By Taryn Neal
I am black history. It’s not just February; it’s every day because my rich, vibrant, and beautiful history cannot be confined to one month. I stand on the shoulders of all of my courageous ancestors as they were bold, educated, and determined to be treated equally in our country. Sadly, that fight still continues today.
When I was in the seventh grade, I asked my social studies teacher why he didn’t include black history in his lecturing. His response was that there wasn’t enough room in the curriculum. As I continued to advocate learning more about black history, I was reprimanded for my persistence. What does that do to a black child? What do black children think when they read their history books and all they see is one small paragraph about slavery and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr? It truly hurt me because my teacher was saying that, in the grand scheme of things, there wasn’t room for me, for my history; that my history didn’t matter.
Living in a culture where I am not always celebrated creates a feeling of intrinsic inadequacy. When you’re not represented in popular culture, you have to internally affirm yourself. It took me a while to become comfortable with and love my wide nose and curly hair that does not grow to my ideal length. Pop culture typically affirms ideals of beauty that don’t look anything like me.
There is a fiery movement within black culture. This year during Black History Month, there have been many dynamic performances by celebrities that have sparked conversation: Beyonce’s song “Formation” and her Super Bowl performance which paid homage to the Black Panther Party for self defense, her short film about race from the perspective of black men. Rapper Kendrick Lamar’s Grammy performance and the hit TV show Black-ish’s “Hope” episode. These are popular artists taking a national platform and addressing the anguish and justified anger felt within the black community. All of these acts have made people uncomfortable and that is exactly what needs to happen: Racism is alive and well and, however uncomfortable it may be, we must acknowledge that in order to change it.
Some people say that there shouldn’t be a Black History Month because there is no “White History Month”; they call it “racist.” When the live performance of The Wiz aired on NBC, there were so many negative and hateful comments about this play with an all-black cast. Even though the original Wizard of Oz had an all-white cast, this was “racist.” The Black Lives Matter movement has been ridiculed and criticized as being “racist” and an attack against police. It’s the exact opposite: We live in a world in which time and time again we are shown that black lives are not valued as highly as others, that our blackness is under attack. People who once hid their hate behind a veil have removed it and vehemently spew it.
In spite of the hate that some people exhibit, we still need to have hope that things will get better. My ancestors who are celebrated during Black History Month and every day had hope. We live in dark times but we have to continue the fight so one day we truly can all be seen as equals. I have to have this hope because I want my future children to live in a world where they won’t be targeted because of the color of their skin. I have to have hope because if not, I am letting everyone down who fought for my civil rights.
Black history is a continuous celebration of my heritage. I love my people: our swag, our rhythm, our resilience, our determination and our strength. I am a proud black queen who makes magic in everything that I do.
Taryn Neal is 26 and lives in Cincinnati, OH. In her free time, she enjoys shopping, traveling and spending time with her husband.