It’s February; the one month a year dedicated to either celebrating Black history, or having to explain why Black history is different than American or Canadian history. Granted, the landscape is different this year, with the #BlackLivesMatter movement having made national headlines throughout much of 2020.
But there’s still a lack of awareness surrounding Black History Month, and what white Allies can do to support the movement aside from posting a black square or sharing a post on Instagram.
Black History Month traces its roots to 1915, when historian Carter G. Woodson and minister Jesse E. Moorland founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH), an organization dedicated to researching and promoting achievements by Black Americans and people of African descent.
11 years later, in 1926, the Association founded national Negro History Week. They choose the second week of February to align with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. By the late 1960s, the week had evolved into Black History Month and in 1976, President Gerald Ford officially recognized the month and asked American citizens to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”
Here in Canada, the Ontario Black History Society was established in 1978 and the first official Canadian recognition of Black History Month was issued in Toronto the following year. The House of Commons (finally) announced February as Black History Month in 1995, but it wasn’t until 2008 – only 13 years ago – that the motion to recognize February as Black History Month was introduced to and passed by the Senate. It was introduced by Senator Donald Oliver, the first Black man appointed to the Senate.
So how can white Allies, in the landscape that is February 2021, honour Black History Month?
Acknowledge The Fight for Equality is Not History
One of the first and most important steps many fail to take is to recognize that, despite the name, fighting for equality is anything but history. While it’s great to recognize historical persons who’ve contributed greatly to the advancement of society, it’s also important to realize that these great accomplishments were made in spite of the inequality that existed then, and still continues to exist today.
Learn and Celebrate Black Accomplishments
Let’s not overlook the origins of the Month: celebrating the incredible accomplishments of Black people. Spend some time learning about Black History and how some of their inventions greatly impact your life today. Did you know the drying machine, 3-light traffic lights, automatic elevator doors, central heating, refrigerated trucks, and the home security system are just a few of the items we use today invented by Black men and women.
Use Your Voice
One of the biggest factors in the shift from “not racist” to being actively “anti-ractist” and an ally is to use your voice and speak up when you witness racism and discrimination against Black and BIPOC. Support your Black friends and colleagues – and strangers! – in situations where they are being singled out and attacked for their skin colour. When enough people speak out against racism, perpetrators will eventually back down.
Black History Month is an opportunity to learn, celebrate, and grow as individuals. It’s important, now more than ever, for white folks to stand up and become our allies in these trying times. Many of us are exhausted, and tired of fighting. By learning about the history and significance of the month, and becoming supportive allies, you can help ensure the #BlackLivesMatter movement continues to build and elicit positive changes.