Friday, February 16, 2007
From The Chicago Sun-Times…
Lack history month?
African-American celebration going commercial
BY ERIN TEXEIRA
Black History Month: Come February, the now-familiar observance seems to inspire ever more -- and ever more random -- celebrations.
Multinational corporations mount billboard campaigns, while community centers hold fashion shows and tourist spots highlight their connection to black history.
But does saturation equal success?
While the concept of Black History Month has been widely embraced in pop culture, it means some of the nation’s most bitter history also is getting watered down into cliches or irrelevance. Some events have no historical tie-in at all – they’re merely topics of interest to African Americans. And, perhaps unsurprisingly, black history is used as a kind of commercial brand.
“It has become very mainstream,” said Sheri Parks, a professor of American Studies at the University of Maryland. “I do think it’s been diluted. Some of this seems like an excuse to put things on sale.”
Black History Cheerleading
At Drexel University in Philadelphia, events range from panel discussions about affirmative action and self-segregation on campus to a black art sale and a Down-Home Soul Food Dinner.
In Maryland’s Prince George’s County, there’s a Black History Cheerleading Show.
A new-age center in Oakland, Calif., offered Mindful Drumming for Opening Minds and Healing Hearts.
Black History Month “does caricature itself at times,” said Linda Symcox, author of Whose History?: The Struggle for National Standards in American Classrooms. Though she believes the month is a good thing overall, she said some events cross the line.
“If I were an African American, I would be offended by having the month of February be some kind of palliative,” she said.
Proof that corporate America has discovered Black History Month came Feb. 4, when the Super Bowl for the first time featured two African-American coaches.
Super Bowl ads
Frito Lay had a commercial showing black families bonding over a football game with an announcer’s voice saying, “We’ve got more than a game here. We’ve got history.”
Parks felt there were too many ads highlighting black history. “With the first one, I smiled,” she said. “By the third one, I wasn’t smiling anymore. I wondered if they were exploiting [black history] and why.”
But, she added, commercialism is inevitable in American culture. “It’s unrealistic in this culture to say that Black History Month should be noncommercial. This is how we do it.”