I turned twenty-nine this week, and it was different yet somehow similar to all the other “birthdays” I had since turning 18. If you’re lucky, as a child a parent, sibling, teacher or caretaker will assume the burden of making your day conventionally special. As an adult, it becomes entirely your duty to make the anniversary of your birth anything other than just another day in the year. Nevertheless, this birthday was similar to pretty much all the birthdays I had an adult yet somehow this similarity proved a gateway to an altered perspective.
Birthdays accompany the pressure to do, wear, go, or have something out of the ordinary. As I contemplated ways to make this day special, I thought about Saartje Baartman, a beautiful young black woman who died shortly after her twenty fifth birthday. I thought about the four little girls, Addie Mae Collins, Carole Robertson, Cynthia Wesley, and Denise McNair, peeled apart from one another following a blaze that prematurely took their lives. They would never see twenty-nine. They hadn’t even lived to celebrate their sweet sixteens.
I thought about Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown, Sandra Bland amongst others who would never see this age. It then became clear. Birthdays function to encourage individualism, an ideology that proves particularly harmful to those of the black diaspora. In acquiescing to nurtured elaborate behavior and spending, an individual becomes prompted to indulge in selfish behavior that does nothing for the collective.
As a collective that is and had always been under attack, this ideology suggests that an individual is far more significant than the totality of their people, an ideology that promotes western capitalism and further disenfranchises black socioeconomics and the black psyche.
A birthday is simply a new year or a formal means to commemorate time. But time is only as valuable as what you do with it.
A birthday should not be about you, just as any life well spent is not about an individual. Focusing on self is a lethal deflection for the black collective that seduces us to sacrifice our time. Our abduction from the shores of Africa cost us our names, our language and centuries of time. Time that we cannot get back.
Since abduction, the black body has encountered various means to resume this pattern of lost time. Be it reality television, working a job for profit and not purpose, or the seduction to waste time and money on birthdays, the black collective remains stagnant in its state of disenfranchisement as a result of systemic techniques designed to keep us celebrating in defeat rather than contemplating our rise.
If we as individuals do not strive to account for lost time, we are destined to wallow in the myth that wasted time amounts to anything but what famed poet Langston Hughes regarded as a “dream deferred.”
What will you do to commemorate your time? What extrinsic force will deem your life worth living? What will you do with the time allotted to you but stolen from someone else? What will you say with the voice afforded to you in contrast to the silence handed to someone else?
It is only through restoring the collective that we as indigenous Africans can rise to the height in which we were born to occupy.
Furthermore, a birthday is only happy if your individual birth functions to elevate our conscious kingdom.
What will be your contribution?