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“What The Eff?” Wednesday: Black History Month Tragedies

25 February 2009 13 Comments

Black History Month falls into that category of “things I’d like to re-purpose to fit my selfish needs.” The concept of having a month dedicated to any history at all follows the delusional thinking that the rest of the year is spent celebrating knowledge, something that America rarely does in bulk. Breast Cancer Month is a slightly different type of observance that is more along the lines of what February should be for the black cause – more “doing stuff” and less “thinking about stuff.” Even when you break down the phrase “Black History Month,” you get a bunch of ambiguous terms – “black” has been a troubling definition for the past hundred years or so, as my pop culture quiz demonstrates “history” has no easy start and end point, and the “month” means little more than when the rent is due again. As sick as it makes me when the racists disguised as “we’re all equal,” freedom-fighters speak out against the notion of a month dedicated to black history while ignoring Women’s History, Hispanic Heritage, or Native American Heritage Months, there is plenty of ridiculousness to be found in Black History Month. Conventional wisdom says that schools and cultural organizations should at least give a nod to the contributions that black people have made to this great country during February (you know I love a good high school assembly), but how do we know when things have gone too far? What’s the difference between praise and pandering? Thembi is on the case.

The Displays

There is nothing that makes my eyes roll harder than a Black History Month-themed display in a store or even worse, a Black History Month promotion.  There is something so grossly opportunistic about having teenage stock-boys across the country simultaneously create displays dedicated to rubbing my slave descendant spending g-spot into buying stuff that “black people like.” Case in point:


Tuck your jaw back in because yes, this is a real drugstore display in Muskegon, Michigan. You know that Afrocentric black folks cannot resist burlap or funky ethnic patterns, black paintings draped in said cloth, Jet Magazine, or relaxer touch-up kits. In fact what better time of year to make sure you have a fresh perm or curl than February? And what better offering is there for the Negro on-the-go than yams and collard greens…in cans …from a drugstore? And then there’s the obvious, knee-jerk type of tragedy:


There’s something about this time of year that makes me think of cotton too…I just don’t know why…

The Very Special Episodes

Y’all know I love it. Nothing panders like a poorly contrived sitcom plot, and I remember this black history episode of Family Matters like it came on yesterday. I actually went to school with a chip on my shoulder for the rest of the month because of the moment at 9:45. Don’t let Steve Urkel and the question of whatever happened to Laura’s lil’ redbone friend Maxine dissuade you from at least a quick skim:

“If you want black history go back to Africa”? No thanks, they don’t have Black History Month there. The rest of the episode with the glorious black history wall and sad speeches about hate from Harriet and Grandma Winslow is on YouTube if you’re interested.

The Advertising

Having worked in consumer product promotions I know that getting shoppers caught up in the rapture of savings is a great short-term sales boosting strategy. If you can attach those savings to a theme it’s all the better, because it just feels so good to participate in something. Of course, Black History Month at a supermarket can only mean three things. Two of them are crude kinte cloth patterns and George Washington Carver. The other?

Frying chickens, pork hocks, and more collard greens! And…


Hot sauce! Grape and orange soda! Cornbread! Lawry’s Seasoning Salt! Obama Memorabilia and . . . more collard greens! Inclusion really, really makes me hungry.

The Products

Black folks are notorious for ending up financially disenfranchised and I’m so sick of it. This is why check cashing spots exist – if you weren’t living check to check and had a checking account like your average white man, you wouldn’t need to pay an exorbitant fee just to get money that is already yours! The same goes for a credit or debit card. Anyone who went to college was force-fed a credit card along with promises of a free t-shirt during the first week of freshman year, so the fact that black folks don’t even have debit cards in this day and age really says a lot.  But a Black History Month Pre-Paid Credit Card? Really?

Ohhh . . . so you’re not supposed to spend money that you don’t actually have? Black History Month is a time for learnin’!


  • Antonio said:

    That display with the cotton is just… wow.

  • bklyn6 said:

    I really need to start paying more attention. I haven’t noticed the displays or food circular Black History Month salutes in my neck of the woods.

    Anyway, nice post!

  • invisiblewoman said:

    Holy pork hocks, Batman! I don’t even know where to begin on this one….I have to come back and comment later after I process… :-(

  • Woe said:

    I was telling my ol’ girl yesterday about the Grocery ad with the Cornbread, Collards and Lawry’s Seasoned Salt and she didn’t believe me. I gotta show her this post…….”Walgreens celebrates Black History Month” and right down below, a selection of cotton balls. Not just any cotton balls, JUMBO cotton balls. Nothing but the best for us.

  • Luvvie said:

    This whole thing just makes me deep sigh. I just dont damn kno…

  • Dara said:

    whoaaa nelly. that magazine on the display is VIBE not JET. your black ass just dreamt that up HAHAH.

  • thembi (author) said:

    Its on the bottom shelf! There’s also an Upscale cut-off, which I didn’t even know was still in print!

  • More on Reverse Mortgages with Maggie O’Connell! | Finance for Reverse Mortgages said:

    […] “What The Eff?” Wednesday: Black History Month Tragedies | What … […]

  • Treina said:

    The class project is just shameful! Awww, I was laughing hard until I came to that one. Who was this idiot of teacher?!

  • Monica said:

    OK… so many comments, lemme trim it down. Um, that all-purpose black history month display is both hilarious, with the Vibes stuffed in and the Pantene colored line, and a hot mess, then hilarious again but then I had to sop laughing. The slave assignment? And Bob is missing a foot? Just wow. Wow is all I can say. How do grade this? And like tell a kid “I didn’t think that you drew an authentic enough looking slave and furthermore, your imagery in the description was lacking. In real life, we ever would have caught him. C” Ugh, I am so disturbed by this.

  • jazzfan360 said:

    A Vibe magazine?? Oh, my Lord.

    “Caught up in the rapture of savings.” You are a damn fool hahahaha.

  • LaJane Galt said:

    This literally has me in tears!!

    Ambi…that is Ambi on the damn shelf. I guess burlap is a tribute to our enslaved ancestors.

    I guess we should be happy Walgreens didn’t put the “tribute” next to the lotion aisle.

  • Janet said:

    I tried to imagine how offensive this must be for blacks and couldn’t quite imagine at first. I then proceeded to walk around my house and inspiration hit me for a display of our own. There would be a 30 oz bottle of Jean Nate, Florida water poured into a wine glass that was pushed to one corner of the display (with a cube of camphor in it of course), a bunch of plantains next to a mortar and pestle, a Sammy Sosa jersey, and a pair of Zanadi jeans cuz Lord knows we can not resist a pair of too-tight low riders.

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