February 1st marks the beginning of Black History Month throughout the world. This is the time of the year when we reflect on the achievements, history, and stories of people and experiences in Black culture. I won't continue about this because you know this all too well. And if you don't - google it. This blog post is more about the untold side of this momentous occasion. The "silent experience" that black people like myself know all too well. The unsaid events that transpire in the workplace (and life) make these 28 days (29 if we are unlucky), sometimes, unbearable. This blog post is to bring light to how observers of the black experience should consider conducting themselves these next 28 days. Sorry, my black readers, but this one is for them. I am here to share my Black History Month "Do's & Don'ts".
Do be supportive. Don't be EXTRA!
Over the years I have witnessed the excitement of non-black individuals wanting to celebrate this occasion. It never fails; the emails I get at work, or the social messages I see of them preparing for the month. 'Can you speak at this symposium on your experience?' 'What are your recommendations for activities to highlight black history?' ' Should we serve fried chicken?' Now that last one is usually not asked. You do it anyway. I understand the desire to ensure inclusivity and support during this time, but there is a fine line that seems to get crossed where you mean well to the detriment of overburdening me (and my black peers). Pump the breaks, please. Have you ever considered that we would ask for what we want? We don't need to be prompted by you, but take the initiative in how we want to recognize this occasion. How we want to pay homage to our ancestors is our business. Instead of giving your ideas, how about listening to what we have been saying all year? Here are a few I can list to help you out:
Promote and patronize black-owned businesses.
Dismantle the system that was built to oppress, arrest, and cease our existence.
Stop touching our hair (and everything else about us).
How about those reparations?
Allow us space to "Breathe".
Oh, and mind ya business!
The list goes on. You can be supportive of our culture and existence without being extra. This month is for you to remember (not us) and learn. Let us use this time to heal and grow.
Do join the conversion. Don't overpower the narrative.
I have been in settings where non-black people want to have round table discussions about the black experience and make the mistake of presenting themselves all-knowing - right in front of me. Yes, to my face they have shared they know more about being black in America than me. The nerve right...yes I know. That isn't you though - right? You don't join conversations and insert yooooour non-black experience because you have a friend/coworker who is black - right? No, you don't throw ideologies back at the one or two black people in the room after they have shared their experience in hopes of providing yooooour POV; which by the way, if you are not black, your POV in this conversation doesn't matter. Yes, I said it. Black History Month is to CENTER the black POV. It is to look at my past experiences and uplift present ones so that my future (your black friend's future and their kids) can improve. So when I speak, listen. When I say this is my reality, know it is relevant. The conversation can be two-way: I share my experience, and you share how you believe it. But also remember your buy-in does not add value to my experience - you wouldn't be able to afford it anyway. I am not always looking for answers from you. Most of the time I am giving you the answers. Just don't gaslight me or my culture. Things of the past need to be acknowledged and answered for because they still exist in many forms today. So let's learn and move forward together by having the conversation, with black people at the center and controlling the narrative.
****WARNING!!!! THIS NEXT SECTION GETS REAL. IT CONTAINS LANGUAGE THAT MAY BE RE-TRAUMATIZING TO READERS WITH SIGNIFICANT EXPERIENCES. I PERMIT YOU TO SKIP TO THE NEXT SECTION FOR YOUR HEALTH AND HEALING.****
Do know we are healing. Do NOT re-traumatize us.
I remember one Black History Month in high school when they wanted to spend 28 days discussing slavery. SLAVERY Y'ALL! All year the textbooks in history class skipped this, but someone saw it fitting to revisit it for 28 whole days. It is so stressful to me when you all want to talk about black history by glorifying the days of Martin Luther King Jr (we remember), bypassing the realities of firehoses, lynching, burning crosses, white sheet men running around beating children (Emmitt Till - we remember). Or questioning the movement of Malcolm X (we remember) or the efforts of the Black Panthers (we remember) because they were a bit too aggressive for your taste. How about the burning of cities and towns like the first Black Wall Street in Tulsa back in 1921 (we remember). Those were businesses that funded black peoples' livelihoods. How do you think Ruby Bridges (we remember) feels today after the trauma imposed on her for just going to get a good education - you can ask her. Yes, those years are not too far behind us, and history forever repeats itself - unless we learn and change. So do not forget that this month as black people celebrate where we have come from, we also remember the pain, suffering, and bloodshed that brought us here today. The stains are still visible every time you post another brutal murder of a black child or adult (#saytheirnames - we remember). Stop re-traumatizing us. You do not have our permission to use our past suffering for your political gain and marketing strategy. This is our life, lived. Let us heal. Give us space to mourn, just as much as the space to rejoice; if not more. Recognize when you are impeding on our mental health and backup. 'There is a time to mourn, and a time to dance' (Ecclesiastes 3:4). Please give us room to do both.
Do come to the cookout, but don't bring your casserole.
My last but most important advice, because in black culture we love to fellowship and eat. I recognize that the aroma of our grandma's mac and cheese, and pop's BBQ fat-backs are tantalizing. I get it. So join us in our celebration. Here in the Bay Area we have the Black Joy Parade which is a great way to support black vendors and community members, while also experiencing our culture. Just leave your casserole at home. Don't feel the need to always bring a bit of "you" to our festivities. Yes, we welcome your presence, but don't let it overshadow the real reason we are gathered - for black culture. Now I am not saying misappropriate either. Just come ready to be on the sidelines for this one. Experience all of our music, food, and joy (and patron where possible). I believe we as black people desire to share our culture with the world; but, history has shown it taken or put against us. So I ask you to join the cookout humbly and without intent...and chiiile I am telling you, leave that casserole at home!
These are my views and do not reflect any research, study, or connection to my fellow peers and organizations. The content was compiled completely from my own experiences and welcome conversation solely to share views and understanding. - Shanice the CEO