equity in its current platform. As such, recognition and careful consideration of Black History Month is merited. This year’s theme is The Black Family: Representation, Identity and Diversity. The Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH), which founded Black History Month 95 years ago, notes, “Not only are individual black families diasporic, but Africa and the diaspora itself have been long portrayed as the black family at large. While the role of the black family has been described by some as a microcosm of the entire race, its complexity as the ‘foundation’ of African American life and history can be seen in numerous debates over how to represent its meaning and typicality from a historical perspective—as slave or free, as patriarchal or matriarchal/matrifocal, as single-headed or dual-headed household, as extended or nuclear, as fictive kin or blood lineage, as legal or common law, and as black or interracial, etc. Variation appears, as well, in discussions on the nature and impact of parenting, childhood, marriage, gender norms, sexuality, and incarceration. The family offers a rich tapestry of images for exploring the African American past and present.”

Events will focus on food, culture, art, as well as media depictions of the Black family to create engagement. The ASALH solicited recipes from Black families to include in their upcoming festival.

It is commendable that ASALH goes beyond simply honoring famous Black people. Year after year ASALH uses their promotion of Black History Month as an opportunity to engage in deep didactic discussion of culture and current challenges. In some ways it’s just too easy to reduce Black History Month to single-paragraph biographies of Black historical figures. This approach runs the risk of caricatures, allowing celebrants to feel informed and aware, without doing much heavy lifting or self-examination.

In writing this, I’m reflecting about how Black families have been represented in television and film, in the news, and in social media and on my reactions to those depictions. From the Jeffersons to Medeia, from the Floyds to the Knowles-Carters, from the Obamas to the Cosbys, from Chenjerai Kumanyika to Ally Henny to Ibram X Kendi to Kanye, there is contrast and commonality, accuracy and discord, reverence and unfairness. What do these divergences reveal about bias? About white privilege?

NHPHA encourages all who acknowledge Black History Month to think critically about Black families past and present, real and fictional, and explore all that is celebratory as well as all that can be elevated through equity.

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