Celebrating Black History Month as a White Girl
It’s time to get out of your comfort zone. As many of you hopefully know, February is Black History Month. And honestly, as a white girl, I haven’t always known how to celebrate it. Or if I should celebrate it at all. It’s not my holiday, right?
Wrong, Kristin, wrong. One of the reasons this month-long celebration is so important is because people who look like me have continuously failed to acknowledge the achievements and contributions of people of color. It is imperative that we intentionally make up for this colossal fail. This month is a reminder that our country is diverse and beautiful. And our cultural differences should be celebrated. Minority groups must be celebrated to truly have equality. Otherwise we will ignorantly continue to force people into our cultural norms, masking them as “professional” or “appropriate” when really we mean “white.”
But then again, by celebrating this holiday (can we call it a holi-month?), am I taking it and using it as an excuse to once again be the center of attention? Saying, “this holiday is actually for me!”? (everyone eye-roll at once) Welcome to my brain. These are the things I think about.
Okay, back to the actual point of the post. Should white people celebrate Black History Month? YES! YES! YES! The answer will always be yes. (re-read paragraph 2 if you still need to be convinced)
But then the next challenge arises. How the harry are we supposed to do that? Without offending anyone or stepping on someone’s toes or being insensitive? If you’re anything like me, you probably can’t successfully avoid all of those things. You’ll say stupid things, and you won’t realize how stupid it was until hours later when the subject has long passed and it feels too awkward to bring it up or apologize for it. That’s just life. Get over it and get better at apologizing (even if it is hours later). Preaching to myself here.
:: Getting Practical ::
If you need some semi-practical ways to celebrate, here’s a good place to start.
Celebrate the many achievements of Americans of color. Many of which have gone relatively unnoticed in culture and history, simply because of the amount of melanin in their skin. And if the only people you can think of are MLK and Rosa Parks, do some research, read some books. Educate yourself about the amazing people who have done hard things to make our country what it is today. Teach your kids about them, tell your friends what you’re learning. Host a movie night (I highly recommend Thirteenth and Hidden Figures, although there are so many great ones out there).
Go to local events. Many cities celebrate black history month by featuring local artists, musicians, or African American-owned businesses. If you’re local to Indianapolis, there are events almost every day this month at the Indianapolis Artsgarden. Sure, it’s possible that you’ll actually be in the minority at those events. But trust me, that's good for you.
Acknowledge privilege. This is where it gets less-practical. We’ll have a whole blog about privilege later this month to go deeper. But here’s where you can start. Do a Google Image search for “band aids” - just a tiny piece of technology that is designed to blend in with your skin so people don’t know you cut yourself while chopping vegetables (again). Except wait, how far down did you get before you saw any band aids that might match your melanin-rich friends' skin tones? I had 12 finger swipes before I found ONE. And then 9 more swipes before I hit another one. It’s almost as if these little things were only designed to blend in to certain skin tones. That right there is privilege. And we’ve only scratched the surface. (see what I did there?)
Acknowledge prejudice. This is probably the hardest part of it all. But maybe the most important. It’s so much easier to point the finger at someone or something else. The system, the white supremacy groups, the south. And it is SO true that we have broken systems out the wazoo (Systems that were formed by openly racist political leaders. Don’t believe me? Read about the Indiana Klan). But when we start to point fingers elsewhere, we become increasingly more blind to our own internal mess.
But babe, the truth is, I have prejudice, you have prejudice, we all have prejudice (currently googling to make sure I’m using the word prejudice correctly). Only you can do the internal work of checking yourself when an involuntary thought or feeling or judgement toward someone surfaces itself into your conscious mind. Notice when your heart rate increases - does it do that more around some people than others? Take note. And please, please don’t allow this to suck you into a dark hole of self-hatred. But you have to acknowledge the things that were already there, so you can override them and build new thoughts and feelings. Best way to eradicate prejudice (specifically talking about racial prejudice here)? Become friends with someone who has darker skin then you (specifically talking to my pale-skinned friends here). Not just acquaintance-friends. Real friends. You’ll realize that she is anything but a stereotype. She is a beautifully complex human, just like you, who was never intended to fit into a box or a category.