Editor’s note: During Black History Month, the focus is usually on historical figures who loomed larger than life, paving the way for the progress we experience today. But black history isn’t just about telling stories of our past. History is being made every day and has been made throughout our lives; it’s not just in books. It walks among us. So this month The Root is asking a group of writers to tell us about the personal and pivotal events from their own lifetimes in a series we call My Black History. Writer Aaron Randle is 25 years old.
Serena and Venus in the First All-Black Grand-Slam Tennis Final
I still see Venus playing Serena for the 2001 U.S. Open title as one of the most improbable dates in sports. It was the first time that sisters were meeting in a grand-slam final in more than 100 years, and the first time ever that two African Americans would play each other. Tennis is a sport of privilege, and two black girls from Compton, Calif., were never supposed to meet on the sport’s biggest stage, with swagger and Senegalese braids to boot.
My entire family watched that match like it was an NBA Finals Game 7, oohing, aahing and trash-talking. It was beautiful and black as hell. Not all of us knew how to keep tennis score, or what a “let” was, but who cared? We were watching our girls. And we weren’t alone: The ratings were so huge that CBS would alter its schedules for a near-decade to ensure that the women’s final was always prime-time viewing. The sisters would meet in seven more finals (and counting)—the hostile takeover had begun.
‘George Bush Does Not Care About Black People’
That just happened and that wasn’t supposed to happen were the only two things I could think of when I watched Kanye West throw President Bush one of the deadliest audible fades in history.
You really have to veer left to catch two comedians off guard, but Mike Myers and Chris Tucker both looked as if they’d just gone through a round of shock therapy after Kanye said on national TV in 2005 what millions of people were saying off national TV. This is why Kanye will forever be precious to me: He’s just about that action, boss. Yes, he’s abrasive, and increasingly off his rocker, but sometimes that’s what people need. Black folk get tired of endlessly and politely justifying our humanity. Sometimes the Dubyas of the world just need to be smacked with the reality right in the mouth.
Barack Obama Elected President
As electric as America was the night we elected President Barack Obama in 2008, I always felt as if that feeling went double in Washington, D.C. And even that feeling doubled again for me as a student at an HBCU, Howard University, living mere blocks from the White House. Nineteen-year-old me had never seen or experienced that kind of widespread joy before.
I ran through halted D.C. traffic with schoolmates, hugging strangers, dapping up cops, raising the black power fist to anyone I decided knew what the black power fist meant. I remember arriving on the Yard—the Mecca—that had nurtured so many countless titans who fought to make that moment possible.
America’s shoulders dropped—just for a second. Politics are so often fractional, but that night everyone seemed connected, fueled by a spirit of change and belief that the future was bright. All this for a black man. I never felt more proud to be black in America that night, and I wasn’t alone. Not by a long shot.
Trayvon Martin’s Killer Found Not Guilty
I can be annoyingly pro-America at times. I’m an optimist who sees the idea of the American dream as one of the world’s great ideologies and a big reason that America, despite our problems and contradictions, is the greatest place on earth.
The George Zimmerman verdict in 2012 was the first time that belief took a major, personal hit. The decision not to indict a grown white man for killing an unarmed black teen was a slap in the face. Everything felt worthless: the American ideal, our justice system, my black body. Before Trayvon, I thought the concept of an American (hold the “African-” prefix, please) existence was possible. The verdict was an indelible stain on that naivete: a bruising reminder of the reality that my black existence could, and would, never be separate from my American one.
Aaron Randle is a Howard-bred writer living in Kansas City, Mo.