All the Fights We Do Not See: BHM Lessons on How to Win at the Margins

The battle for America – its ideals, its people’s hearts and minds – is being fought on the fringes. Where are you?

Olenoko contributor Cosmopolitan Griot (aka "Cosmo Griot") throws a spotlight on overlooked areas where hearts and minds can be won and interracial understanding improved. (Published in 2017.)
Black History Month (BHM) was gone in a flash, but not without its noteworthy moments – some laudable, some laughable, and others downright deplorable. Let’s take a quick turn about those not-so-fair grounds and then consider how we who have not had “so much winning that [we are] bored with winning” can get a little more.

Among the BHM moments worthy of praise were the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture milestone of one million visitors in five months and special educational and entertaining programming for this month, in particular; a Twitter celebration of several shades of love (#POC in Love); and a slew of traditional news media reflections on and tributes to black history. Kudos are in order. (No, I will not include Beyonce’s twin pregnancy announcement here, though I will award her top marks for PR timing.)

As for the moments that simultaneously made us laugh at their ludicrousness and weep (bigly) at their hurtful ignorance, those ranged from President Donald Trump -- aka Don’T, aka 45 -- high-fiving the very late Frederick Douglass in the Washington Post (“Frederick Douglass is an example of somebody who’s done an amazing job and is getting recognized more and more, I notice”); to his second-in-command Mike Pence shouting out Abraham Lincoln, as though no black person of any importance came to mind; to education secretary Betsy DeVos leaving us no choice but to despair (pun intended).

And the Web was atwitter and the world all abuzz. The transgressors were excoriated on social media. The public hurt was palpable and the anger understandable. But let’s examine these gaffes a tad more closely. It is Black History Month. We can safely assume (hopefully) that these embattled leaders of these United States of America were attempting to say something appropriate, or to “connect”, as one commentator put it in the case of Devos.

So, to what can we attribute these offensive comments, if not malice? To the usual suspect, of course: ignorance. But with an unhealthy dose of indifference, because if you care enough to want to know something, you simply look it up. As a certain freelance writer says, “Google is still a free service...let [it] be the friend it was placed on this earth to be.”

Still, if ignorance is the main ailment, then schooling is the antidote. How many of us take the time to educate and, when necessary and even while dodging hateful bullets, explain like folks are five? How many of us venture into the sometimes hostile territory of online publication Comments sections, where we won’t necessarily make the headlines for having the most retweets or likes or upvotes? Therein lies the problem.

Though still a stereotype, one of the more positive notions about the souls of black folk is that we have soul. We love church – the fellowship, the singing in choir, the preaching. Unfortunately, we also love preaching to the choir. But that particular modern-day predilection is no respecter of race. We are not engaging those with whom we most need to connect, those seemingly least like us, those most in need of enlightenment on black experiences. We are not educating others as often as we should, in as many places as we need to.

(By the way, when I say “we”, I mean all people of “black” African descent – African-American or otherwise – despite the puzzling appropriation of the besieged word exclusively for African-Americans.)

Make no mistake. The battle for America – its ideals, its people’s hearts and minds -- is being fought on the fringes. And, if the 2016 presidential election has taught us one thing, it is that the fringes are not as marginal as once thought. So, where are you? Where are we? Clearly not here, for instance, in any impressive numbers.

Fightin' words in response to Corey Townsend's article, "So Many People Failed
Black History Month 2017," in The Root on Feb. 28, 2017.
We showed up in the comments (see left) beneath a tongue-in-cheek piece on The Root, though, but lost our temper when the satire was lost on a well-meaning, wandering, wondering visitor.

This probably is what we shouldn’t do when trying to foster understanding. However unfair it may be that this burden of educating others falls upon us, it must be done if the battle is to be won. Get ye to the comments section. And to all the other places we often overlook.

You say, “But surely big platforms matter more than these obscure places?” Yes, that’s what Hillary Clinton said... before her hopes and ours went up in flames. You say, “Social media is where it’s at these days.” Yes, that worked wonders for Barack Obama, but didn’t make his tenure as president or our lives all that much easier.

Yes, a lot goes on in the spotlight, but most of that is preaching to the choir: shouting from the pulpits to people who are only there to be shouted at in the first place because they agree with us, at least for the most part. Television is no exception. Who regularly watches Trevor Noah or Bill Maher or Stephen Colbert or the conservative comedy-talk-show host we are all (still) waiting for? Audiences who like – and, for the most part, agree with – Trevor Noah, Bill Maher, Stephen Colbert, and the other guy. They, too, are busy preaching to the choir.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, someone curious enough to read the Washington Post and yet uninformed and bigoted enough to write such tummy-turning hogwash as you will find in the screenshot below is busily tapping away at his or her keyboard – that most stealthy of pulpits – and rapidly accruing likes for such repugnant comments.

Fightin' words in response to Colbert I. King's article, "Black History Month milestones can’t blot out the bad,"
in the Washington Post on Feb. 24, 2017.

Could that person be a troll? Ben, oui! But what about the multitudes who like their comment? Are they all trolls, too? Ben, non!

So, here’s what I propose. If you have something to say and fancy yourself a decent debater, orator, conversationalist, or general jabberer, leave the comfort of your “zone” and of all those faces you know and love. Leave often, Black History Month or not. Hit the comments sections of your favorite publications and even some of those you detest and, with (actual) facts, compelling arguments, and as much civility as you can muster in the face of certain provocation, cerebrally duke it out there. The battle for America is far from won, but it is not yet lost.

Whether in the New York Times or the Washington Post or on your neighbor’s blog, the battle for America is being fought in the sections marked “Comments” and other frequently overlooked spots. Where are you?

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