Okay, so here's the deal. One of the things about being white is that every year there's this thing called Black History Month. As a white man no one has ever told me what I'm supposed to do during this month. What generally happened each year growing up was a lesson or two in school about George Washington Carver and all the wonderful things he did with peanuts. Then throughout the month I would hear a few juvenile white folks grumble about not having a "White History Month" and not seeing the big deal about the achievements and contributions of African Americans. My black friends didn't say much at all about the month. I guess because it would have been kind of awkward. Or maybe it was embarrassing because all anyone seemed to know about Black contributions to society was the many uses of peanuts.
So now that I'm tentatively acknowledging that I am indeed a "grown up" I'm realizing that I don't have to let anyone else dictate what I do for Black History Month. It is completely up to me to decide. I recently randomly came across a short documentary on Bessie Coleman on the Smithsonian Channel. She was the first Black (and Native American) female to get her pilot's license. I found her story surprising, inspiring and just plain cool. And instead of thinking about the social ramifications of race and all that, I simply felt...proud. Yes, that's right, I'm proud of Bessie Coleman. What right do I, a white man, have to feel proud about Bessie Coleman, a black woman who died 90 years ago? Well, she's an American, for one thing! And furthermore she's a human being, and what do you know I am too! We have a lot in common. We both have faced the struggles that are common to all people. We both have asked ourselves, "What can I do with my life?" She stands as an example of the American spirit. She was an innovator with courage, gumption and creativity. That is a legacy that I want to be a part of.
For today, I highly recommend the Smithsonian documentary linked above. Or you could go read the Wikipedia entry. If nothing else, you should read about her tragic death. It is quite shocking. SHOCKING I tell you. I won't spoil it, but I will warn you that it is, of course, a sad ending and a wrench plays a major role.