Reflecting on Black History Month

alt="What Black History can mean. Words on a black background with a green circle"

The history and experiences of Black people are an integral part of American history. Before its founding, when the United States was a British colony, slavery underpinned our nation. While it may seem difficult to grasp, we’re still living with the after-effects of previous centuries.

What occurs in the workplace affects society as a whole. Changes on the inside impact changes on the outside. Understanding and recognizing the contributions and struggles of Black people is crucial for fostering a more inclusive, equitable, and just society.

Celebrations like Black History Month are vital in raising awareness in the workplace of both positive and negative experiences of underrepresented groups.

But, if we can be honest for a moment, as two white women, we hadn’t thought deeply about the meaning of Black History Month in concrete realities. Yes, we know our white privilege allows for this to be the case. This does not feel comfortable to admit.

While we, personally, can’t fully understand the daily realities of lived Black experience, we can take a considered, thoughtful look. We understand there are microaggressions we don’t have to face, like hair discrimination. We feel strongly that it is our responsibility to honor Black History Month with our words and actions. And to move beyond performative acknowledgment by seeing what it means beyond February.

Right on the heels of George Floyd’s murder, organizations started to proclaim the importance of DEI. Now, in 2023, it appears that employers may be cooling off on their efforts to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). Currently ranking sixth in HR priorities, DEI has fallen from fourth place in 2021.

What we’re striving to do

We want to make sure we’re helping change employee systems, perceptions, and behavior. We want to facilitate more inclusion and belonging. Diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging are good for people—and for business. DEI is more than a legal obligation or a trend that will be here today and gone tomorrow. It is our duty to persuade others that DEI is good for business. It is a way to attract and retain the best talent, a market differentiator, and a strategy for business success.

Did you know Black History Month has a different theme each year?

Nope? Us either. When Carter G. Woodson created Negro History Week in 1926, he created themes for the public to focus their attention on.

The 2023 theme is Black Resistance. This year’s theme focuses on the Black community’s resilience and strength in the face of adversity and oppression. As communication professionals, we can use our skills and platforms to raise awareness and educate ourselves and others to create meaningful change.

“Do the best you can until you know better.
Then when you know better, do better.”

– Maya Angelou

Five ways to support Black resistance all year long

  • Share content that highlights the contributions and achievements of Black individuals and communities. This could include profiles of influential Black leaders, historical events and milestones, and cultural contributions such as art, music, and literature. It also means acknowledging the contributions of everyday people, not just the famous.
  • Create a more diverse and inclusive representation of Black people by challenging stereotypes and promoting positive images. Take stock in the images you’re regularly using in your content. What story do they tell? What limitations might they be placing on fellow people?
  • Amplify the voices of Black activists, scholars, and community leaders in your communication channels year ‘round.
  • Use communication channels to raise awareness about ongoing struggles and injustices faced by members of the Black community, including your colleagues. Check out The Conscious Communicator by Janet M. Stovall and Kim Clark. Determine which issues are crucial to take action on right away. Highlight issues like systemic racism, police brutality, and economic disparities, and advocate for policy changes to address these challenges.
  • Support Black-led organizations and initiatives.
    • Giving Gap is an incredible resource to help you find Black-founded organizations to support.
  • As a corporate signatory to the Diversity Action Alliance, Integral is grateful for the best practice resources and knowledge available to us — webinars, articles, stock photos, mentoring relationships to promote diversity, and so much more.

In addition to honoring Black resistance

It’s our responsibility, as white women, to keep learning and challenging bias, whether conscious or unconscious bias.

One of us (okay, Kari) is a member of the Greater Cincinnati Chapter of the International Association of Business Communicators. It has a growing, robust section of DEI resources on its website. Check it out.

One of us (okay, Tatum) is a member of the Organization Development Network. ODN offers resources to use as a starting point for conversations about diversity, equity, and inclusion. Check it out.

One thing we can do tomorrow

Check out tomorrow’s schedule for Douglass Day. Douglass Day hosts a transcribe-a-thon where people work side-by-side on a crowdsourcing transcription project. You can join Douglass Day on YouTube to help transcribe the papers of Mary Ann Shadd Cary. She’s one of the first Black women to edit a newspaper, serve as a Civil War recruiter, and attend law school. And, who doesn’t love an event with a curated Spotify playlist?

Like many other organizations, large and small, we wanted to acknowledge Black History Month. But issues of equality are bigger than a single month, and bigger than Juneteenth, too. One or two blog posts a year is not enough. It’s not “doing better.”

As a predominantly white organization, we are hyper-aware that we need to do better. We will keep learning, un-learning, and taking action to create forward movement on systemic inequities.

And, we promise, this won’t be the only post on this topic between now and February 2024.