Black Woman with piercings and short hair writing with pen and paper in front of a laptop at a desk while wearing a bandana tied around her forehead.
Cover Image © WAYHOME studio

My Black Perspective #27: Owning Our Narrative

Growing up, I recall a history teacher once saying something like, “The Winners write the history” or something like that. It is an interesting point and comment on how stories are conveyed over time. It also left me wondering, “How much truth gets omitted when telling that narrative since ‘the losers’ have no say?”

As a Black person who’s been looking at the topic of “being Black in America” both objectively and subjectively, the historic winner/loser story approach has struck a special chord with me all month. I say that because Black People, minorities in general – but ESPECIALLY Black People, had been on the losing side of the American Experience for centuries in many ways.

Fortunately, we currently live in a time where nearly everyone has a say in some fashion so long as they have the ability to write sentences, internet access, or a phone that can record things. I know that doesn’t cover everyone – but it covers a lot of people. The winners/losers approach finally holds the potential to include fragments of perspective from the loser’s side of things (which, in my eyes, creates a more complete and accurate retelling of history).

Imagine Existing, but “Not Existing”

I know that a number of people still don’t like the idea of Black History Month on both sides (Black or Non-Black), but I feel like the winner/loser approach to historical retellings necessitates its existence for the safety of widespread mention of non-White faces in the U.S. At least, there was a time when it was necessary (it honestly might not be as needed in 2021).

A portrait of a young dazzling Black woman with big earrings, nose piercing, and beautiful dreadlocks, she is looking at the camera while leaning against a glass wall which fully reflects her.

I read a TIME Magazine article about the origin of Black History Month in preparation for this post. It opens with a powerful establishing paragraph that gave me plenty of food for thought…

It was in 1964 when the author James Baldwin reflected on the shortcomings of his education. “When I was going to school,” he said, “I began to be bugged by the teaching of American history because it seemed that that history had been taught without cognizance of my presence.”

TIME Magazine quoting James Baldwin

That same article went on to state that…

By the mid-1960s, the most popular textbook for eighth-grade U.S. history classes mentioned only two black people in the entire century of history that had transpired since the Civil War

TIME Magazine: “This Is How February Became Black History Month”

Wow.

The total Non-White population of the United States was 20.5 million people in 1960 according to the U.S. Census. By the mid-1960s it was very likely a higher number. Surely more than two Black People made some impact on history during the century that had gone on beyond the Civil War? This was when the winners/losers approach jumped back into the forefront of my mind.

A quote from Carter G. Woodson mentioned a little earlier in the same article held a little more meaning to me at that point.

“If a race has no history, it has no worthwhile tradition, it becomes a negligible factor in the thought of the world, and it stands in danger of being exterminated,” Woodson said

TIME MAGAZINE QUOTING Carter G. Woodson

There were PLENTY of Black People in the U.S. at the time who were seeing themselves exist each day without seeing themselves anywhere all at the same time. Advertisements of the day weren’t geared toward them. Opportunities weren’t either. And history didn’t even bother to give them a mention.

Examples of Ads from the 1950s in the United States.
Ads were VERY White back in the day.

It wasn’t until 1976 that then-President Gerald Ford made Black History Month a national observance because the stark omission of Blackness from America’s story was just too large to ignore.

“In celebrating Black History Month,” Ford said in his message, “we can seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”

TIME MAGAZINE: “THIS IS HOW FEBRUARY BECAME BLACK HISTORY MONTH”

Indeed.

It pains me at times to think about how much of my history I will NEVER know simply because someone on “the winning side” decided it wasn’t worth mention. We know well of Black People’s past enslavement in this country, but honestly – I can’t help but wonder how much of that is by design at this point when I think of it in the context of the winners/losers approach. And no, I don’t mean that in some dark clandestine conspiracy theory tone of reference — I’m just saying that there is A LOT that we don’t know because of our approach to recording history.

