What not to do or say to Black people during Black History Month (or ever)

Feb 11 2022, 9:44 pm

February marks Black History Month, during which a lot of events, corporate initiatives and collectives try to cultivate an environment of learning both within and outside of the Black community.

Every year, Black folks across the diaspora endure sometimes heightened racializing throughout BHM. Sure, it’s not always intentional, but it is always triggering, hurtful and avoidable. When 12:01 am hits on March 1, the flurry of coverage all but dries up and education is rarely encouraged throughout the remainder of the year.

In the spirit of continued education, Daily Hive reached out to a number of young Black professionals working in the television and media industry and asked them one question: what annoying things do people do or say to you during BHM?

We compiled their answers and explained the underlying racism hidden in these everyday experiences with resources that anyone and everyone can dive into well beyond the end of February.

Happy Black History Month Year!

Performative allyship:

“Highlighting certain aspects of Black culture only during the month of February without incorporating them into everyday content AFTER Black History Month is over.”

“Not creating a roster of excellent Black contributors throughout the year and then scrambling to find voices during February.”

“‘I’m here for you,’– don’t apologize for being white, and randomly apologize ‘for everything happening.'”

“Since Black history is everyone’s business, make it required for EVERYONE to take part in learning — don’t ask me what Black history means to me. What does it mean to you?”

True allyship and performative allyship comes down to the difference between a friend and a frenemy. Although these two things can appear similar, the face under the mask of performative allyship can be quite sinister. PennState Law defines it as “allyship [that is] based on the idea of self-gratification and does not look at your responsibility within a community; it is disingenuous.”

These actions allow for superficial “work” to be done in reaching out to the Black community and other communities of colour. In the act of sweeping things under the rug, real policy change and societal advancements fall to the wayside with a bandaid fix. 

So heavily embedded into Canadian society, in today’s world – where likes on social media equate to influence, and looks are celebrated for being deceiving – the commonality of performative allyship can be overlooked. Following the murder of George Floyd and a flurry of actionless posts of black squares, a light was cast on the real dangers of performative allyship. It is no longer enough to appear to be an ally to people of colour. Be encouraged to lean into discomfort and do the work. The learning of Black history can only be a gateway to learning the authentic history of Canada. To know it is to celebrate the achievements of our country. 

This Black History Month – and beyond – be an ally. Listen, talk, and act:

  1. So You Want to Talk About Race – Book
  2. Performative Allyship: What Are The Signs And Why Leaders Get Exposed – Forbes
  3. This is how to tell if your allyship is just performative – Fast Company

Microaggressions:

“If you’re the only person of colour on your team, there’s a silent expectation that you should offer a lot of guidance to the rest of your teammates during Black History Month.”

“Don’t ask them (Black people) to do all the emotional labour so you can ‘learn.’ Do your research.”

Microagressions are quite like what they sound like. Defined by the Oxford dictionary as “an act or a remark that discriminates against one or more members of a minority group, either deliberately or by mistake,” they are common and are typically the result of bias — both conscious and unconscious. 

These aggressive statements can rear their heads in the most mundane of spaces, from work and social events, to in schools and on streets. Blackness does not appear on February 1 and disappear by the 28. Your Black friends, colleagues, and neighbours are managing discrimination, degradation, and aggression on a daily basis, do not make it their responsibility to manage your biases. 

This Black History Month, work to unlearn your biases by checking out these resources:

  1. When and How to Respond to Microaggressions – Harvard Business Review
  2. Three Ways Leaders Can Manage Microaggressions At Work – Forbes 
  3. Subtle Acts of Exclusion: How to understand, identify, and stop microaggressions – Book

Generalizing experiences:

“Stop asking how we (Black people) feel during Black history month. We are Black every day and manage everything that comes with every day.”

Black History Month, in general, can be a very triggering time for Black folks. Not only is there an acute focus on the suffering of Black people throughout February, but a sudden alienating spotlight is cast on us as individuals, and we are often expected to be spokespeople. Not only is this unrealistic, but it’s also an act of generalizing the Black experience. 

This Black History Month, be kind, have compassion and seek to understand our humanity as individuals.

  1. Between the World and Me – Book
  2. Sister Outsider – Book
Kamille CoppinKamille Coppin

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