Feeling “Meh” About Black History Month
If it’s just performative, then what’s the point?
Black History Month (BHM) is here again. If you’re in the US, you’re probably thinking “didn’t we already have that back in February”? Yes, you did, but in the UK, BHM is observed in October.
In the past, I’ve made the most of the month wherever I happened to be living, but as October 1 rolled round, I found myself strangely flat about it all, which is pretty much how I felt in February too.
I get that a month of focus and celebration is better than nothing, and I enjoy the expanded opportunities to see people who look like me featured in what are usually very white spaces. But I’ve seen the dance before, so forgive me for being less than impressed.
As I said earlier this year in "Four things you should know before the next Black History Month", celebrating Black History Month only means something if you really value Black people and so far, I’m not seeing a lot of evidence of that, are you?
In that article I pointed out that:
A month isn't nearly enough
All history is Black history
There's more to BHM than MLK (and please stop misquoting and misrepresenting him)
I’m saying a hard NO to performativity (which is why so many companies “celebrating” Black history get serious side-eye from me).
Speaking of corporate and organizational performativity, here’s how it usually goes:
At the start of Black History Month, like clockwork, companies who never have anything to say about diversity, equity and belonging the rest of the year start draping their social media profiles in Kente cloth patterns and sharing Martin Luther King Jr. quotes. They cite the statistics we all already know about the systemic oppression of Black and Brown people, wringing their hands in a frenzy of “mea culpas”. They promise to do better. All of a sudden there are more Black and Brown people on TV, and it seems that, for a while at least, our voices matter.
Like most Black people, I’ll take the positives of more media representation, but I’m not fooled. Most of what we see is performative. I know that come November 1 (or March 1 if you’re in the US), it’s back to business as usual for all the companies and organizations that are making a big public show of support. It’s back to sweeping Black history under the carpet and denying white people’s role in our oppression. It’s back to ignoring all the issues related to systemic racism that we really need to focus on, fix and eliminate.
That’s why I’m feeling “meh” about BHM as a whole. I’ll take what I can get, but ending anti-Black racism and increasing Black representation is something we should be focusing all year round, not just one month a year.
So, yeah, I’m going to watch the work of Black creators and actors, and read and listen to Black stories, but I’ll also be right here doing the work of fighting racism all year round. And if you’re serious about anti-racism, look behind the veil, and do your own work, too.
Thanks for reading my perspective,
© Sharon Hurley Hall, 2021. All Rights Reserved.
Cover photo courtesy of Canva.