There are stories that are missed and moments of importance that will likely forever go undocumented because a group of people was treated as invisible when it came to their significance in history… And that saddens me a little bit.

But… like I said at the start of this post, times have changed (in my eyes, for the better).

This is Why I Enjoy Blogging

“Just want to let you know I really appreciate your blog and post that you put out there yesterday. It made me think and think some more so thank you to [sic] that. You are heard and seen. Hang in there!”

A White Coworker’s Private Message to Me

A White coworker sent that message to me unprompted one day. It was nice to know that someone was reading, and they had no idea how much I appreciated those few words of acknowledgement.

The fact that I now have the opportunity to share my perspective unfiltered is exhilarating to me. I can share my thoughts on various topics, and my personal notions on Blackness, and others will see it and actually take that into consideration these days. I like to think that every experience changes us, but especially the things that we take time to read and watch freely — and someone is taking my perspective into their minds of their own accord. That’s insane to think about, and extremely humbling.

And we now live in an age where EVERYONE can do this.

Everyone who is willing to put in a small amount of effort – whether it be a quick 15-second video or a 40-page essay or a full book – can add their narrative to the stories that are being put out there. And while we all aren’t landing in the history books for it, that addition to the narrative is still important.

I have talked about how I value the gift and curse that is Social Media in this series before, and I stand by that. Tell your stories because it all plays an important role in shaping the narratives out there, winners or losers.

So, What is the Black Narrative?

I liken a lot of what people in the U.S. know about people who don’t look like them to those old snark comments you might hear in the past regarding dating advice columns for women. A man would see or overhear a woman reading an article with a headline along the lines of “17 Things to Drive Your Dream Guy Wild”. And every now and then you’d hear “that guy” say to a woman, “What woman wrote that?” Basically implying that the article doesn’t sound like it knows much about men, so it must not have been written by a man.

That is kind of how a lot of popular thoughts about Black People in this country came to be. People heard things (from Non-Black People). People read things (from Non-Black People). People watched news stories (from Non-Black People). (I will never forget being warned by a counselor at my first college that many of the White students there might have perceptions of Black People solely based on TV, movies, music, etc.)

So, a lot of it stands the chance of just being inaccurate because it’s written from the outside looking in.

This room for inaccurate representation is why BET was so valued by Black People when I was growing up, and why it was so sad when it was sold to Viacom. It is why we praise things like Forty Acres and a Mule Filmworks, The Oprah Winfrey Network, and Tyler Perry Studios. It is why Black-owned magazines matter. It is why Black News Channel getting new distribution matters. It is why Emmanuel Acho’s conversation efforts matter.

To be honest, I don’t know what “The Black Narrative” is in America – I can’t speak for ALL Black America. But I know that we have the opportunity as Black People living now to share our pieces of it and add nuance to whatever may be out there. We get to own our narrative now, and I hope people value that. It is a very long way from the classic approach of only winners being allowed to shape history.

If that doesn’t feel important to you, think about this: The ability to share our own narrative has literally saved lives, kept people out of jail, and corrected gross past inaccuracies.

I encourage people to share and chronicle to their heart’s content. You will never know if what you contribute will move spirits and change minds until you try. Mold future self-perceptions for generations to come. We don’t control everything that’s put out there, but we get to participate now.

Group of laughing African-American friends having fun eating sandwiches and burgers drink coffee and then making selfie for social media in cozy cafeteria.

Haha – Fun Fact: I’ve always told myself that if I ever had a kid, I’d totally leave some kind of journal for them to reference when I’m dead and gone. Either written or video recordings.

I’m rambling now.

Peace, and thanks for reading.

 

The soundtrack for this post provided by…

Image Credits:
– Cover Image © WAYHOME studio (Shutterstock)
– Body Image 1 © skyNext (Shutterstock)

– Body Image 2 © Johnnie Weathersby III
– Body Image 3 © FrameStockFootages (Shutterstock)

Sharing is Caring
Resize Font
Contrast Mode
Created by Alex Volkov