February is celebrated in the United States as Black History Month. It is acknowledged in other countries but not celebrated with the same intensity in most. In The Bahamas, there are references to it but no official recognition or celebration. Is this something that should be given more prominence in The Bahamas?
Most of my life I did not think about it, because in The Bahamas, black people hold a significant majority and some look at the minority status of black people in the United States and determine that it is something needed there but not necessarily needed here. One of the things that changed my opinion on the subject was my travels to Africa.
The world as we know it is often skewed toward life through the lens of European historians and therefore blacks, Asians, South Americans and others are either glossed over, show up as a footnote or are even eliminated from the story. I remember my first trip to Africa – I was startled at how many persons looked like someone from home. Then I learned that many customs we have at home came from Africa – things like asue, some of the foods we eat, some aspects of language, clothing and way of life were tied directly to Africa. Going to school in America also caused me to realize why black history is so important. If you never see yourself in a book, in a prominent place, if there are no accomplishments attached to your race and culture, it is possible to grow up without a proper identity and that can lead to a sense of inferiority and lack of self-worth. Black history is important, including the good and the bad, so that black people can understand who they are, where they came from, their place in history and what their potential is.
Everyone should know their story. When Europeans write history, they highlight their accomplishments, minimize their misdeeds and engender a superiority complex that allows for the philosophy of white supremacy and the “born to rule” mentality.
Black history helps in understanding the concept of equality because when you see someone like you accomplish something, it creates mental possibilities that may not have existed before.
I will never forget my experience working with the late Dr. Myles Munroe when he was preparing to publish his first book. I was involved in the negotiations and served as a business manager for Bahamas Faith Ministries and Myles Munroe International for many years. He decided at the time that he wanted a black publisher because he wanted to give an opportunity for someone of color rather than the traditional outlets run by American whites. He was not racist but was instead a visionary, understanding that his choice could change the game for people of color forever. As we began to negotiate, I was charged with locating black, Christian-based publishers. To my surprise, there were thousands of white publishers but very few black publishers and the black publishers had limited market access. Economically, it did not make sense, but he insisted. What followed was amazing. The businesses of the two black publishers blew up, and all of a sudden, black authors began to proliferate. Many of the names we see on television were inspired or affected by that simple decision.
We need to know our history. We need to know the accomplishments of black people. We also need to know what happened – both positive and negative – so that the negative is not repeated and the positive is accentuated and can serve as an incentive for our own actions.
We often hear of the more popular figures like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. – but history hides Robert Abbot, who founded the first black press; Muhammed Ali, Bill Russell, Jim Brown and other athletes who changed perspective of black pride; Richard Allen, the former slave, educator, abolitionist and preacher responsible for the Methodist AME movement; Maya Angelou, poet and activist; James Baldwin, novelist and playwright; Dr. Charles Drew, who played a role in the establishment of blood banks; Katherine Johnson, the NASA mathematician who influenced the space movement; Thurgood Marshall, the first black Supreme Court judge; George Washington Carver, the black agricultural scientist who invented peanut butter and so many others.
Yes, I believe identifying the black inventors, authors, activists, athletes, scholars, educators, businessmen and entertainers is important in The Bahamas. The story of the Black Wall Street in Tulsa, Oklahoma, is important because it shows that black people were pioneers in the financial industry when most would never know because of the dominance of white people. We need to know. We do not need to know to promote black supremacy, which is just as bad as white supremacy. We need to know because truth produces freedom.
It is interesting that the book of Genesis says that God told man to dominate the earth and the animals, but he never said to have dominion over people. We are all equal, and skin color has nothing to do with ability or potential. If you do not know your history, it can lead to the belief that your skin color is an impediment, which is a terrible misinterpretation of human life. Be proud to be black, understand your history and use it to propel you to new heights and not allow it to be a tool of further enslavement.
• Pastor Dave Burrows is senior pastor at Bahamas Faith Ministries International. Feel free to email comments, whether you agree or disagree, to firstname.lastname@example.org. I appreciate your input and dialogue. We become better when we discuss, examine and exchange.