The Upside
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The Upside

I Know You’re Only Choosing Me Because I’m Black

The Upside of Black History Month

Morgan Freeman: Which month is white history month?

Interviewer: We don’t have one

Morgan Freeman: Would you like one?

Interviewer: No. Not really.

Morgan Freeman: Exactly. That’s why I don’t Like Black History Month.

As if Black people haven’t already gotten the short end of the history stick, they’re also being acknowledged during the shortest month as well aren’t they? Couldn’t it Be in June or something? A warmer time of the year would make sense for Africans wouldn’t it?

If you asked me 2 years ago, I’d still be boycotting Black History Month because the entire thing felt Like some sick pathetic joke!

It’s not even a holiday! Can we at least get a day off work to rest? I mean slavery happened so technically you owe us a few days labour-free no?

Those are the words of my very animated and comedic younger brother, and Before a few years ago I agreed with him.

But I’ve since changed my perspective on Black History Month for the better.

Fun Fact: Why Black History Month was in February

February was chosen by Woodson February coincides with the birthdates of both former US President Abraham Lincoln and social reformer Frederick Douglass. Both men played a significant role in helping to end slavery. And now you know… it’s not because it’s the shortest month of the year.

The Downside of Black History Month

Let’s start with the bad news, tokenism, which is defined as:

“the practice of making only a perfunctory or symbolic effort to do a particular thing, especially by recruiting a small number of people from underrepresented groups in order to give the appearance of sexual or racial equality within a workforce.”

In the month of February, this basically means checking off a box that says “include a person of colour so nobody can accuse us of being racist”. This happens more often than you’d think! From affirmative action in schools and workplaces to choosing a black best friend in a movie that has very little to no lines at all. I.e Jennifer Hudson in the Sex and the City movie.

I know you’re only choosing me because I’m black.

Even if nobody is going to actually acknowledge that this is happening, it’s happening.

This used to secretly infuriate me! Only secretly though, because as a black woman there are societal pressures around emotionality due to fears of being dismissed as an angry black woman. But performative inclusion doesn’t sit right with me, even if I’m a benefactor, it feels cheap and fake.

As a speaker of colour, getting paid engagements were otherwise far and few between but in February? I was booked and busy.

“I’m black all year, not just in February”

That’s a quote from a black public speaker on social media. She’s among many whom were loudly declaring that they weren’t accepting jobs in February or for black history month events out of principle.

I was almost inclined to agree with them, then I thought better of it.

Now my thoughts on this are simple: I’m not too proud to accept business, I’m just grateful our history gets acknowledged at all. And trust me, after I blow you away with my presentation, you’ll have me present again in the future outside of the month of February.

I still believe celebrating Black History Month is important, here are few reasons why.

Celebrating History Beyond Slavery

From inventors, scientists and advocates, Black History Month is an excuse to celebrate black achievements. If we consider how many more barriers to access these historical figures had to face in their time, it’s astonishing and deeply motivating.

As an African-Canadian woman I don’t separate myself from my ancestors. The fact that they’ve overcome endless atrocities including severe overt racism and cruelty, helps fill me with gratitude.

The truth is:

There truly is no better time for me to be alive.

Black History Month is an opportunity to understand Black history beyond stories of racism and slavery. Spotlighting black achievement for a change makes English class a lot less awkward for the black kids. Instead of simply feeling bad for black people, ie. when we speak about slavery, racism and segregation, we’re told stories that when told right, can fill us with a mix of gratitude and reverence for those that have come before us.

Black History Month is a continued engagement with history is vital as it helps give context for the present.

An Excuse To Have Critical Conversations

Is the world perfect? Absolutely not! However in recent years, February has also become a platform to speak up against black issues such as systemic racism.

I became an anti-racism educator after recurving a devastatingly horrible anti-racism presentation at work. The speaker spent almost the entire 90 minutes spreading shame and blame. She was basically calling everyone in the audience a racist because they exist in a world founded on racist ideologies.

This may very well be true, but I didn’t Find it useful to any kind of “progress”. My approach to anti-racism is simple:

This is love work.

Meaning there are human beings among us that feel less loved in general. I always thank the people for showing up to the presentation and empower them into action by letting them know how they can become even more supportive allies to the movement.

Look, racism wasn’t created overnight, so it’s going to take a lot more than one presentation to eradicate it. We need as many people switched on as possible, and shame does the exact opposite, it shuts people down emotionally, while disempowering them from believing in a resolution.

The fact is simple: the real “racists” wouldn’t be at the presentation! Those that were in attendance were there because a part of them hoped for positive changes, and that counts for something.

This is a critical conversation many aren’t ready to have: Racism isn’t the biggest problem with our society.

Separating the 99% keeps the 1% elite in power. We outnumber them by far too much when united. “Divide and conquer” isn’t just a war tactic, it still stands in modern society. Today there are thousands of disgruntled groups of people that are squabbling among themselves while soon to be trillionaires continue to thrive in the background. Think of that for a minute. When I hear the word “Trillion”, I think of the expression “More money than God”.

That’s enough resources to solve some major environmental and economic problems for the rest of humanity… do you think Bezos will do it though?

I digress.

All of this to say this:

Celebrating achievements of our black ancestors is a beautiful way to honor them.

When do we recognize Asian Americans? Are we aware of their monumental part in our country’s history?

Black History Month is a good thing. It’s mere existence represents progress that our ancestors fought and died for.

Finally, those who want to pay me money to speak at their anti-racism or Black History Month events, I’ll accept it.

Cheers to shifting perspectives and connecting with our human family. Our differences makes us more beautiful, and our similarities, though sometimes well-hidden, are evidently abundant.

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