Writing several hundred words on Black history is like trying to summarize American history. Herein lies the issue, Black history is American history. There’s no way I’ll be able to begin to scratch the surface of some of the most important elements of Black history in this blog but let me start with this: I don’t celebrate Black History Month.
In the month of February, many will spend time reflecting on and celebrating Black History Month, and that can be a wonderful thing. Everyone is different. But I don’t celebrate Black History Month as a unique or distinct season in my year, because I am living Black history every day.
I was born in Jamaica, and I moved to Miami as a kid. As a child, we were not instructed to carve out different communities—Asian American, Hispanic, LGBTQ+ or Black history. We learned about it all—the good, the bad, the unflinching truth—as being interconnected. So, part of my perspective on Black history is informed by an education that was not segmented by ethnicity or experiences.
Growing up in Miami, I lived in a community that was predominantly Haitian and Cuban. In my neighborhood, people didn’t identify by the color of their skin but by their country of origin. I wasn’t treated any differently because I was Black or from Jamaica. Our backgrounds informed context, not prejudice.
Always feeling included as a kid inspired me to include other people. And this perspective still shapes my views as an adult. I practice inclusion in everything I do. I try to look at people as individuals, not a class or a color.
I realize there’s a certain amount of privilege in the experience I had as a kid. Some people grow up in communities where, if they’re different, they know it. Maybe they’re not allowed to live it down. Not everyone had the experience I did. I wish more people had. I wish more people viewed things through a lens of what unites us instead of what separates us.
More importantly, I wish ours was a country where there was no need to celebrate Black history, because we all see the contributions of Black Americans (and all other communities) year-round. We see the intersectionality of our experiences and celebrate our differences as well as what we accomplish together.
In 2022, we’re still negotiating the endemic truths of things like slavery and Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination as state governors try to block critical race theory from being taught in class. The sad fact is that sometimes people don’t want to learn from the past, because it might force them to face biases—things that they thought were right or true that, in fact, aren’t. But unless we face some of the tough realities of how our country has stoked division, we’re going to keep carving up our communities by race, by gender, by religion, by what is different from what we know.
Black History Month is 50+ years old, and we’re still debating whether minority communities’ have a right to discuss their identities and their histories in schools. This isn’t just about Black Americans, by the way. Pride month dates back to 1969, and the state of Florida has just passed legislation to silence LGBTQ+ kids from expressing their identities in schools. If we don’t want children learning about how insidious bigotry is and where it comes from, we have a lot more road to travel before we get to acceptance.
But if we’re not getting uncomfortable with the hard truths of history, we’re not learning. We’re not growing. And we’re only hurting ourselves. We must address the history of redlining, of discrimination, of unconscious bias, of dog whistle racism—to name just a few—to get to a place of inclusion and belonging. But having those difficult conversations and being introspective and ready to learn can be hard, so instead people don’t want to acknowledge it.
And if as a country, we aren’t going to change how we treat each other, Black History Month is just a token gesture for marginalized communities. The same is true for Hispanic American Heritage Month, Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, Pride Month and the list goes on. A company might change their logo to a rainbow for Pride, but is that same company’s executive team looking around their boardroom and questioning whether they have enough representation from the LGBTQ+ community at the table? Are they speaking out against laws that endanger the rights of Black people? To put it simply: What are we celebrating if we’re not advancing the communities we’re spotlighting? What have we changed? What are we doing?
These are hard questions, I know, but I’d propose that they are the right ones to be asking—not just now but every month. Because March will be here before you know it. Ironically, March is Women’s History Month, and we’re still paying women 82 cents on the dollar to their male colleagues.
The sad fact is that no matter what that calendar says—unless we reflect on the hard questions and move from questions to action—the challenges your Black friends, your Asian friends, your LGBTQ+ friends, your Jewish friends are grappling with won’t be much different month to month.
Don’t celebrate Black History Month or any other month to check a box. Do something to show true allyship for the communities you’re celebrating. And do it every day, not just because it’s “that time of year.”