Culture3 min read

This Got Us Thinking: Why the backlash in supporting Black History Month?

Recently, Sainsbury’s published a Tweet demonstrating their support for this year’s Black History Month in the UK:

Sainsbury's Tweet

While many supported the supermarket’s statement there were some dissenting voices. One that caught the eye of the media was actor Laurence Fox, who responded:

“Dear @sainsburys. I won’t be shopping in your supermarket ever again whilst you promote racial segregation and discrimination. I sincerely hope others join me. RT. #BoycottSainsburys.”

This got us thinking.

Why are some people so hostile about Black History Month? And why the backlash against Sainsbury’s who were just trying to be an inclusive retailer and show support for their Black colleagues and customers? Some people suggested that the Tweet pushed racial segregation and discrimination (it doesn’t) and others took issue with being “lectured” by the retailer.

Sadly, there remains a lot of misunderstanding about Black History Month, as well as some resistance. Some organizations in the UK have tried to rebrand Black History Month as “Diversity Month”. One critic of the move to rename it said, “What these diluted celebrations do is to mute blackness to a barely audible cheer.” In both the UK and the US, when Black History Month comes around (October and February respectively), the refrain, “If there’s a Black History Month why isn’t there a white history month?” is all too common.

Happy British by @rebeccahendin.

Maybe the issue that some people had with this Tweet was that Black History Month and the Black Lives Matter movement forces us to confront the fact that any and all of us can be biased, and that some of us benefit from racist structures.

We don’t have all the answers, but there are some resources that have sparked our thinking, and we’d like to share them with you.

😔 No one likes to think they’re biased

It’s not a pleasant thing to think that you’re biased. Recently unconscious bias training has come under attack, with President Trump banning federal diversity training. In the UK one MP described unconscious bias training as being told that, “you’re an awful human being”. We explored the problems with unconscious bias training, and recognize that it serves best as a starting point to bring everyone up to the same level of awareness before moving on.

People forget that unconscious bias isn’t the same as conscious prejudice. Having biases doesn’t make you a bad person. It makes you human.

Have you thought about taking a test to uncover your biases?

Project Implicit led by Harvard University has created the gold standard for bias testing, called the Implicit Association Test (IAT). Researchers have created a series of questionnaires that measure the automatic associations we make between “black” and “white”, “women” and “careers”, etc. You can take the test here.

🗣️ Get a new perspective

Some people may fail to appreciate the importance of Black History Month because they don’t see how it matters to them. They might not see Black history as their history. Some even feel frustrated by being told that racism is still a problem in their country, and the idea that we need to make society less racist is an affront to their worldview. We each have our own unique way of looking at the world. With this, come blindspots. To get past this blindness, we need to learn from people who have different points of view.

Black Lives: Past, Present, and Future

Black Lives: Past, Present and Future podcast

A new podcast called Black Lives: Past, Present, and Future, shares the experiences of Black lives in the past, present and future. The podcast also shares what Black history means to different people. Have you considered how your blindspots might affect how you see Black History Month or how you consider the experiences of people of color? Maybe it’s time to take on some new perspectives.

You can listen to the Black Lives: Past, Present and Future podcast on Spotify and learn about the perspectives of different people.

❓ Alternative argument: Should we still have a Black History Month?

Some people have suggested that we actually shouldn’t have a Black History Month. Not because Black history isn’t important or because we don’t have a white history month, but because Black history shouldn’t be relegated to a single month of the year. It shouldn’t be sanitized nor should it only include a few well-known figures.

In this short video Vice’s Lee Adams explains why he thinks Black History Month shouldn’t be a thing.

Lee Adams makes an interesting point that when Black History Month rolls around, we make a big deal about Black culture on social media, but ignore it for the rest of the year. Would this happen if Black history was better taught throughout the year, instead of being concentrated in a single month?

He also criticizes what is being taught in Black History Month, that we only hear about “the good ones”. And he’s not the only one. LaGarrett King, Professor of Social Studies Education and Founding Director of the Carter Center for K12 Black History Education at the University of Missouri has said that the teaching of Black history in schools is, “steadily improving, yet still stagnant.” We agree that Black history shouldn’t be relegated to a few figures like Martin Luther King Jr or Rosa Parks. Why not start by reading this interview with the political activist Angela Davis?

✅ A challenge for your week ahead

Spend some time researching contemporary figures for Black History Month that may be overlooked by schools. Why not start with Fred Hampton (an activist who was shot and killed in his bed), or Bryan Stevenson (founder and executive director of The Equal Justice Initiative)

Some people may not understand the importance of Black History Month. By taking on new perspectives and making the effort to learn about all aspects of Black history, not just those that can be covered in a single month, we can truly appreciate just how vital Black history is to all of us.

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