Pleasure in Re-member-ing

By Lina Buffington, PhD, NSRH Executive Director

Each month we will highlight and explore one of our values; it is apropos that we should start in February with a focus on pleasure, and not because of Valentine's Day. As most folks know, February, which also happens to be the darkest, coldest, shortest month of the year, is also the month officially designated as "Black History Month". Throughout this month, corporations, organizations, and the media will often spotlight civil rights leaders and activists as well as exemplars in the arts, sports, education, and industry by hosting festivals, exhibitions, and television specials. Black authors are highlighted in bookstores and libraries while companies like Amazon might highlight Black entrepreneurs on their platform. Though the history and achievements of Black people are inextricable from the history, wealth, and culture of the US, this month provides a small window of opportunity to shine a light on what has remained a gaping absence. 
But what does all of this have to do with pleasure? What does Black History Month have to do with pleasure when so often the focus of this month is on struggle--the struggle for freedom, for humanity, for civil rights, for justice, for equity? I do not believe that Black History Month is the only month for folks to finally finish that copy of The Autobiography of Malcolm X, or watch the film Roots, or make a trip down to their local museum of African American arts/history/etc. I believe that the history of ALL peoples of this Nation are worthy of continuous study. I believe that Black History Month is a time for celebration, and at the heart of celebration there is pleasure. While I do not wait until a government designated time to celebrate my ancestors, I see this month as a time of collective celebration, of collective remembrance. It is through this act of re-member-ing that we keep those we have lost alive and present.


For this month each year we call their names as a collective: Harriet Tubman, Anna Julia Cooper, Sojourner Truth, Mary Edmonia Lewis, Zora Neal Hurston, Octavia Butler, Winnie Madikizela- Mandela, Nina Simone, Toni Morrison…we say their names and in that act of re-member-ing they live again. We share images of them and stories, we read their words, and look at their art, we listen to their music and watch their plays. Through these acts of re-member-ing, we introduce them to our children, carrying forward their work into the next generation, and the next. There is tremendous pleasure in the cultivation and nurturance of this connection to our ancestors. When I think about Harriet Tubman, who I think about a lot, I reflect on her words:

 

 

 

“Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.”

 

 

 

 

In the face of some challenge, often one so much smaller than any of the challenges that Harriet faced, I think of her and marvel that this woman had the audacity to dream. She had the audacity to follow the stars when all around her was darkness. I marvel that some small seed of that magnificent human being lives in me and I draw from that. I call that up in myself and keep moving forward. Harriet Tubman is worthy of remembrance and of celebration, and if there are those who only hear her name or think of her in February, so be it. The contributions of Black people in this country are worthy of celebration. The fact that we made it through and over and continue to live is worthy of celebration, and so I happily claim this cold, dark, month for Harriet, and Malcolm, and Micheaux, and all of them. For me, there is tremendous pleasure in that.

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