Posting about Black History Month on the first day of February feels a bit performative.
It’s what the big corporations do. It’s when most universities send out their marketing emails themed around their alumni of color.
Posting on the last day of February isn’t any better, but we did want to recognize Black History Month and not let it slide.
It’s pretty tough for some people to focus on, well, like, anything right now, when we’re still dealing with the fallout from years of a pandemic on our mental health, and we’re now witnessing war happening right in front of us with the hostile invasion of Ukraine. We could all probably use a break from the experience of being witness to historical events unfolding in front of our eyes.
It may seem like “Black history” is in the past, and if you’re not Black, you may not even really understand what Black History Month is about. Many white Americans don’t.
When we recognize that the very first African-American woman was only just now nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court it perhaps helps to put things in context.
The truth of the matter is that all of American history is Black history, but that’s not the history that’s taught in our grade schools, and even that simple idea is currently fraught with the controversies around something called Critical Race Theory (which most people don’t really understand). But we’re at risk of turning this into a political post by mentioning these things. And, there are other very important matters going on in the world right now, like the invasion of Ukraine, which are making history right in front of us. (It would be nice if we could collectively get a break from being eye witnesses to historical events for awhile, but apparently that’s just not to be.)
Here’s little impromptu quiz:
Can you name three important Americans who shaped our history, who happen to be Black — and who aren’t celebrities or named Barack Obama?
No shade on Obama and musicians and athletes. However this challenge is meant to illuminate the issue.
Maybe you’re well aware of the contributions that Black people and other people of color have made to this country. But if you’re like many Americans, the names don’t come to mind with the snap of your fingers.
Maybe you thought about it for a hot second, and Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. popped into your head.
Or Rosa Parks.
And probably Obama, and maybe Tiger, and Kanye, and JayZ, and Beyonce, and Kobe, and Muhammed Ali. All of those success stories matter too. However it’s telling that many of you probably struggled to come up with lots of names of people who brought change to this country, who moved us forward as a nation, or in business.
Actually, that’s a great question in itself: Name some Black business leaders, like CEOs or technologists or startup founders. Can you think of any?
We’ve got Erika James, Dean of Wharton. And we’ve got….
Unless you count self-made millionaires like Oprah and LilWayne and JayZ who are running their own corporations, there are almost no Black CEOs in the Fortune 500 today — apparently only 4. Though TIAA now will have its second Black CEO in a row.
We shouldn’t have to have a Black History Month, because Black history is American history, and it all should be taught together, equally, without Black contributions having to be called out separately — because those contributions should be integrated into the fabric of the stories we tell each other about how our country developed. We shouldn’t have to isolate Black history to be studied separately, or to have a page of the calendar relegated to remembering to talk about it.
Until that happens, though, we’ll be recognizing Black history here — maybe not on the first day of February, when all the corporations have scheduled their social media campaigns, but somewhere along the way. And we will be continuing to talk about the inequalities, and the need for concerted efforts on the part of whites in this country to bring changes to the system so that all have true opportunity, regardless of background or resources or skintone.
In case you had trouble thinking of Black historymakers and people of influence, here are a random few:
- James Baldwin – writer
- W. E. B. DeBois – one of the founders of the NAACP
- Angela Davis – activist
- Maya Angelou – poet
- Frederick Douglass – abolitionist
This list could be much longer, though we’re more curious about the names that you know.
Who did you think of?
And, if you’re a Black person looking to become a leader in our American business world, the Executive Leadership Council is one resource to know of.