Black History Month has to be more than a running list of “Did you know?” fun facts. It has to be more than regurgitated Instagram posts with red, black, and green borders or an opportunity for advertisers and TV stations to break out their dashiki-print art treatments.
Black history is everyone’s history. Just as there has never been humanity without Black people, there is no human history without Black history. This fact should fuel our desire to create space for a true celebration of Black history, one that goes beyond nostalgic remembrances of events from 50, 100, or 400 years ago through rose-colored glasses. The history of man cannot be told though pop quizzes about who invented the stop light or the pacemaker, and Black history has no right being told in this fashion, either.
It’s also important to remember that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. didn’t live his life in black and white. His life was lived in color, at a time when the vast majority of Americans looked upon him with distaste while questioning the peacefulness of his rallies, and the American government itself worked to cut down his character. It’s often easier to remember these figures as one-dimensional beings eternally suspended in the amber of their moment, but that can only happen if we fail to understand their full story, particularly if we’re fortunate enough to be around as their story is still being told.
Black history was made last century, last summer, last night. Right now, Black history is being made, always, perpetually fluid, influencing itself and creating new iterations upon itself. Black people being inspired by Black people constitutes Black history. Any person inspired by Black people constitutes Black history.
Complex has covered Black history for almost two full decades, and has done so by organically celebrating Black art in real time. For example, one day Young Thug may be viewed by many through the same black-and-white lens some use when remembering a titan like James Brown, with only those acutely familiar with his work or having lived through his career as it unfolded left to fully comprehend his impact. In some ways, an icon like Jay-Z is already viewed by some in this fashion. I personally consider it a privilege to work at a company dedicated to covering Black history, live, as it’s being made.
To that end, this Black History Month, we chose to celebrate figures—both current and historical—who have inspired us in some significant way. Each day in February, we will feature a “Thank You” letter to a Black person who has made history, penned by a Complex employee or by an artist, influencer, or other individual whom you may recognize. It’s our small way of shining a light on those who made us who we are, and paying homage to both the widely known and smaller-profile giants of Black history. —Maurice Peebles