Black History Month, From an African Perspective

Having lived in different countries, my perception of Black History Month has shifted a lot depending on the countries I’ve lived in. The idea of celebrating black history in this way was first introduced to me when I moved from Senegal to Canada and I quickly realized that it was a very important topic to many.

Going abroad however made me realize how particularly important this topic is in the United States, in comparison to Canada or Senegal. Here, Black History Month is the celebration of the achievements by African Americans. During the month of February, this celebration reminds us of the important role of African Americans in history.

But this celebration differs from society to society.

“Studying abroad in the United States has given me a completely different experience of Black History Month, and it has made me realize how much identities vary across locations.”

Growing up in Senegal, I only had a vague idea of what Black History Month was. Because of the different social realities of my country, black history was never really celebrated during a particular month. Instead of a celebration of black history, the emphasis was put on the celebration of African culture in general. Through conventions, workshops and recognized holidays, African culture is really celebrated every day in Senegal. The past achievements of our societies and our traditions are presented and celebrated in school, through the literature and through traditional events.

During colonization, many of our ancestors did not have access to education so their stories have been saved and shared through what we call oral tradition. Through this technique, the history of our country has been shared from generation to generation by word of mouth, but also through traditional music by a tribe called “Griots” who are in charge of sharing history.

A musical instrument called a “Tam Tam” is used in Senegal for the oral tradition.

When I moved to Canada, my idea of Black History Month became more defined; my school, the University of British Columbia, celebrated the month of February by reminding the students of the achievements of black people and the importance of black history. Throughout this month, our African and Caribbean student union organized multiple events, talks and an African Gala during which many talented students were able to interact, share their experiences and be recognized for their achievements.

Studying abroad in the United States has given me a completely different experience of Black History Month, and it has made me realize how much identities vary across locations. While Senegal and Canada celebrate African excellence, the United States seems to focus its celebration black identity in general. The intersectionality of gender, class, ethnicity and origins are included and celebrated as a whole during the month.

I found it amazing that people from different backgrounds and different aspirations connect to celebrate what they all have in common. I really look forward to all the events SDSU and San Diego offer for the celebration of Black History month!

As I am a Big Fan of Literature, I’m sharing a list of my favorite African American/African writers and my favorite pieces by them:

Maya Angelou, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings”

W .E. B. Du Bois, “The Souls of Black Folk”

Zora Neale Hurton, “Their Eyes Were Watching God” (my favorite work of all time!)

Mariama Ba (Senegalese writer), “So Long a Letter”

Abdoulaye Sadji (Senegalese writer), “Maimouna”

Chinua Achebe (Nigerian writer), “Things Fall Apart”

Ken Bugul (Senegalese writer), “The Abandoned Baobab”

The Dashiki is traditional attire worn for the celebration of African culture.

Radia Mbengue is studying at SDSU on a yearlong exchange from the University of British Columbia in Canada. She is originally from Senegal.


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