Hey everyone — it’s Black History Month, and we learn about — and celebrate! — the many people who have contributed from themselves to the betterment of all, and who have largely been neglected by us because they are Black. Black history is America’s history, and Black history should be known.
These are all good things. But celebrating Black History Month is not the end goal here. It is a resource in our lives to understand what it is to be Black in America. The accomplishments of Black people as celebrated in Black History Month came as a result of the hard work of Black people to overcome enormous resistance to their success and their place in American history and indeed in the idea of who America “is.”
Black History Month is a start, not a goal. The reason it’s a start is because we are tempted to think that all of these accomplishments — and all the travails and wounds and oppression that push back against these Black Americans — are somehow “over.” Or even “It’s Black History Month! Yay us! Now back to what we were doing. Everything’s all fixed.”
Not so fast. We are still as Americans working actively to oppress and block the accomplishments of Black people in America. Still giving Black people the assumption that they are “other” and “mad different” from “us.”
Here are some examples from a company taken at near-random: Salesforce. Salesforce, like many American companies, is making the effort to be visibly more diverse. Yay them! And yet the Black employees they have are being treated disrespectfully and their personhood marginalized.
From Cynthia Perry: My first — and last — post on LinkedIn
From Vivianne Castillo: I am resigning from Salesforce
Now, what is common to both of these women is that they are Black Women working in an American company with a written commitment to Diversity, Equality, and Inclusion (DEI), but in practice remains a white-supremacist patriarchal organization that gaslights and dismisses and diminishes Black employees, especial Black women.
I’m not picking on Salesforce as the only example or the worst example. But they are like many American companies that treat non-dominant-culture employees as “others.” Lip service to their concerns, real-time gaslighting of their lived experiences inside the paywall.
This is also Black history, happening right in front of us and right in this moment. This is history and this is now: we marginalize and dismiss and sideline our Black neighbors and co-workers and schools and expressions and accomplishments because for us we have done all the hard work by having a Black History Month and a written commitment to DEI.
There’s a lot of work to be done to fix this situation. American companies are going to have to do some real work to investigate why they are still white-dominated and white-oriented when they are publicly saying they’re committed to equality.
But. This is also work to be done by us, as individuals, in our own neighborhoods, in our own conversations, in our own churches and committees and PTAs and charities and working groups and councils. Celebrating Black History Month is wonderful. We should continue to do this, and deepen it. But it is on us, as individuals and as people who are part of larger communities, to make sure we are doing the work not just to “celebrate diversity,” but to put it in place with real changes and real results.
We are doing better, but we can still do so much better. Let’s do that.