Black History Month is the nationally observed time set aside to celebrate Black people, bear witness to our history, and honor our achievements. It’s a glorious —but awfully short— period that has become a focal point for major companies and brands. They look to capitalize on the power of Black culture. Well executed advertisements roll out and Black people are suddenly included on platforms that usually are exclusionary. Additionally, schools repeat the same narratives about the same iconic figures. But, Black people exist all year long and our history is more complex than its often given credit for.
In 2019, Wanna Thompson wrote on the importance of media outlets centering Black voices throughout the year. “Granted, this is a win for many Black writers eager to share their stories and add a byline or two in the process, but it also proves that Blackness is only considered valuable during Black History Month,” Thompson wrote for HelloGiggles.
Our pitches and interests are not bound to a single month, and it’s demeaning to even subtly convey that message. This is an issue that unfortunately extends beyond the writing world though.
“[S]hout out to brands doing marketing for black history month and paying black influencers a fraction of what they are paying fair-skinned latte bloggers,” archivist and author Kimberly Drew wrote in 2018. What makes her comment even more sad is when you realize that brands do actually consider Black History Month to be a part of a marketing plan. It should be obvious that you can’t restrict Black people’s lives to a 28-day content calendar, but I guess not. It’s hard to believe that brands are even invested in our futures if they can’t: A) pay us properly, and B), look at us as something other than a dollar sign or a cultural cool point.
Also, we’re tired of having the same stories highlighted. Our grade school teachers taught us the same anecdotes every single year. We’re over it. We know about the (whitewashed version of) Martin Luther King, Jr., George Washington Carver, and Frederick Douglass. Black people deserve nuance, and new, previously untold stories. These stories don’t have to be only told during February, either.
It’s cute to see graphics for Black History Month and listen to companies talk about the ways they value their Black audience. But we know when it’s ingenuine and steeped in capitalism. Black people also fully understand the importance of Black digital currency. So no, you’re not getting extra cool points from us for doing the bare minimum. Celebrate us year round and add complexity to our narratives, or bust.