Black History is American History
A year ago, on February 1, 2020, I wrote a guest blog about my reflections regarding Black History Month. It feels like a really significant time, because although I spoke publicly about race and racism via my social platforms, this was the first time I put my collective thoughts in a "public journal". This essentially ignited my desire to bravely put my thoughts out there more often, with the hope that they change at least one person's perspective, but also as personal therapy. Writing is therapy. My reflection on Black History Month still holds true today.
As one of the 20th century’s greatest writers, James Baldwin, wrote: “It is the past that makes the present coherent”.
Black history and Black accomplishments have often been minimized or erased throughout American history. I believe the purpose of Black History Month is to, in a way, hold the nation accountable to battling historical amnesia when it comes to the African American experience.
In a country where talking about the Black experience, race, and racism in the workplace is still considered “taboo”; where I still get asked, “can I touch your hair?”; where I’ve been told “you’re not like those Black people” because of the way I talk, or where I live, Black History Month, as a way to examine our nation’s history is so important.
I believe Black History Month carves out a space for African Americans to be inspired and uplifted through each other’s stories and experiences of resilience. It is also an opportunity to create a space for white people to confront the nation’s history of racism, and to understand the ways it systemically (and individually) shows up today.
My wish is for white people, in particular, to reflect on this:
Black History is America’s History. We all share in that regardless of our skin color.
Conversations about race are difficult, and fraught with the risk of saying the wrong thing. This often leads to a deafening silence, and complete dismissal of anything relating to race or racism. I have often been part of conversations with white people who associate racism with bigotry, white supremacists, or the KKK. While individual racism is still alive and well today, it is important to understand the complex, ever-present systems that continue to perpetuate the oppression of people of color. As The Racial Equity Institute eloquently states, “Racism is a fierce, ever-present, challenging force, one which has structured the thinking, behavior, and actions of individuals and institutions since the beginning of U.S. history. To understand racism and effectively begin dismantling it requires an equally fierce, consistent, and committed effort.”
Lean into conversations about race. Weekly, there are news stories of events that are happening, that directly connect to the history of racism in America. We bring those experiences and knowledge into the workplace with us, either consciously or subconsciously. Create spaces within your work environment for people to engage in dialogue about how these events affect them as people and reflect on how it affects their interactions at work.
Here's a place to start:
1) Learn and check your sources. Seek to understand (and recognize and respect) the dynamic history of the African American community. Be aware of the authors of the learning content. Are they all white? Proactively search-out black authors.
2) Unlearn. This relates to #1. In your learning process, you will likely have to unlearn our country’s white-washed understanding of the black experience and existence. This will likely feel uncomfortable. Discomfort leads to change.
3) Proximity. Are you constantly in all-white spaces? How can you genuinely seek-out perspectives and experiences of people of color? Be proactive about inclusion in your daily life.