Black History Month and How to Start Your Anti-Racism Work
Updated: Nov 24, 2019
Wow, the first month of Aptly Anxious is in the books! It was so much fun to think about life from a relentlessly creative point of view during the month of January. Even though the month is over, don't stop that creative energy! Keep creating, keep encouraging others to create. Healing will come.
In the month of February, we will be focusing on Black History Month. First thing I want to point out is that I am a white female from a fairly privileged background (aside from my whiteness already being a privilege); so throughout this month I will be working on my privilege while also trying to help others through this process. So if I get it wrong, please don't be afraid to say something! I truly want to know if I am unconsciously promoting racist ideology or white supremacy so that I can do what is needed to correct it.
According to African American History Month, in 1925, historian Carver G. Woodson worked with the organization he founded - the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History - to create Negro History Week which launched in February 1926, surrounding the birthdays of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln. "The response was overwhelming: Black History clubs sprang up; teachers demanded materials to instruct their pupils; and progressive whites, not simply white scholars and philanthropists; stepped forward to endorse the effort." It wasn't until 1976 that the Week was extended to encompass the entire month of February. From The Association for the Study of African American Life and History (formerly the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History): "today Black History Month garners support through the country as people of all ethnic and social backgrounds discuss the black experience."
BLACK HISTORY MONTH GIVES ME ANXIETY BECAUSE...
BASICALLY NOTHING HAS CHANGED SINCE WE BROUGHT AFRICANS TO AMERICA AS OUR SLAVES. Don't kid yourself into thinking it has. Perhaps the needle has moved ever so slightly for black people and their place in society, but even saying that feels like a stretch. Racism is just taking different forms, making you think that things are getting better. Black people are still criminalized the second they step out of their front doors. White hoods in the streets have been replaced with red baseball caps (try and tell me that isn't true, I dare you).
I don't want to get preachy, because that isn't going to solve any problems, so basically the best way to describe the issue is that it's all fucked and white people caused this problem. Now we need to fix it.
WHAT CAN WE DO TO HELP?
I want to point out before we go into this that it is not, and will never be, the work of black people to undo to heinous problems that white people have created. We all need to keep that in mind as we do this kind of work.
Support black-owned businesses: This is really not hard to do. If you don't know where to start, check out these directory resources: Support Black Owned, Official Black Wall Street, Black Owned Business Network, etc., etc.. There are tons of these resources online that only take a simple Google search to find. Financial reparations are a great way to begin your anti-racist work if you aren't ready to jump into meaty self-reflection (although I strongly encourage you to jump in head-first. The ability to even say you aren't ready to begin the hard work is your white privilege speaking).
Learn about your own privilege: I'm speaking directly to white people. This will no doubt be uncomfortable for you because "well I'm not racist." Sorry, but yes you are. Now that we have gotten that out of the way, it's time to learn about how this place of inherent privilege influences racial interactions, purchasing decisions, voting decisions, and policy outcomes - just to name a few. Robin DiAngelo is a great first resource for this anti-racist work. She is a white woman who coined the term "white fragility." She has a book out called White Fragility: Why It's So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism. Give it a read. This is not the one-stop shop for anti-racist work, it is merely a jumping-off point.
Speak up to other white people: Sometimes racism is easy to spot, sometimes it isn't (if you are white). Regardless, we need to start holding other white people accountable for the way they go about racial interactions. This includes correcting language (i.e. replacing "colored people" with "people of color," or even better, getting comfortable with saying "black people") and being okay with other white people being uncomfortable with it. This doesn't mean you have to be rude and bite peoples' heads off with your anti-racism work, but it is important that white people begin to take ownership of this work wherever possible. No act is too small.
Take the time to do the little things: This is going to mean different things to different people, so I'll give you an example I'm working on currently. When I leave work everyday, I wait at the same bus stop with about 100 other people who are also at the end of their day and just trying to get home. Typically when my bus shows up, there's a giant clump of people that are politely clamoring to get onto the bus first so they can get one of the only seats left. I've been trying to be more cognizant of how intensely I try to "beat" everyone else on the bus to get to a good seat and trying to notice who is around me and if I have the opportunity to give up some of my control and let people of color or people with disabilities get onto the bus first. I don't know if this makes any difference at all, but these small acts of giving up your power will quickly snowball into much larger acts of relinquishing power which will organically create more equity in the world around you.
Practice conscious hiring: This goes hand in hand with my first point. If you work in a position where you deal with hiring, pay attention to where you're posting job openings and how you recruit on a larger scale. How are you wording your job descriptions to be as inclusive as they can possibly be? Professionally or personally, pay attention to what kinds of vendors you hire for things like weddings, parties, household services, things like that. When your sewer line backs up and you're trying to decide who to hire to fix it, call the black-owned business FIRST. Get your quote, then move on to another comparable company.
I'll leave you with those few things for now. There is a LOT to cover with this subject and I won't even come close to scratching the surface over this next month. I hope that this helps you start thinking about your own anti-racist work; and remember that we are all in this together. Especially when it comes to matters of humanity.