A couple of days ago, while surfing the net, I came upon a blog post that referred to February as the month of love. That statement reignited an old memory that I thought I might share.
I attended a major university in New England, where I grew up. I lived in the dorm on an all girls floor. Each month our TA would decorate the bulletin board with the theme of her choosing. Quite naturally, that February, I think the year was 1989, she chose the theme of Valentine’s Day. A student like the rest of us, I think she did a rush job, something that required little thought or effort. She covered the entire announcement board with pink construction paper, tied a thread of yarn around a Sharpie, and tacked it to the board. Stenciled across the top in red letters was the question, What would you like during this month of love? Write your answer.
More than forty girls lived on my floor, so you can imagine the kinds of things that were written on the board over the next couple of days; everything from chocolates and teddy bears, to a diamond engagement ring from my boyfriend, to things too lewd to repeat, to things that had absolutely nothing at all to do with Valentine’s Day or love. I wrote that I would like to have a Black History Month board instead, as Valentine’s is only a daylong event.
Did I mention that I was the only African-American living on my floor?
Who would have thought that my suggestion would be the start of a firestorm? Not me. Actually, that’s not true. I pretty much expected the firestorm. Overnight a few really ugly comments cropped up on the board. Go back to Africa. Get a life. We don’t want to learn about black history. I received quite a few ugly looks and some people stopped speaking to me altogether. The militant that I was took this all as a challenge but I never had a chance to write a response. A huge meeting was called and everyone was admonished for their shameful behavior. I say everyone, because we never knew who wrote what at that point. Racists rarely are brave enough to do their dirt in the light of day.
I think that the TA was a bit embarrassed. I think it likely never even occurred to her to do a Black History Month board. The day after the big meeting, the Valentine’s Day board was removed. Our TA, a girl in her very early twenties, from New England, likely had little real exposure to people of color. What did she know about Black History or why it might be important to include that on the board…to even give it a thought? Was she totally responsible for the oversight? More than twenty years later, with a lot more experience and insight, I am able to ask these questions, to give her a break for not knowing, for not thinking it was even important to know, because I am not so angry and don’t feel as excluded as I did then. Times and people change.
The TA, I can’t recall her name for the life of me, did a brave thing. I ran into her about two or three days later at the Afro-American Cultural Center on campus. She wanted to use our library, and she asked me to help her find some interesting little known facts about black history to post on the board. In the end she learned something, and so did I. I learned that not everyone with white skin was an enemy or wanted to be non-inclusive. I learned that some people really do care if you give them a chance. She learned some interesting facts about the struggles of people of color in this country and their contributions to the greater good of us all, regardless of ethnicity, of origins, of religion.
In the end, for me anyway, February did end up being the month of love. I had to love her for being open and willing to try, and for refusing to listen the people who told her to ignore the situation and me and my request. By helping her learn, I developed an increased appreciation and love of myself and culture which is a distinctly American amalgamation, and she did too.