Black History Month, stretching across October, is in full force. If you are reading this article because as an organisation, or a representative of an organisation, you missed Black History Month completely, and now you are panicking on what to do or who to book for a last-minute event, I have got bad news. Trying to make a last-minute symbolic gesture to show that you remembered it, is rooted in tokenism. The very concept we want DEI to get away from.
Simply put, tokenism is doing something for the sake of doing it, or more accurately, for the sake of looking like you are doing something. It is realising that Black History Month is now, and that you need to participate to fill a specific quota, to show that hey, we are inclusive and diverse and fight for equity.
The problem is that tokenism is really easy to spot, especially by underrepresented groups. Tokenistic practices, such as booking a Black person to speak at an event, including a Black author on your reading list or featuring culturally specific foods or other cultural elements once or twice make no real change. It is just glossing over real systemic and structural problems that have real impact on the lives of Black people every day.
If you want to take your tokenistic BHM practice to a different level or want to avoid falling into the trap in the future, we have listed 5 ways in which you can integrate and advance your diversity, equity and inclusion this October.
1. From 31 to 365: integration
Black History Month is a great time to learn how to do better, and be better, 365 days in a year, rather than for only one month. This includes looking at your curriculum, your roster of actors, your stock photos and your employee lifecycles; and seeing where you lack in inclusion. Use this time to draft and craft practices that will support Black people throughout the year and will promote equity, rather than stay as an initiative that is “done” for another year. A great way to move from initiatives to integration is to take a holistic look at the organisation – make diversity, equity and inclusion a part of everything, rather than separate projects. Review your policies, make plans for the future. Commit to championing the cause of equity for the upcoming 12 months, rather than just for a few weeks.
2. Learn and teach, raise awareness.
There is a lot of information out there about Black history, and about the role of the coloniser in that history. Learn about the part your ancestors played, but don’t forget to learn about Black joy and culture, because our history is more than just tragedy. We are never done learning, and if you do one this Black History Month, please make it this – and make it stick. There is nothing wrong with unlearning something you may have thought is right and re-learning the correct facts. Be transparent in your own level of understanding and challenge yourself to grow more this month (and beyond!).
3. Change your environment
One of the most successful ways of getting rid of prejudice and implicit biases in your own life is to modify your environment to be more diverse, and less stereotyped. It is mostly an individual practice that can consist of being more predisposed to people who are not like you: follow more Black influencers, authors and public figures on social media, read books and stories written by Black people, listen to podcasts created by Black people, and attend events that are hosted by Black people. The key is to reduce your stereotypes (yes, we all have them!), and to replace them with a deeper knowledge of individuals, their uniqueness and variety.
On an organisational level this might be about going through the images that are featured on the website, on social media or your product advertisements. Can you see stereotypes represented? How could they be avoided? Ask yourself these 4 questions: who is represented here? Are they represented in the right way? Who is missing? Why are they missing?
4. Pay the Black people who work for the month
This might be obvious to some, and shocking for others, but your Black employees are not in charge of making Black History Month happen at your organisation – especially for free. If you have a committee running, or are arranging events, make sure that the Black employees working for it get properly compensated. It is not our job to make ourselves represented and celebrated during this month – it is your job. If you are asking for consultancy about Black History Month or anything related to it, make sure their time is rewarded. To ask for free labour in these awareness occasions goes against what we are trying to fight for.
As said earlier, Black history is so much more than just struggle, and Black history is worth celebrating. So, celebrate our achievements, our cultures and the incredible Black people who keep on changing society. Recognise and celebrate the contributions of Black people in your organisation or community. But also celebrate the unique cultures and histories of the people (or employees) around you, allowing them to share stories and elements that make them proud of their culture.
Proud To Be
At PhoenixRize, we fully support Ireland and UK’s Black History Month celebrations of the theme Proud To Be- to celebrate diversity without the restrictions or a need to fit in. This means that we want to emphasise that Black History Month should allow everyone to be their full selves, without being held to white, westernised standards of professionality, behaviour or womanhood. You can participate through the #ProudToBe hashtag and encourage your community or employees to share what they are Proud To Be. For more information, see here
At PhoenixRize, we are consistently promoting the ability for all to be exactly who they are. We are here to support your journey of diversity, equity and inclusion, and if you want to make sure this Black History Month is one that will make a change, let us know. Through working together, we can create a plan towards a non-tokenistic equity practice and policy, and one filled with systemic change. Visit our website to see what we have been up to recently, reach out if you’d like to have a conversation on how we can make an impactful change together.
This blog is more than just words to us, it’s our call to action. We call for you to:
- Get involved in the #ProudToBe campaign and tag us in your social posts so we can share in our joy
- Be transparent in what you’re doing – hold your hands up if you’ve left it a little late this year to do something meaningful for BHM, and put a pin in this to ensure you do not do the same next year
- Celebrate in the joy of Black History through the ideas listed above, let us know what you’ve done, as we’d love to share in the learning too!
- Challenge someone else to learn more, do more, and be more as we strive to create a society that values Black history every day of the year.