Yesterday, I shared a post on LinkedIn about a popular UK gym that had posted an inappropriate challenge for Black History Month, celebrated in October in the UK. (Here's the post, if you're interested.)
It was a workout challenge titled "12 Years of Slave", and the Instagram caption included the phrase "slavery was hard and so is this".
There is so much wrong with this that it's hard to know where to start:
Using a film based on a true story of the horrors of enslavement as a marketing tool
Likening a gym challenge to the enforced servitude of a people
Letting that hot mess past the marketing gatekeepers so it ended up in public
But then the story got worse. It turned out that the person who had actually posted it was the Black man who managed that branch of the gym. As Black Americans say: “all skinfolk ain’t kinfolk”.
One white colleague asked: is this still racism? My answer: yes it is. It's internalized anti-Black racism and bias. Sadly, that's also endemic in the Black community, but as with the rest of racism, the original sin belongs to white people. Let me explain.
Imagine you forcibly remove Black people from their African home countries, traffic them across the Atlantic and enslave them. (Well, you don't have to imagine it; we all know it happened).
You tell them everything about them is wrong, and everything white is right. Social mobility and personal acceptability depends on proximity to whiteness. Getting a few personal benefits as a Black person depends on you upholding the same system that is oppressing your fellow Black people. You want to progress so you go along with it.
Over generations, this becomes ingrained. Some people fight, others go along to get along.
Official enslavement ends, but nothing about the system really does. For generations you have been denied a true account of your history and taught to hate your Black skin. Worse yet, you don't even realize it. Every time there's a qualifier in your description of a Black person and you repeat the value-laden phrases often heard in white mouths (pretty for a Black girl, articulate for a Black man, etc), you reveal the depths of your self-hatred.
It's not totally your fault. It's how you were raised and it takes a heck of a lot of unlearning.
As I've said before, this happens in every society the Europeans supposedly civilized. Whiteness remains the norm.
So that Black guy at the gym might not even have realized he was offending his fellow Black people and parading Black trauma for the gratification of mostly white gym patrons.
Thank goodness somebody did, and got the post taken down. But it should never have got that far.
I don't know how many other cases like this there are. It seems every few weeks, another brand puts out a marketing message or a product they really should have thought about more.
How do we stop things like this from happening? Here are a few things that occurred to me:
1. Teach all history to all people. A Black person who knows his history couldn't have pitched such a misguided and offensive campaign. And a gatekeeper who knows all of history couldn't go along with it.
2. We as Black people need to learn to love ourselves. Sometimes it's hard, because the world largely still says white is right, but let's work on that, ok?
3. Stop packaging Black trauma for entertainment.
4. Diversify your management, and make sure you don't just include the acceptable face of blackness. No more tokenism. Include Black people who challenge you to do better and don't just go along with any half baked idea so as not to rock the boat.
This isn't an exhaustive list, just a starting point, but we have to start somewhere, and we all have to do better.
Thanks for reading,
Sharon Hurley Hall