Reclaiming the Black Past Book Review (2020)

Reclaiming the Black Past: The Use and Misuse of African American History in the Twenty-First Century by Pero Gaglo Dagbovie is an exciting read that focuses on and analyzes the usage of Black and African American history in the genre of comedy and media portrayals, political platforms as well as highlighting the importance of or lack of need of Black History Month. Throughout five chapters, Dagbovie weaves the conversation in and around each area of focus effortlessly. His discussion, current and contemporary commentary and accounts give the stories and experiences more dimension.


Throughout the book, the theme of how African American history is relevant or utilized in society is prevalent. With each character and figure he discusses in the book, he showcases a similar pattern of each tapping into the African American and Black historical past and applying it uniquely. Many of the black historical past characterizations are grouped by “perseverance, resistance, and survival in the midst of mind-boggling oppression.”[1] However, some of the written, oral, or theatrically expressed depictions did not always live up to these categorical ideas. In chapter one, “None of Our Hands are Entirely Clean,” Dagbovie begins the discussion by talking about the ways that former U.S. President Barack Obama influenced and didn’t influence African American and Black History.

While reading the chapter, there were several striking elements that, at first glance and having lived through the experience, the reader may not have been actively aware of what was occurring throughout his presidency. It can be easily noted that his most significant contribution to the historical conversation was his historic win and inauguration as the actual first African American president of the United States. But it was the platform and political stance that he maintained while in office and post office that many historians and activists often disagreed and debated with. Two of the most contentious aspects that happened while he was in office were the decline in the experience for African Americans and the “resurgence in anti-black thought and behavior in American culture.” [2] The culminating thought that Dagbovie addresses within this section were that Obama realized the position he had and knew that he had to yield to the ideologies and comfortability of his white supporters and constituents. Many historians and analysts decried that he had neglected the community and African American history by watering down his conversations and stances on significant issues. But it stands to note that Obama shouldn’t have had to neglect his political positioning to accurately represent his cultural heritage and experiences that were often compared to another historical black first predecessor, Booker T. Washington.

Yet it is this tension that is often associated with being a proponent for heritage celebration, specifically for African Americans, that stands as some of the reasons why Black History’s celebration and informative nature has been debated. Dagbovie analyzes that thought in chapter 2, “Honoring the Gift of Black Folk.” Throughout the section, he channels the challenges, disagreements, and support that various African American figures have with the celebration or deletion of Black History Month. Giving credit to that historian Carter G. Woodson, who established one of the first references of national commemoration for African Americans with Negro History Week in 1924, the ideas surrounding the celebration of accomplishments, historical references, and other significant observances took various evolving traits over the years.

But despite what one generation would celebrate as Black History Month, which was established fifty years after the adoption of Negro History Week or the twenty-first-century ideology of Black Future Month, many argued that its relevance is not necessary today. And adding fuel to the fire, celebrities such as Morgan Freeman and Stacey Dash have perpetuated the debate on whether such celebration is fair or if more celebration such as a yearlong observance is more appropriate. Regardless of the person’s stance about the necessity for Black History, the overall presentation of black history, in both media and written works, has impacted the conversation.

In Chapter 3, “Dramatizing the Black Past,” Dagbovie does an incredible job of featuring facts and discussion on the historical media and Hollywood portrayals of the black history narrative. Whether controversial or informative, media portrayals of black history have often driven the conversation for younger and older audiences. One thing that has been misused in the media portrayals includes the preference of showcasing slavery and other viewpoints of black suffrage as the high points for black history. Chapters 4 and 5 of the book take on two approaches to black history by discussing how black comedians have propelled the depiction of black history and its relevance in their projects while both publicizing their views and pushing the envelope of controversy.

 In the final chapter of the book, Dagbovie concludes his theories on Reclaiming the Black Past by elevating the thoughts of political figures pardoning the errors and traumas of black history. Yet, just as it was discussed initially, black history has often taken on the form of the person telling the story or experiencing the story. Therefore, the comfort that political figures have with using the platform to take a stance on black history and undoing the wrongs toward African Americans has been a predictable stance given the importance of lack thereof for celebrating the black past. In all, Dagbovie sets the stage for both young and older generations of historians and activists to contemplate their position on the issue of celebrating black history. Whether it is via a monthly celebration or more impactful and thoughtful media content is dispersed, one sure thing is that the black past is a past that brings both debate and interest across the board.

Bibliography

Dagbovie, Pero Gaglo, 2018. Reclaiming the Black Past: The Use and Misuse of African American History in the Twenty-First Century, Maple Press.


[1] Pero Gaglo Dagbovie, Reclaiming the Black Past: The Use and Misuse of African American History in the Twenty-First Century  (U.S.: Maple Press, 2018), X

[2] Ibid, 3

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