Search this hashtag: #FirstN*ggaTo- on one of the popular media sites such as Instagram or Twitter and be prepared for a Black History Month shock.
Posts have flooded the internet and social media sites with fictional - and even stereotypical - messages pertaining to the African-American community. Such posts include, but are not limited to, a picture of a baby named Lester J. Green being at- tributed as the first Black kid to have a light bill in his name; a young man, Claude Malvoux, relaxing in a chair being at- tributed as the first Black man to extend his break 30 minutes; and “Eddie Jones” as being the first Black man to say “lemme hold sumn.”
Ironically, the controversial memes are often being posted by African-Americans. The question that comes into play here is are these memes funny or offensive? Do they degrade Black History Month - and Black history overall - or do they bring a lighter balance to the standard Black history learnings of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcom X, and Harriet Tubman?
“There is nothing positive here,” concludes Sylvia Y. Cyrus, executive director of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH). Cyrus affirms that this month is a “very important celebration of American history and provides the opportunity for Americans to celebrate the contributions of Blacks.”
ASALH, founded by historian Dr. Carter G. Woodson 99 years ago, prides itself for “celebrating Black history 365 days a year”. During Black History Month, the organization holds several major events, including an annual luncheon that seats thousands and a program at the White House.
Black History Month began in 1926 as only a week. Creat- ed by Dr. Woodson, often called the “Father of Black History” Negro History Week was meant to highlight the achievements and contributions of African Americans during a time when they were purposely written out of the history books. It was first held during the second week of February and soon became recognized and celebrated across the United States. In 1976, President Ford broadened Negro History Week to cover the en- tire month of February and Black History Month was born.
But, in the advent of social media, the traditionally serious nature of the month is sometimes undermined for comedic or conversational purposes. Therefore, California comedian Mar- cus Parker is torn between whether the memes are funny or insulting.
“As a comedian, I get the humor. As a comedian I can live in that world,” he says. “It’s a double edged sword. It would be funnier coming from a comedian, but coming from young Black kids, it shows that they don’t get the gist of what Black History Month is about. ”
To Parker, the month is a time for honoring Blacks and their contributions to history. But he feels that it may not be taken as seriously as it was in the past - and he is “more saddened than mad at these memes, especially since it is more Black people than others posting them.”
U.C. Riverside freshman Cameron Fulton still feels that Black History Month is important and serious. He sees it as a time to celebrate the “people that fought for you” because “without their fight, we probably wouldn’t be here” living the freer lives that we live. Fulton is not sure if it is mainly Black people posting these memes, but regardless of the person’s race he finds it overall disrespectful.
“You don’t know what a person went through, so why when we are celebrating things that they did would you disre- spect their fight?” he questions.
Ajah Love, a sophomore at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, agrees with Fulton and finds the memes disgraceful. “When I first saw it I thought it was going to be something insightful and that it was going to be a piece of history every day for the month, but it wasn’t” she criticizes. She asserts that Black his- tory “is not a joke” and that “it’s time that’s deserved.”
She feels that more importance should be placed back upon it with events being held and getting people involved in the history and that “people are going out of their way” to find something stereotypical for these memes. Instead of using these memes, “Find something meaningful and be grateful,” she asserts.
Director of Howard University’s School of Communica- tion’s honors program, Dr. Audrey Byrd, takes the memes as a sign. “It makes me think all more the importance of using this month to look at who we are and what we have accomplished,” she proclaims. To Byrd the memes show someone who is un- knowledgeable of Black culture and views them as “a mark of ignorance.”
Cyrus not only finds the images to be sad and unfortunate but evidence of the lack of knowledge of Black history. “Only when we know our history well enough,” she declares, “will we be able to rally against those who will alter our image and do this to it.”