The Richness Of Black History Month
We’re fast approaching the end of Black History Month (BHM). I wanted to share something about why BHM is profoundly important to me and why, as a white man, I find it important to acknowledge and celebrate Black History Month.
It’s all too easy to subconsciously reduce BHM to mean less than it does - to think of it as a concession to black communities, or more generously an opportunity to acknowledge black communities forgotten contributions to our society. The latter is a fundamentally important aspect of BHM, particularly as the way in which history has been collated, celebrated and told is a huge part of the ongoing systematic violation of people of colour around the world.
However, I feel that there is something deeper still. Black History is our collective history.
It is our history through the lens of the oppressed, violated, objectified, commodified, vilified, colonised and dehumanised. To reduce BHM to something that’s only relevant to people of colour means that we miss a vital opportunity to see ourselves and our history as complicit in the past, present, and future violations of people of colour.
The story of Zacchaeus offers us an insight into how we can respond. Zacchaeus was a Jew and a tax-collector for the Roman Empire. He was an affluent collaborator with the Roman Empire. Worse, his wealth came at the expense of the suffering of the Jewish community. We know that Zacchaeus shares a meal with Jesus and then we know that Zacchaeus renounces his way of life. As a white person, living in the affluence derived off of the exploitation of people of colour, BHM is an opportunity to share a meal with Jesus; an opportunity to break with the past and create a new future rooted in God's vision for the world, free of injustice and oppression.
As a Christian, BHM feels even more pertinent to celebrate, reflect upon and learn from. As far as I can see the Bible is a collection of stories that consistently tell of the struggles of the people of God, in the Old Testament – that’s the Israelites, and in the New Testament – this opens up to a broader community.
We see, feel, and connect with the stories of people who have been oppressed, violated, enslaved, dehumanised, colonised, and persecuted. We also see, feel, and connect with a God who is fundamentally about peace, justice, liberation, reconciliation, love, and relationship. It’s the narrative of a God that is interwoven and present in the stories of the oppressed and marginalised living in the shadow of empire. It's so typically God to tell her story and reveal herself through the defeated rather than the victorious.
The oppression of people of colour throughout the history of western democracies is a mirror of the stories of the Bible.
One of the great challenges of engaging with the Bible is decoding and applying it in our contemporary context. I submit that if we want to better understand and participate with God’s agency and revelation in our contemporary context, there are worse places to start than in the richness of Black History (Month).