“And then you might understand how the death of Michael Brown became a tipping point in the US.”
To mark Black History Month, Al Jazeera is showcasing some of our best stories on race and identity.
Know your history: Understanding racism in the US – by A’Leila Bundles
“Racial ignorance is a prison from which there is no escape because there are no doors” – Toni Morrison
The history of people of African descent in America – which is to say the history of America – is a pendulum of progress and setbacks, of resilience and retaliation, of protest and backlash.
There have been allies and there have been opponents. There have been demagogues, who would divide Americans on the basis of colour and class, and visionaries who would seek to lead us to common ground.
Read the complete story here – Know your history: Understanding racism in the US
Black History Month and the uses of the past – by Leigh Raiford and Michael Cohen
“Black History Month needs to retain its optimistic faith in a future beyond the bounds of white supremacy” – Leigh Railford and Michael Cohen
The now expanded Black History Month continues to provide a platform for competing uses of the past in the US.
The current divisions around the meaning of Black History Month no longer openly pit one race against another.
Today we encounter a more complex axis of division that embodies competing narratives of the place of race in life in the US. On the one hand, Black History Month presents us with positive images of achieved – and largely individuated – racial progress, whereas, on the other, we are offered insights into the social history of black people as collective agents in a struggle that continues to this day.
So while both versions depict a history of overcoming struggle, it’s just that one favours the overcoming and the other the struggle.
Read the complete story here – Black History Month and the uses of the past
Museum sheds light on African-American history – by Dalia Hatuqa
‘There will be a Negro president of this country, but it will not be the country that we are sitting in now’ – James Baldwin
– James Baldwin
“There will never be a Negro president in this country,” a young African-American man is seen saying to James Baldwin, a renowned writer and civil rights activist in San Francisco in 1963. Baldwin assures the young man: “There will be a Negro president of this country, but it will not be the country that we are sitting in now.”
This spine-tingling clip, playing at an exhibition aptly called Making a Way Out of No Way, is part of the Smithsonian’s Museum of African American History and Culture, which was inaugurated by Barack Obama, the United States’ first black president.
Read the complete story here – Museum sheds light on African-American history
“The air is the only place free from prejudices” – Bessie Coleman
Bessie Coleman was the first African-American female to become a licensed pilot in 1921.
Defeating gender and racial prejudice, the then 29-year-old became a symbol for millions of women of colour at a time when African-Americans were still battling segregation and fighting for equal rights across the country.
Read the complete story here – Who was Bessie Coleman and why does she still matter?
Luke Cage: How a black boy became a superhero – by John Metta
‘Grass was green, the sky was blue, and superheroes were white’ – John Metta
I was a child in The Projects. Like any kid, I had dreams of what I wanted to be: an astronaut, a scientist. But the realities of life often descend early upon the the poor and, despite my dreams, I knew that the destiny of a poor kid in The Projects was to remain for ever poor and in The Projects.
My only real escape was books, and comic books were particularly special to me. But escaping into stories was temporary. After I read the last page, I knew I had to come back to the same reality.
Read the complete story here – Luke Cage: How a black boy became a superhero
Race in the US: Herstory – by Treva Lindsey
“Black women and girls have always been victims of racist terrorising. This is why we must emphatically #SayHerName” – Treva Lindsey
Until the recent suspicious death of Sandra Bland and the five other black women who died in police custody, the national conversation on anti-black racism and policing has primarily focused on black men and boys.
Black women and girls remain conspicuously absent from the collective roll call often used as evidence of anti-black state violence.
Read the complete story here – Race in the US: Herstory
A Black Panther cub on a new era of civil action – by Malkia Cyril
“Once a Panther, always a Panther … even when you’re just a cub” – Malkia Cyril
Being a Panther cub meant that there were always gaps in every story.
It meant living with the knowledge that people you loved and trusted were living their lives in prison for crimes they didn’t commit, in a nation that does not acknowledge their prosecution as selective or their incarceration as political.
Read the complete story here – Black Panther cub on new era of civil action
“Why are all the angels white? Why ain’t there no black angels?” – Muhammad Ali
In his life, Muhammad Ali taunted opponents with razor-sharp rhymes and comical one-liners. But his quotes on achievement, social justice, religion and war made him an iconic cultural figure.
Read the complete story here – Muhammad Ali’s most inspirational quotations on success and racism
The Battle of Hastings and the history of hip-hop – by John Metta
“Hip-hop is a manifestation of black culture as vital, valuable, strong and self-determining” – John Metta
For many of us who grew up in the American inner-city in the 1970s, poetry was our pastime.
Language was a game. It was what we did when we were not getting in trouble. We were not old enough to grasp the historical context of the game we played. We did not understand that it was, in fact, a revolutionary practice we participated in.
Read the complete story here – 50 Cent, Johnny Cash and the history of hip-hop
Writing through the tears – Kirsten West Savali
“My enslaved ancestors whisper to me during a summer bloated with the weight of black death; they are my co-authors” – Kirsten West Savali
Many people consider my writing radical. I guess in a world where black bodies are divorced from their humanity and considered dangerous and worthy of destruction on sight, loving black people is both a revolutionary and radical act.
In reality, though, I write so I can live. I write so black people can see their pain, strength and beauty illuminated in a whitewashed media reeking with the stench of implicit and explicit racial bias that too often fails to recognise any of the three.
Read the complete story here – Writing through the tears
What if your identity was a lie? – by John Metta
“There are no qualifiers to my blackness, and I will never again be Not Black Enough. I am a black man, and I am angry” – John Metta
As a child, I internalised race, internalised otherness, within myself so much that I became convinced that black was a single defining characteristic.
I internalised the fallacy that if I didn’t automatically fit in with another group of black people, it was not because we have a different family culture, but because I was Not Black Enough.
Of course, I had an excuse. I am, after all, culturally Indian.
Read the complete story here – What if your identity was a lie?