by Kyler Wesp
Graphics by Esther Shin
This past February, people of color continued to share their stories. Black History Month is a time to commemorate their history and culture while advocating for the future. As such, people are realizing Black History Month is a platform for these important conversations, especially those concerning proper representation of POC within all areas of life and the media.
Young Black adults of this generation are furthering their narratives and bringing real change against racial inequality. In an interview with two POC Spark writers, Brandon Hendon and Jade Fabello, I was introduced to the inner struggles and outer significance of Black History Month in the 21st century. As a white woman, I am extremely honored that they shared their experiences with me and allowed me to give their voices a platform. These are their stories.
Fabello and Hendon both say they came from predominantly white areas and attended primarily white institutions, where they felt “different” from the peers they grew up with. Representation of the Black community in the media overall is severely lacking, but in Texas schools, it is even more apparent.
“I didn’t know much about my own background as a Black person,” says Hendon, which lead him to see Black History Month as simply another lesson in school he had to sit through or another presentation to create. As a consequence of growing up in primarily white environments, young Black students can develop a sense of indifference towards Black History Month for painting them as different from their classmates, furthering the racial divide already so present.
Fabello recalled that students were always fascinated by his Black features, which made him see Black History Month as a divider. He says that he “internalized those feelings of alienation.. [with] an offensive sense of humor, where he wielded his otherness as a weapon” to keep those feelings out. In a child’s formative years, the need to fit in is almost overwhelming, so when your skin is darker than most of your peers, the struggles of finding your place in the world become more significant.
As a young student, Fabello claims he did not fully understand the social power behind Black History Month, but as he grew older, he began to see that “Black History Month is a platform for representation” for POC. Mentioning the February release of the Marvel movie, Black Panther, Fabello describes the momentous effect the film has already had on the social and mental mindsets of the POC community. With adolescent boys and girls seeing someone who looks like them in a position of power in the media, along with the fact that cast is primarily Black, the importance of the film isn’t its cinematic excellence, it’s the message about fair representation in the media. Representation is crucial to the morale of POC children — if they can see themselves in powerful roles on television, then they start to believe in their own abilities and strengths.
Fabello says his “young peers only knew blackness through [him], a few other classmates and a toned-down education of slavery,” which led to a lack of understanding in the Black experience and Fabello himself. Through the lens of Black History Month, Black narratives are encouraged to the frontline, elevated to a significance that can allow people to recognize different aspects to the Black experience other than what is taught in whitewashed history classes. Calling for a “more carefully curated educational curriculum and an increased media representation of Black people,” Fabello believes that we, as a country, can further the impact of Black History Month and develop it into a time that creates a deeper understanding of the Black experience as a whole.
Hendon had a similar realization in his later years, which led him to ultimately view Black History Month as a time to recognize how the Black community has “endured, overcome, and achieved to reclaim [their] identity.” Black History Month creates a platform for Black communities to recall narratives that help them reidentify with their ancestors and cultural identity; furthermore, it allows non-POC to listen to those narratives and elevate the Black community in more productive ways than before.
Black History Month is a reminder of the continuance of systematic racial injustices in the economic, social, and political spheres of today. “Black History Month is hope,” Hendon says, “Black History Month is a reminder of our shared struggles and experiences, a celebration of our achievements and progress, and most importantly, an opportunity to teach the next generation our story.” This month’s significance is the reclaiming of the Black identity through the lens of their own personal family stories and historical role models. Black History Month provides proper representation of POC, as well as a lesson on who they are as a people, culture and racial identity.
With the introduction of movements like Black Lives Matter, there seems to be a renewed need amongst the young Black community to change societal views of Blackness. The POC community has taken a strong stance against the injustice that still permeates in the burrows of this country, utilizing social media and other platforms to further these conversations. Black History Month has allowed these young individuals to use this time as a way to illustrate their stories to a larger audience and to show the need for representation, action and advocacy. While Black History Month may have been a thorn in the side of so many young POC students, they have reclaimed the past month to further their agenda and bring their struggles to the forefront of America’s consciousness. •
Kyler Wesp is a first-year Psychology Major. In her spare time, she can be found reading a book at the Austin Public Library, sipping coffee with her friends, or finding hidden local spots within the city. This is her first semester working for Spark.