Black History Month’s become diluted. In February, there is an onslaught of rhetoric celebrating people of African descent, while world-wide, corporations still have policies and practices that are purposefully disadvantageous to those with brown skin.
The recognition of the month and the contributions of persons of African descent to the American landscape has become a box to be checked.
But when it comes to any sort of deep dive into these significant contributions, as well as the study of the history of African-Americans, there is much lacking.
It’s naive for African-Americans to look for others to celebrate our rich cultural heritage when well-known icons such as the Queen of Sheba are still being white-washed in mainstream media, when prominent figures who worked for change such as Martin Luther King Jr were viewed as problematic while living, and when inventions created by blacks, such as the modern-day ironing board, are used while the creator is rarely acknowledged.
The ownness can’t be placed upon the wider society to acknowledge and respect black history. We ourselves must cheer and champion those who came before us. And we must cheer and champion those who are presently making significant contributions to the world and to Black History in general.
Whether its politician and voting rights activist Stacey Abrams or tennis phenom Serena Williams, tech YouTuber MKBHD (Marques Brownlee) or writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, financial guru Jamila Souffrant or chef Preston Clark, black history is being created everyday by persons living in the United States.
So if Black History Month has become more about rhetoric than making tangible changes that positively impact African-Americans, what are we to do?
1. We can do more to highlight the need for substantial change, including corporations changing the policies that create racial disparities. And 2. We as African-Americans can personally and collectively think beyond the one month ‘container’ by having a spirit of excellence year-round and operating in it as the norm.
Because here’s the truth, while the recognition of Black History has been neatly fitted into one month, Black History is being created year-round.
So while corporations might be making superficial attempts to celebrate Black History, know that this acknowledgement within the confines of one month is really ‘doing the least.’ Hence now is the time African-Americans should consider ‘doing the most’ by making it a mission to elevate ourselves year-round.
Here’s three ways we can achieve this goal.
Let your voice be heard.
There’s power in erasure. As individuals and as a community, its important that we speak up and speak out.
Much of African-American history is purposefully not taught in schools, leaving many children unaware of the power of their ancestors. Speak up so your insights and contributions are not muted.
There are many instances where we stay mute, whether it’s by not voting or by not negotiating our salaries when a job offer is being made. In our daily lives, we empower ourselves by speaking up. In addition, we help to empower future generations when we choose to document our genius through mediums such as books, our online content and film.
Value your transferable skills.
Corporations value money. As an employee, its most likely that your organization is making more profit from your skillset than it is paying you to complete the job. In an economy of constant shifts, personal development and using one’s skillsets for one’s own benefit is something more people are doing. Consider what skills you can leverage outside of your place of work that other people will find useful and that will bring more money into your own pocket so you can improve the quality of your life.
By giving back, you’ll be able to make a real difference in this world. Giving of your time, knowledge, or even resources helps create an impact in the lives of others, helps strengthen the community you’re a part of, and allows you to expand your network.
The wrap-up, though corporations’ creation of marketing campaigns that celebrate Black History Month is a nice gesture, in today’s climate, it is the tangible changes that will move us forward as a people. Let a posture of support matter less while we work to create value in this world, do the deep work of recognizing our own merits, and then loudly celebrate ourselves.