I Am Black History

by Pacita Rudder

I am Black history. I’ve been thinking about that a lot recently as the last days of Black History month drifted away. But Black history isn't just one month out of the year, it's every day. When we talk about Black history, the conversation is usually around African-American leaders who helped shape the civil rights movement. As a Black woman with African/Caribbean heritage, born and raised in England, those conversations don’t fully represent me. Nor do they encapsulate a vast number of Black revolutionaries who helped change or influence Black lives around the world. People like Olaudah Equiano, Mary Seacole, Harold Moody, William Cuffey, Kwame Nkrumah, Bussa, Yaa Asantewaa, Jamaica Kincaid. This narrow celebration also doesn’t encapsulate so many more people who don’t get recognition or praise. The every-day people who overcome white supremacy and micro-aggressions by the hour. People like my mum. My grandma. My sisters. My brother. Myself. In honor of them, I wrote something about my experience of Blackness:

The house I grew up in was small but cozy. Snuggled in the corner of a cul-de-sac, I felt safe there. I had spent years in that house, running barefoot in the soil, eating raspberries that weren’t quite ripe. I would lay on the grass smooshing raspberries onto my face, my braids picky and untamed getting tangled with the grass. I would regret this later when my mum would have to undo the braids, ripping a comb through knots and re-braiding my hair tight to my scalp. I would hold back tears and grit my teeth through the pain, letting a few exclamations exit my mouth. She felt harsh in those moments. Like a big bad monster with no feelings. But that’s the way reality works; things aren’t always as they seem. We all learned how to braid from my mum, each sister passing it onto the next. Except it seemed to skip me. Somehow, I couldn’t get my hands to twist the strands one over the other, making sure that the hair laid flat to the scalp. My fingers wouldn’t flex and bend the way I wanted them to. They were stiff and hard and unwilling to bend to the pressure of my mind. I gave up and continued to lay in the dirt, letting nature mess up the perfect braids crafted by gentle fingers.

When I think of Black history I think of Black hair. I think of the many fingers that have slid through my cotton ball hair. Fingers that have slid through and got caught in the knots, the shea butter coating their hands. The Black fingers twisting Black hair from generation to generation. Through the oppression, the degradation, the tears, that one act of love remains a constant. My mum worked multiple jobs, more hours than she should have been working in a racist system, but I could always count on those fingers twisting my hair into chains of love.