Well, we made it to the month of March, but the February 2019 Black History Month was one for the ages. In addition to the in-group assaults — coming into February on the heels of “Surviving R. Kelly” and attempting to unravel the Jussie Smollett debacle — we experienced a litany of racial insults that make me think we just need to do Black History Month all over!
Black History Month 2019 had the Governor of Virginia (the state that had the tiki-torch bearing racists the year before) trying to explain away his yearbook page with a picture of two people, one in blackface and the other in a KKK hood. First, he said he didn’t know which of the two people was he. Then, a day or so later he said he was neither of the people. However, he did admit to putting on blackface as a part of a Michael Jackson contest (can I remind you that Michael Jackson didn’t even have a black face by the time he was in his 40s!). In a post-dust-up interview with CBS This Morning with host Gayle King, the governor referred to enslaved Africans in his state as “indentured servants.” Thank you, Gayle King, for the swift correction!
When people started denouncing the governor and began looking to the Black Lieutenant Governor, Justin Fairfax, as the possible replacement for Governor Northam, we learned that he allegedly sexually assaulted two women. Then, the third possible gubernatorial replacement, State Attorney General Mark Herring, admitted that he wore blackface in college.
To make a bad situation worse in Virginia, the Governor’s wife, Pam Northam, reportedly interrupted a tour of the governor’s mansion and handed a ball of cotton to a Black student as asked, “Can you imagine being a slave and having to pick this?” Epic fail, Ms. Northam. Epic fail! And while all eyes were on the mess in Virginia, down the road in Florida the newly appointed Secretary of State Michael Ertel had been forced to resign in late January when photos of him surfaced in which he was in blackface and dressed as a woman as what he termed a “Hurricane Katrina victim.”
Over in Alabama, Goodloe Sutton, publisher of a small town newspaper wrote an editorial saying it was time for the Ku Klux Klan to night ride again and get some hemp for nooses to hang Democrats in Washington, D.C.
While this foolishness was going on in high places, the folks in the world of fashion decided to join the “fun.” Gucci advertised a blackface sweater. Katie Perry produced some shoes that look strikingly like blackface and Burberry showcased a hoodie with a noose pull at fashion week in London.
As we thought things were getting back to a celebration of Black excellence at this year’s Academy Awards — Regina King won Best Supporting Actress, Mahershala Ali won Best Supporting Actor, Ruth E. Carter won for Best Costuming, Hannah Bechler won for Best Production Design, Peter Ramsey won for best animation, and finally … finally, Spike Lee won for Best Screenplay Adaptation — the Best Picture Award went to a film that gives us a White man’s narration of a Black man’s story, “Green Book.”
As we return to reality, Maryland State Delegate Mary Ann Lisanti told a colleague who was stumping for votes that he was knocking on doors in an N-word district. When her statement was revealed her defense was, “Everybody’s said that word. I’ve said the f-word; I’ve taken the Lord’s name in vain.” No, Mary Ann, everybody hasn’t said it and certainly not everybody who seeks to hold public office.
By Wednesday, February 27, I was holding my breath hoping we could make it to March 1 without another “incident” but then Donald Trump’s “fixer” Michael Cohen took the stand at a Congressional Hearing. In his opening statement, he declared that Donald J. Trump was a racist (is that really news?) and gave examples of statements he personally heard Trump say about Black people. To rebut his assertion, Congressman Mark Meadows had Lynn Patton — event planner turned HUD appointee — stand behind him as a human prop and evidence that Trump was not racist. It was only when a Black woman, Representative Stacey Plaskett turned around and told Republican Representative Jim Jordan to “shut up” and did the “church mothers’” eye roll that I breathed a sigh of relief. It was at that moment, I declared that Rep. Plaskett was the woman who saved Black History Month — at least for me.
However, I still think we could use a Black History Month do-over!