Provocative Suggestion

USF professor will facilitate a conversation about a documentary on Black History Month at the African American History Museum Feb. 21.

 

By Barbara Melendez

     USF News

 

TAMPA, Fla. (Feb. 15, 2012) – How does Black History Month make Blacks and Whites feel about themselves? Shukree Hassan Tilghman aimed to find out as he posed the question, “Should Black History Month be ended?” The results are in his documentary “More Than a Month” that will be shown at 6 p.m. Feb. 21 at the Pinellas County African American History Museum and Resource Center. The museum is located at 1101 Marshall Street in Clearwater, FL 33755.

 

The conversation doesn’t end there though. USF Assistant Professor Abraham Khan will facilitate a post-screening discussion of the film which set out to get people talking.

 

Tilghman, producer, writer and director, took his question on a yearlong road trip through the United States in 2010. He dropped in on the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, visited the Harvard researchers who were conducting a psychological study on feelings about Black History Month, and he spent time at Burrell Communications, the nation’s largest Black-owned advertising agency.  He also talked with a wide variety of individuals including his own parents, and added dramatizations.

 

Khan, who holds a joint appointment in the Departments of Communication and Africana Studies, said, “I think that this filmmaker has found a provocative topic in proposing the abolition of Black History Month. In doing so, he invites our attention to both the possibilities and limits of public memory. I plan to invite the audience of the film to ask questions regarding public memory; what do they remember, what should we remember, and where do our memories take us as we attempt to imagine our common social future?”

 

Khan, the author of a new book, his first, Curt Flood in the Media: Baseball, Race, and the Demise of the Activist Athlete (Race, Rhetoric, and Media), has his own ideas about the annual celebration that should spark interest.

“On the one hand, Black History Month was conceived as an antidote to our collective amnesia regarding the contributions of black folks to American History,” Khan said. “In an age where history books are dominated by the achievements of slaveholding founding fathers, usually without reference to their slaves, Black History Month was an urgent necessity. On the other hand, it is a testament to the enduring forms of a more complex kind of racism that Black History Month can be transformed into a pernicious kind of cultural ghetto into which our memory of those contributions can be confined.”

 

He hopes more questions will emerge.

 

“Does Black History Month highlight the contributions of African Americans in a way that helps to rewrite American history faithfully even including some very shameful facts, or does Black History Month merely help to reproduce the kind of thinking that buttresses the walls that ghettoize cultural space.”

 

Cheryl Rodriguez, chair of the Department of Africana Studies and director of the Institute on Black Life noted, "Those of us who study and create Black scholarship understand that our ideas are not confined to just one month during the year.  Indeed the black experience is a substantive and important part of the human experience."

 

The film premieres on the PBS series, Independent Lens, Thursday, Feb. 16, at 10 p.m. on WEDU.  The museum partnered with WEDU to bring the presentation to the live audience.

 

The African American History Museum is headquartered in the former Curtis Elementary School and serves as a research center for the study of African American culture and life.  The museum is also lead sponsor of the annual Florida African American Heritage Celebration.

 

Barbara Melendezcan be reached at 813-974-4563.