Black History month

I realize it’s already 15 days into February and I am writing a post about Black History Month. I blame exhaustion from having a toddler. And also procrastination.

Let me first be frank and say that I feel really uncomfortable offering anything toward this conversation as a white person. Unfortunately, though, I have been told that sometimes it takes a white voice to get white people to start listening.

So since I have this platform, I feel like I want and need to use it to push an agenda sometimes 🙂 Sorry not sorry.

Understatement of the year: I am not the expert. (Re: Having a Child of Color¹ and being white does not make you an expert on anything regarding the experiences of non-white folks in America. It only alerts you quickly to what you don’t know and how far you have go in educating yourself). One of many things that’s surprised me has been how under-celebrated Black History Month is among white people. This is so disappointing, and I really do feel like throwing our time, energy, and support behind the Black community for the month of February can create an environment where some healing can maybe happen. And if nothing else, we can all stand to learn a few things. Every month operating with such intentionality would be great and warranted, but, ya know…February can be the starting point.

So, if you’re interested in spending the rest of the month honoring Black History Month, here are some ideas of how to engage as a white person.

1. Celebrate Blackness. This is literally the whole point. Throw on a Coltrane album and have a dance party (or Missy or 2Pac or Whitney or all of the above). Watch one of the many incredible movies out right now with Black leads. Read a novel or a poem written by People of Color. Basically, do with intention what the Black community has always done: Appreciate and enjoy the beautiful cultural and artistic gifts they’ve given the world. We white people are horrible at this. I truly believe opening our eyes to the astounding beauty around us is an act of justice. I’m not talking colonizing and appropriating art and culture, but acknowledging and appreciating it and centering it without exploiting. Seek to understand the history and struggle behind it. Let it wash over us in all its glory and power, penetrating deep within our hearts to allow the stories to move and change us. We can learn so much. This beauty does not exist for white people and our benefit, but we can certainly learn to engage without exploiting or taking ownership of something that doesn’t belong to us.

*One quick side note on this point before I continue: Please remove “I don’t see race” or any version of that phrase from your vocabulary permanently. It is such a harmful sentiment that I still hear way too often.

2. Center the voices of Black people in your life/newsfeed/podcast feed this month. (Ahem, and every month thereafter.) What does it mean to center their voices? It means to resist the urge to make things about you. This takes practice and humility, and I fall short constantly. But I hope and pray and beg of you, dear reader, to please hear this if you hear anything in this post: Don’t stop with this blog post. There are incredible Men and Women of Color generously sharing their wisdom and knowledge in the world. Listen, and don’t ask follow up questions. Practice being quiet. Like, seriously, just don’t talk. Listen. If you have a question, use Google. Then go back and listen some more. Make February a month you intentionally practice active, engaged, humble, curious listening.

3. Involve your kids if you have them! Check out books from the library featuring more diversity. Start conversations with your kids about Black History Month, and include them in your journey to invite Black authors, artists, singers, and teachers into your daily lives as a family. Read this book together. Look up what events are happening around you to celebrate and take your kids. Make Frederick Douglass a birthday cake. Stock their own bookshelves (and yours for that matter) with Black characters and authors. Help them internalize the message that Black is beautiful and worth celebrating and honoring. As Ezra’s parents, we seek to do a lot of that affirming around here. It will take a lot of effort to counteract the false negative messages he’ll get in the world about who he is. Help your kids learn the truth, often hidden from us, that race is not something to be ignored, but something to be celebrated in all its beauty. We get to help shape the narrative our kids will live out in their lives. Don’t take that lightly or sitting down.

Mashable wrote an excellent piece this week called “Black History Month is a Chance For White Parents to Learn How to Talk About Racism” that I highly recommend reading for more details and ideas if you are a parent.

4. Support the African American community with your dollars. Research Black-owned businesses in your area and make a point to shop, eat, or visit those places. If you’re making a purchase, consider whether there’s someone of Color you could support with those dollars, whether it’s artwork, fashion, furniture, if you give to non-profits on a regular basis, consider either a one-time or recurring donation for the month of February to organizations like the NAACP or the King Center or Black Lives Matter.

5. Educate yourself on race. Seek to understand why racial tensions are so high right now. Read books and articles that challenge you and make you uncomfortable, sit in that discomfort, and then keep pressing in. Push past the impulse to disengage or become defensive when ideas or statements reflect poorly on you. Keep showing up, using each experience coming up against your own biases as a chance to do better next time. Download and read the Me and White Supremacy Workbook. Read Austin Channing Brown’s book “I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness” (The best book I read in 2017) or Between the World and Me or So You Want to Talk About Race or The New Jim Crow. We should be so incredibly grateful for the emotional labor these men and women have done to produce these works, and so grateful they’re available for us to glean from. Even Kevin Hart has a fun Black History Month show on Netflix right now. The options are endless.

There are so many more books, artists, podcasts, articles, and movies than I could ever list. I’m thankful for the volume of resources available to me to continue my life-long journey wrestling with what it means to seek racial justice for my son and the people I love.

Although I frequently grieve how far our nation has to go for true equality to exist, I am grateful for a month to uplift this incredibly special part of my son and celebrate the legacy, accomplishment, and power that comes with it. I hope you’ll join me in celebrating it too.

[1] Interested in the capitalization used here, like my husband was? Columbia Journalism Review had a great overview of when and what to capitalize when talking about race.