A comic book, to color and cut out, tells the story of Rosa Parks for children who can barely read in a school in South Chicago (USA).
In it, Rosa takes a full bus, but sits down. A white man comes in and asks for his seat. Alabama’s racist law of 1955 requires blacks to stand up so whites can sit. Rosa Parks, tired after a day’s work, says: “No”.
And it sets off a wave of civil rights protests that will ignite American politics for decades to come.
The teaching of historical facts like this can begin very early in the USA thanks to a tradition that began in 1926 that focuses in February, inside and outside schools, on the celebration of the Month of the Black History, or Black History Month.
This nearly century-old milestone inspired countries like Canada and the United Kingdom to decolonize history teaching from their social and cultural origins after anti-racism protests reverberated around the world following George’s assassination. Floyd in the United States in May 2020..
“Black History Month deals with the local reality of the United States and its objective is educational, aimed at discussing the themes of the reality of blacks in North America in schools, universities and in the media.” , says Cristiano Rodrigues, professor in the political science department at UFMG (Federal University of Minas Gerais).
Black History Month seeks not only to celebrate the black contribution to the formation of the country but also to provide reflections on the fight for racial justice, so debated after the 2020 protests in the United States which have spread to several. country, arriving in Brazil.
“It’s the time of year [Black History Month] in which the historical contributions and achievements of blacks take a central place in scholarly debate and in intellectual debate, when new research on the history of blacks in the diaspora is discussed ”, explains Luciana Brito, historian and professor at the Federal University of Recôncavo da Bahia. “This debate, of course, has a place in politics and in society.”
A specialist in the history of slavery and freedom in Brazil and the United States, Luciana says February is also focused on launching books, films and projects that focus on black history.
“One of the biggest gains is the celebration of both peoples’ achievements for freedom and the role of the black community in the United States in the struggle for civil rights in this country,” he said.
The origin of Black History Month is Black History Week, established in 1926 by historian Carter G. Woodson – the second black man to earn a doctorate in history at Harvard University (the first was the sociologist WEB Du Bois, one of the founders of the movement).
Woodson wanted to ensure that young children were already exposed to positive perspectives on black trajectories of the struggle for freedom and rights, and not to reductive representations of blacks enslaved or in a position of subordination.
He chose the second week of February because it focuses on the birthdays of two key figures in the 1865 struggle for the abolition of slavery in the United States: President Abraham Lincoln and black abolitionist Frederick Douglass, whose memoirs , “Autobiography of a Slave,” is now published in Brazil.
“Even when it was only a week, he was already mobilizing black activists from all over the country, especially in the southern region, where schools were separate,” says Luciana. “It was around this time that these segregated black schools were breaking school curricula. and official speeches that have dehumanized African-American people, ”she points out, recalling that the first decades of the 20th century marked the period of the most violent activity of the Ku Klux Klan in the United States.
In the 1960s, under the influence of the civil rights movement, black activists and intellectuals pressured universities to incorporate disciplines on African American history into their curricula.
And in 1976, during the celebration of 200 years of independence from the United States, the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (Asalh) lobbied the government to instead of a week, the whole month is dedicated to the subject. After that, Black History Month was incorporated by President Gerald Ford into the official calendar.
Persistent distortions and erasures hamper the spread of black American history to this day. “These erasure processes are continuing and we are constantly on the lookout for this information to be corrected,” explains American diplomat Justine King.
She cites a scandal involving textbooks from Texas that presented a map of migratory flows to the United States in which the slave trade from Africa was described as a displacement of “workers”.
“If we don’t know our past, how can we plan for our future?” She asks, who grew up in New York, helped set up a black student residence at college and now works at the consulate. American in São Paulo.
“Movements like Black Lives Matter have shown that we African Americans still face some of the violence today that affected the black leaders we studied from an early age during the Month. black history “. She quotes Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King and Malcolm X.
Cristiano Rodrigues, of the UFMG, believes that the black movement in the United States is influencing other countries. “The ideal is to think that there is a transnational network against racism, in which the civil rights movements and now the Black Lives Matter occupy an important place. They are transformed from exchanges with d ‘other experiences around the world. “
In recent years, Black History Month has also moved businesses looking to take advantage of the moment of greater visibility of the anti-racist agenda. This year, Netflix showcased films and series dealing with themes related to black American history. Apple launched a series of commemorative products for the date in the United States and replicated sales here in Brazil.
Nike also created a line of date-specific clothing and advertisements. Disney has prepared a series of activities for a themed month in its parks. Coca Cola, Google and other companies made demonstrations during the month of February on a more or less large scale.
“There is a big movement in the United States to support black businesses and it has grown a lot this month. And social networks have simplified everything, with just a few clicks, ”says Justine.
Companies like Walmart and Gap have created sections in their e-commerce dedicated to brands created by black entrepreneurs. Some believed that these initiatives pointed to more practical avenues, which went beyond the universe of hashtags.
In Brazil, Black Awareness Day, celebrated on November 20, grew increasingly throughout the month. As with Black History Month, it is a civil society initiative, created in the 1970s and first formalized at Rio Grande do Sul in 1987.
The two celebrations “start from the initiatives of black organizations which had, and still have for objective, to guide each year the race question in Brazil and in the United States”, affirms Luciana.
The UFRB professor says that the mobilization of the Brazilian black movement has generated quality information on slavery and important figures of abolitionism and resistance.
Rodrigues says American activists “complain that most of the racial debate only takes place in February or when there is a situation of racism that generates great popular unrest.”
Justine considers that “the history of black Americans is the history of the USA itself and should therefore not be limited to the 28 days of this month”.
However, it is in February that very young children are introduced to games, songs and games that can raise, even in the little ones, deep questions, such as: “But why did black people have to defend? the Whites in the buses? ”.