Why we need more than a celebration this Black History Month
Published by: TELUS Health,
By Joseph Junior Smith, B.A. (Hons.), B.Ed, M.Ed, PhD (ABD)
The festivities that accompany Black History Month are both entertaining and exciting. Many Black people take pride in Black History Month celebrations because they are an opportunity to share the richness of their cultures with the world. It’s important to recognize, however, that celebration and entertainment can only go so far. Celebrations of Black cultures can be enjoyed without having to understand the systemic limitations that Black people have historically faced, and still face today. Entertainment and excitement have only led to slightly better treatment for Black people overall. Far too often, the celebration of Black History is limited to Black History Month.
Simply celebrating a culture is not an effective way to spread the message of inclusivity, or to make our society and its institutions more inclusive. During this time of racial reckoning across the globe, we see that no position, status, ability, or achievement can insulate Black people from experiencing systemic discrimination. We also see that no amount of exposure to Black culture can prevent racism or racist acts. The only way to meaningfully examine biases, prejudices, and stereotypes is, to begin with, a single presumption: everyone has inherent worth and value in our global community.
This Black History Month, we should all actively reject myths and long-stale attitudes that prevent us from seeing the worth and value in everyone – not despite differences and uniqueness, but because of them. Old myths and untruths we inherit about others’ lived experiences, cultural differences, skills, and abilities prevent us from being able to appreciate the richness and abundance that comes from embracing and understanding diverse identities and experiences. Thankfully, we can take part in activities that can help us abandon these myths and usher in a new way of thinking without even having to leave the house.
To achieve this, we should spend some time doing the following:
- Engage in Anti-Racism training, including those offered by Morneau Shepell.
- Read a notable nonfiction text by a Black author (e.g. Ta-Nehisi Coates,Ibram X. Kendi, bell hooks).
- Watch a television series or film that presents Black life in unconventional ways (Small Axe, Queen & Slim, Waves, Mudbound).
- Connect with modern Black trailblazers who are impacting society (e.g. Amanda Gorman,Celina Caesar-Chavannes, Anthony N. Morgan, Larissa Crawford, Angela Rye, Martin Luther King III, DeRay Mckesson, Akala, Afua Hirsch)
- Reach out, support and build relationships with Black charities and nonprofits (e.g. CEE Centre ForYoung Black Professionals, Foundation for Black Communities, Operation Black Vote Canada, Generation Chosen, Freedom School Toronto, Equal Justice Initiative, Race Forward, Harlem Academy, Runnymede, Stand Against Racism and Inequality, Stop Hate UK)
The hope is that through doing these things, we can do more than simply celebrate aspects of Black cultures during Black History Month. We can become comfortable thinking about and discussing the lived experiences of those to whom this month is dedicated. It does not mean we cannot celebrate; it means that we can all better understand what we’re celebrating, and how we can all meaningfully help bring about necessary change worthy of more celebration.