The Color Theory: Embrace Your Culture for Black History

Photo: Jeff Dominguez – The Sting

As we all know, February is Black History Month. With racial injustice being brought to national attention within the past year, this time around feels a lot more important compared to recent years.

Said best by N’dea Yancey-Bragg of USA Today, “Black History Month recognizes the contributions African-Americans have made to this country throughout time. Specifically this year, on a national scale, we reflect on the continued struggle of racial injustice.”

For those interested, how did we get here?

Early Beginnings

The story of Black History Month dates back to 1915, almost fifty years after the Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery. The founding fathers of this celebration, Carter G. Woodson and Jesse E. Moorland, were dedicated to promote accomplishments made by African-Americans. They wanted these newly profound leaders to embrace their culture, while being put on a higher pedestal for the whole world to see. 

Photo: Matheus Viana – Pexels

Before 1976, Black History Month was “Black History Week” – formerly known as National Negro History Week, residing between Abraham Lincoln’s and Frederick Douglass’ birthdays (who were important advocates of black lives).

Rising philosophers and leaders in the civil rights movement (such as Malcolm X, John Lewis, James Meredith, and Martin Luther King Jr.) brought awareness of the Black identity. Thus, evolving “Negro History Week” into the modern Black History Month.

Photo: Jeff Dominguez – The Sting

Today’s Impact

As said in my previous post, we started this whole pandemic with lots of uncertainty. But there seems to be a forecast of hope on the horizon. With heartbreaking events, such as the death of George Floyd and many other countless names, became eye-opening for our nation. This year’s celebration, the on-going focus is heavily reflective of last summer’s Black Lives Matter Movement.

Although some may argue, just this year alone, this particular “reflection” is overly emphasized. Somebody once told me recently, “Well, why are people finally recognizing our struggles now? Why are people finally bringing up this issue after so many decades of pain?”

I hear you, my friend. But recognizing this issue now is better than never. We were bound to face the issues of police brutality, racism in the workplace, ignorance, and every injustice the black community has dealt with throughout the history of this country.

Nichelle Smith of USA Today agrees, “The short answer: Forward. Through still-difficult times to the other, better side. There’s no going back to a “normal” that never worked well for Black people anyway.” 

Everyone has been through a lot this past year. What’s keeping us alive is for us to keep progressing and pushing forward as individuals.

Current Sting President and Editor-at-Large, Leonard Robinson, also agrees to my philosophical advice as said in his last post: “The big thing that happened? Humanity got better at simply…being alive”. To put it in perspective, every day (hopefully), we are becoming more tolerant to our neighbors.

Photo: Scott Olson – Getty Images (via NPR)

The Colors: Symbolize Through Wear

With this celebration going on now, and still in a worldwide pandemic, the most common way to express your heritage and “blackness” is to dress up for the culture.

Dressing in a way can be considered as a reflection of one’s cultural values and morals. Think of it symbolically: there’s a story or meaning behind certain colors and patterns.

The colors red, black, and green have always been associated with African-descent and used as the colorway for Black History Month – inspired from the iconic, Pan-American Flag (or known as the Black Liberation Flag). Said by NPR editor, Leah Donnella: “Red stood for blood — both the blood shed by Africans who died in their fight for liberation, and the shared blood of the African people. Black represented, well, black people. And green was a symbol of growth and the natural fertility of Africa.”

I’m not saying you should wear red, black, and/or green to support this national celebration – but only my suggestion. You could go even further into embracing your culture by wearing traditional wear, such as head wraps and fine prints.

Jeff Dominguez is the Communications Director for The Sting and writes The Color Theory, an influential fashion column.

Read-through of “Topdog/Underdog” complex, compelling

This past week, a crowd gathered in the Wright theatre to watch a dynamic reading of Suzan-Lori Parks’ Pulitzer Prize winning “Topdog/Underdog”. The read-through was one of three theatre performances at the 7th annual African American Arts Festival, co-sponsered by Spotlight UB and the Diversity and Culture office. Kimberly Lynne, who is teaching Playwriting at UB for the first time this semester, put together the reading.

Topdog/Underdog follows two African American brothers, played by J Hargrove and Brandan Tate, through a few pivotal weeks of their lives. Through their conversations about the past and present, the play explores the unique and perhaps insurmountable obstacles that they face as black men with troubled pasts.

As Topdog/Underdog was a read through, the production was minimal, bringing in only the most essential elements. The two actors spent much of their time sitting on stools and working with invisible props and modest costumes. Kerrin Smith, a current MFA student, read the stage directions so that the audience could follow the narrative.

Despite the simplicity of the read-through, the gravity of the original work was still present. Building on the undeniable quality of the script, Hargrove and Tate brought the play to life. From their very first interaction, the chemistry between the two was raw and believable. Their brother’s relationship, in all its fierce loyalty and competition, had humor and tragedy that easily captured my attention.

It was this complexity, found in the characters, plot and themes of the play, which led Lynne to set up the reading in the first place. The Playwriting course relies on reading plays and using them as examples.

“I’m not happy with current playwriting textbooks,” Lynne explained. “So I use good script examples to discuss all the various elements of the play. “Topdog” is a great example of perfect protagonist/antagonist orchestration, natural dialogue, plot structure and character arc matching plot arc, and pacing.”

By the end of the reading of the play, hearing it read by such talented actors greatly deepened my experience of Parks’ work. I have little doubt that the Playwriting class, and those students or community members who also attended, felt the same.

Spotlight’s next production is “Purgatory”, a short and terrifying play by William Butler Yeats on Thursday, March 26 at 12:30 and 5:30 for Lynne’s Irish Culture and Steve Matanle’s Irish Literature courses.