Black people have a remarkable propensity for overcoming.
In 1953, late actress Dorothy Dandridge wanted to go swimming at a Las Vegas hotel. But the Last Frontier Hotel had a policy banning Black people from its pool. She dipped her foot in the pool as a laudable f**k you to the discriminatory regulation; staff responded by draining the entire pool.
A year later, Dandridge set a record at that same hotel for having the highest-attended performance at the venue, as 1,263 people were present for her closing night show. That same year, she went on to become the first Black woman nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress.
Like many Black people who came before and after Dandridge, we somehow regularly manage to thrive while staring white supremacy in its face. Our excellence is commonplace but tends to get overshadowed by bigotry's audacity to insist on inferiority.
In the summer of 2018, the realities of being Black in a white nation were amplified for the masses after a white woman in Oakland called cops on two Black men for barbecuing. Acts as innocuous as selling water, awaiting a friend at Starbucks and napping in a dorm were reason enough to dial up 911 as long as the person doing these acts was Black. Video of these incidents became a regular fixture on the timeline.
So much so, the hashtag #LivingWhileBlack came to encapsulate the painstaking truth that our mere existence is constantly under surveillance. #LivingWhileBlack was a reminder to those inclined to process these moments as isolated incidents that they were, in fact, everyday realities and would continue to be. Such incidents also served as a sobering reminder that within a matter of minutes, our bodies can be subject to a law enforcement system that hasn’t been shy to act on the racial elitism that exists within it. The videos were visual microcosms of the systems which hurt us every day. And the hashtag bore indisputable significance — as do so many other movements that have been initiated by the Black Twitterverse.
But what’s also vital are the stories of our excellence which may not always go viral. Like that of Santia Deck, the first woman to receive a multimillion-dollar contract from the Women's Football League Association. Or Keeth Smart, the first American to hold the top spot in the world for saber fencing.
But it's not because these moments carry less significance.
We're fully capable of simultaneously celebrating those like Deck and Smart while being enraged over cops being called on a Black girl trying to raise money to go to Disney World. But the latter can be hard to shake. Because whether that little girl's greatest triumph was going to Disney World or becoming a history-making football player, bigotry could have prevented her from becoming either — which makes it all too easy to develop a tunnel vision unique to Black Americans. It becomes hard to relish in our greatness when the efforts to suppress it are ceaseless and, sometimes, violent.
So this Black History Month, we’re reversing this tunnel vision by heralding those who go on to accomplish history-making feats in the face of racist vitriol and oppression. Because our preeminence is just as much a part of our narrative as our pain. And that's exactly what we're reminding you of this month: that #LivingWhileBlack also means #MakingHistoryWhileBlack.
As with every February, we'll be doubling up on the praise for the ancestors, including Mr. Carter G. Woodson, the historian who made the pivotal call to establish Negro History Week in 1926, along with other Black change-makers, like Constance Baker Motley. After being refused access to a public beach when she was 15 years old, an interest in civil rights was spurred. In 1966, she became the first Black woman to become a federal judge. And that was after being the first Black female New York state senator.
We shouldn't have to fight our way out of the throes of racial oppression to keep on keeping on. But the fact that we do it far too regularly is cause for praise (more than 29 days worth, but y'all already know this).
As our ethereal sis Solange reminds: we got a lot to be mad about. But it's February — this one is for us.
Get a glimpse into our legacy below:
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Happy Black History Month, fam! Blavity is making an extra effort to recognize the folks who are #MakingHistoryWhileBlack, because although #LivingWhileBlack comes with unfortunate experiences, our excellence can not and WILL not be overshadowed by bigotry. #LivingWhileBlack also means #MakingHistoryWhileBlack! Drop a ✊???? if you agree and hit the link in the bio to learn how we'll be honoring this all month long ????????