My Thoughts on Black History Month

A dear friend (and cousin) messaged me recently to ask if I’d be doing a post on Black History Month, and in all honesty I wasn’t sure what to say. I didn’t plan to write a post, but even just discussing the terminology was interesting enough in itself to not give it a miss.

To set your expectations, in my monthly team meeting this month I decided to leave Black History Month off the list and went for amusing non-controversial events instead, such as National Caps Lock Day!

What is it?

Black History Month is an observation every year, in February or October depending on where you live, and it is to recognise.. well, black history.

Depending on which content you consume on the web, you’ll either see a ramp up of articles regarding slavery, or a ramp up of articles regarding black success. I’m sorry to say that more often than not, we see posts relating to negative aspects of black history, similar to the way BAME is depicted in current media with coverage always relating to how BAME individuals are poorer, less educated, or more susceptible to ill health.

What does it mean to me?

I’ll be completely honest here, and I expect a backlash from people of all colours. It means very little to me, and I would happily live without it. That is not to say that Black History Month isn’t important, but for me, it means absolutely nothing. Nothing changes for me in October.

There are several reasons for my opinions on Black History Month, and it primarily comes from the word ‘History’. The questions I have are:

  • If Black History is so important, why did I learn more from my parents than school?
  • What classifies as ‘history’, and why can’t we celebrate all black success equally regardless of timeframe?
  • Why is there a natural tendency to talk about the racist undertones of black slavery as if they were historic, when the same misconceptions, unconscious bias, and even direct racism still happens today?
  • If equality for black individuals was a history issue, why does this blog even exist?
  • When individuals and organisations celebrate Black History Month, do they really mean it?

What works today?

The last question I ask sticks with me the most, and I’ve touched on this previously with Pride events, and I worry significantly about black observances becoming commercial decisions rather than for the real reasons the observances exist.

I don’t want to see brown or black Absolut Vodka bottles, nor do I want to see packets of black and brown Skittles labelled Limited Edition. I want my success to be normal, and I don’t want the consciousness of the colour of my skin in every single day of my life. We shouldn’t have to highlight a person of colour being successful as something special. Whilst it must be nice to have recognition, it’s somewhat superficial, and isn’t ‘normal’ for majority races.

If organisations want to do something, take a leaf out of Sainsbury’s book.

This Tweet makes me think that Sainsbury’s have thought about Black History Month properly, understanding culture in such deep ways with simple branding. The significance of the colours used in Sainsbury’s logos and Tweets are huge. You instantly think of Africa, the Caribbean, and music from the two regions, as well as other aspects of black culture. All of the companies within this group changed their logo before making this post, and I instantly knew it was to recognise expression of black culture. It was a great feeling!

Secondly, just read the tone of Sainsbury’s second sentence – wow!

“…anyone who does not want to shop with an inclusive retailer is welcome to shop elsewhere.”

There is an element of ignoring diplomacy and political correctness, whilst also potentially losing revenue, and Sainsbury’s simply don’t care. This tells me that the retailer wants to recognise Black History Month, and whilst more black people may shop in Sainsbury’s as a result, commercial opportunity isn’t necessarily their primary goal.

I like this. A lot.

It seems I am not alone.

Whilst writing this post, I also discovered that Morgan Freeman and others once said that they do not want a Black History Month. When asked how he would end racism, he responded with:

I’m going to stop calling you a white man, and I’m going to ask you to stop calling me a black man.

As a result, I now wonder if this is a feeling shared wider than I originally thought, and whether my thoughts are within a minority, or a majority, but unspoken. Who knows? I’m just glad it’s not just me.

I leave you with this 5 minute PBS report…

Note: The US observe Black History Month in February.

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