Four things you should know before the next Black History Month
In the US, Black History Month 2021 will soon be a distant memory. Though on the surface, the annual observance seems like a good thing, many Black people feel conflicted about it. Why? Here are some of the things we really want white people to know.
One month isn’t enough
Centering whiteness takes place 24/7/365, as it has for centuries, so a month isn’t nearly enough to redress the balance. So while most Black people are happy to have the spotlight on Black people, culture, and experience for those 28 days, it sometimes feels like table scraps.
Equity warrior and writer Future Cain says that Black history is our American history. “Black history is our world history. So why do we try to put Blackness in the smallest box of February in the United States? People should not have to scour the internet to find out about Black history because it should be easily accessible online, in our school systems, and on television.”
I envision a Black future where one knows names like Earl Monroe as much as they know LeBron James, where Bessie Coleman is in the books our children read in school as often as Amelia Earhart, and where they learn that since the 1950s, Black women like Dorothy Height were creating seats at tables and speaking up against racism and sexism.
All history is Black history
In white majority countries, when people learn about Black history in school, it often starts with the traffic in enslaved Africans, moves on to the period of enslavement, and peters out around the U.S. Civil Rights movement. There’s a lot more to Black history than that, so forgive us if we’re not impressed when you mention those same tired narratives during Black History Month.
Want to make Black History Month more interesting? Check out our common African ancestor, mitochondrial Eve, or share information on the many rich African empires and kingdoms that existed pre-colonization.
There’s more to BHM than MLK
Predictably, every time Black History Month rolls round, so do the Martin Luther King, Jr. quotes. He was great, don’t get me wrong, but white people can be pretty selective about the quotes they share. As we all know, MLK had plenty to say about protesting injustice, but you don’t often see those quotes.
Plus, he wasn’t the only one writing about the Black human condition. If you really want to celebrate and inspire, find some other writers to quote, like W.E.B. DuBois, Malcolm X, Marcus Garvey, James Baldwin, to name just a few. And quote some poets, too, like Maya Angelou and Alice Walker.
Miss us with performative celebrations
Remember 2020’s social media black squares? Our feeling is, if you’re just going to share quotes and mouth platitudes, don’t bother. Celebrating Black History Month only means something if you really value Black people, if you’re diversifying your circle, if you’re reading and learning, and if you’re fighting anti-Black racism.
As Theresa M. Robinson, author of Blaxhaustion, points out, too often, Black History Month is “theater—a period of 28 days in which *good* white people and *good* companies will *entertain* and distract Black folks from the unjust, oppressive system of whiteness that continues to systematically *kill* us physically, emotionally, mentally, financially.”
Here’s what Black people really want to see, according to Robinson. “Save the hollow words and make it a month to #DoTheWork. Renew your mind. Listen to us. Learn from us. Amplify us. Hire us. Promote us. Pay us well. Invest in our businesses.” Now, there’s a great plan for Black History Month, and all year round.