Coworkers, Please Don’t Make Black History Month Weird This Year
And forward this to the whole damn company while you’re at it
Today is the first day of February, and I’m officially stressed out. Sure, I’m happy to have escaped the most bizarre January of my lifetime, with only the mild shellshock of a militia-fueled insurrection and the inauguration of this nation’s first Black vice president occurring just weeks apart. But I’ve got a love-loathe relationship with the second month of the year. Black History Month can be beautiful — but for Black employees in corporate America, it can also be awkward as hell.
In the aftermath of 2020 — a year in which the phrase “performative activism” was cemented in the cultural lexicon — I’m wary of the halfhearted, shallow shit that’s in store for Black History Month. I can see these corporations now, launching campaigns that appear to center Black people but ultimately are just blatant PR plays. Or initiatives that fixate more on Black trauma than triumph. There’s a whole breadth of experiences to honor, but when these projects look at Blackness as a monolith, it does a serious disservice to the culture.
My personal awkwardness as it relates to Black History Month dates back to my public school days as the Only Black Kid in the Classroom. Teachers would put together cursory lesson plans that validated Black icons based on their relationships to White oppression. (Seriously, from Harriet Tubman to Jackie Robinson to Martin Luther King Jr., you could play bingo with these go-to figures.) Either that, or they’d wheel that big-ass TV cart into the room and play, like, Glory or Roots or some shit. Don’t get me wrong, both are classic pieces of cinema, but these lesson plans rarely ever highlighted the beauty of the Black experience, opting to fixate on the struggle.
I could sense from my classmates and professors an expectation to be more vocal, more present with regard to these lessons that felt tailored for me in the most uncomfortable way possible. Instead, I just wanted to shrink in my seat until the month of…