In honor of Black History Month, my goal is to place emphasis on some of the contributions that African-Americans made towards the growth of this extremely flawed, but nonetheless great country of ours.

As a man of color, I learned at a very young age that the differences between me and people of a much lighter complexion go much farther than skin deep. From slavery, Jim Crow, to the oppression that has existed since the inception of the United States; it is obvious that this “system” has never failed us, because it wasn’t constructed to protect us in the first place.

 

The senseless killings of unarmed black men aren’t a part of some new phenomenon, because these crimes have been committed for hundreds of years, with the latter going unnoticed. The emergence of technology has allowed us to bring it to the forefront; thus, creating some form of sensitivity from the national media and people of other cultures to gaze upon our hurts that somewhat remain insignificant to the privileged-born. Regardless of how far we’ve come, we still have a very hard journey ahead of us. Not too long ago, African-Americans had little to no rights at all; and nothing before it displayed this fact more succinctly than The Birth Of A Nation.

“The bringing of the African to America planted the first seed of disunion.” – D.W. Griffith, The Birth Of A Nation (1915)

On this date in 1915, D.W. Griffith released The Birth Of A Nation.

Many objective film critics have an extremely polarizing opinion about the film. On one hand, this film showcases the days of slavery and reconstruction as a happy and peaceful time in America. The depiction of the black men featured in the film was that of stupidity, manual labor, and an aggressive, hypersexual demeanor that was a danger to all society. However, at the time of its release, The Birth Of A Nation was seen as a cinematic masterpiece. Running for 3 hours, it was the first 12-reel film in the United States, and was frequently shown at galas, along with being the first motion picture to be screened inside the White House.

Due to the film’s popularity with many of the Caucasian inhabitants of the United States, it had a detrimental effect on the minority. After 1915, this film, along with the murder of Mary Phagan in Atlanta, it was used as a recruiting tool for the Ku Klux Klan’s resurgence in this country. The contrasts on how different people may view the same thing based on their experiences has always been an interesting thing to me. I guess that’s the beauty in art… whether good or bad, it’s all in the viewer’s perspective.

Yesterday, I watched Griffith’s The Birth Of A Nation in its entirety on YouTube. As many of us know, this story is the exact opposite of Nate Parker’s version of the same name. The portrayal of blacks in this film was appalling, but what it taught me was that not much has changed in terms of race relations in America today. Some of the laws have been shifted in order to give people of color some sense of humanity, but the mind state of many of the supporters of bigotry and prejudice remains unwavering. Long gone are the days of when racism was blatant; the white sheets and garments of the Ku Klux Klan have been replaced with expensive suits and elegant accessories.  Beware!

Black History Month is a time where we should praise African-Americans for overcoming the odds, and excelling in a place that was built for them to underachieve. We must also understand that our history had both positive and negative aspects. So, to focus on the good points alone would not properly do justice to the entire history of the black person in America. Our triumphs are inspirational, but our scars give us character. The good times may provide memories that lift our spirits, but it is how we overcome our lowest moments that make us who we are. I recommend each and every one of you to check out D.W. Griffith’s The Birth Of A Nation if you haven’t already. It really gives an insight on where we’ve come from, and where we may ultimately be headed.

Happy #BlackHistoryMonth,

– Okla