An Open Letter To Corporate America On How Not To Celebrate Black History Month
Acknowledging is simply not enough.
January 31, 2018 at 11:38 pm
It’s been over a week since Black History Month began. If you’re “melanated” like myself, you celebrate your black history, present and future glittered in magic all year long. But let us acknowledge this: not everyone we share our powerful presence with will understand the magnitude of black history. For those of us who willingly wear the masks that allow us to blur the lines between our authentic selves and our corporate selves —we have been forced to witness and endure the first week of our job’s (lackluster) attempt at celebrating black history. So, to a corporate America that is searching for how to ‘navigate’ this space, that struggles to find the balance between appreciation and defamation, these are my thoughts around black history month:
Point #1: You cannot limit your recognition of Black History Month to a mere spotlight in a “black history menu” or “station” in your cafeterias
No, we do not want your #negrodelights. Why is the first way you choose to recognize Black History Month centered on food? Don’t misunderstand me, historically black food is an important part of black culture but why must you feature one station of just collard greens and ham hocks as your representation of black history? I promise you; we offer more than just this delicacy. Did you ever stop to think that though some black people commonly indulge in this – it’s still a narrow portrayal of our diversity, even in palate?
Solution #1: Broaden your perspective so you can see what you’re missing. If you must feature food, offer a variety of meals that reflect the diaspora. Corporate America - the beauty you should aim to recognize and celebrate during your yearly “acknowledgment” of Black History Month lies in the multiple layers of the diaspora and how we shift, sometimes merge, and evolve to create black culture. Give us a buffet - you can attempt to capture the diverse palate of historically black foods this way.
Point #2: There is no one black identity – we come in many shapes, sizes, backgrounds, and spirits
To be blunt – there is no one type of black. Some of us identify as African, Afro-Caribbean, Afro-Latina, Multicultural, Multiracial, Afro-European and much more. Yet we still embed our roots in black culture, black history, and black legacy. So no – we don’t all look the same, we don’t all eat the same thing, we don’t dress the same, and we don’t have the same views.
Solution #2: When you’re acknowledging Black History – please acknowledge the multifaceted and dynamic nature that is our magic.
Point #3: Do incorporate facts – real, deep, researched facts – about black history into your messaging and “events” to highlight the month
Take some time to read between the lines and engage with literature and sources that will teach you more than just what met your middle school and high school quota.
Solution #3: Do your research. Listen to those who identify as black and who know their history. Listen to them talk about their history. Don’t settle on including solely elementary facts in your rhetoric.
Point #4: You should strive to weave current issues impacting the black community in your dialogue.
You cannot recognize black history month if you choose to ignore the current systemic oppressions that are still demeaning and demoralizing black people. If you ever say “All lives matter” or “Blue lives matter” – we do not need your half-assed celebration. If you are one who thinks that we are post racial – then we also do not need your half-assed celebration.
Solution #4: Be comfortable being uncomfortable. Wake up. Learn. Listen. Recognize that you may not always understand but push yourself to keep trying to see the problems and injustices and advocate against them. Determine what “allyship” looks like for you and how you can best support communities of color. Do not continue to marginalize us.
Point #5: Though we appreciate your attempts to acknowledge the month, they will prove futile and even more shameful if you do not educate your majority white employees on ethnocentrism and self-awareness.
Solution #5: Your culture is not the only culture. White America is not the only America. Do not compare our cultures to determine which is better. Do not appropriate my culture because you think you know us. You don’t.
We are grassroots.
We are activists.
We are artists.
We are educators.
We are healers.
We are move makers.
We are magic.
The magic of black culture rests in so much. It rests in our resilience. It rests in our ability to subvert the systems that were designed to exclude us. It rests in our ability to build a seat at the table when all that was left were fragments of a chair. It rests in our multiplicity: the differences that make up our background and that drive us to share the creative perspectives that will push your business/our business forward. I encourage you to take a new approach to “celebrating” Black History Month and just try to incorporate the intersectionality of our culture and legacy. Use the same methodologies and due diligence you use to maintain retention rates at your respective companies to plan a true celebration of Black History.