The Do’s and Don’t’s of celebrating Black History Month as an ally


Photo: Lucia Thorne

By Gabriel Borges, Staff Writer

Black History Month celebrates and acknowledges the contributions that Black People have made in shaping the United States. The national celebration spawned from a press release by Carter G. Woodson, which announced a week of celebration in February 1926.

In 1976, the annual remembrance was officially renamed to Black History Month and has since remained. Though there’s good intention behind the annual observance, there’s still ignorance surrounding how to celebrate and commemorate the triumphs, heritage, and adversities of Black people. 

Here are some practices to implement and to avoid when celebrating Black History Month:

Don’t use the holiday as a self-centered opportunity to lift your persona.

Social media is often used as a marketing and branding tool, and many people make the mistake of using Black History Month to build their “brand.” Some use it to uplift their online presence by perpetuating fake empowerment to manifest wokeness, which in most scenarios is undesirable at best. Moreover, the practice of authenticity is an aspect to be explored while recognizing Black history. So if you’re going to repost a story or tweet, discuss Black history, or follow accounts that uplift Black voices, make sure you are doing it for the right reasons. Don’t be performative. Don’t be exploitative.  

Educate yourself about racism.

The topic might be uncomfortable to you, but unfortunately racism is a part of Black history, and America’s history. Take time to learn more about racism and its history in America as well as gaining an understanding of how internalized racism works alongside ways to combat it, because during this month––and every other month––it is essential that we amplify Black voices. 

To understand racism in the United States is to understand American history from the eyes of a Black American, as well as combat the biases and prejudices from the eyes of the privileged white American. Delete the notion of colorblindness from your brain and see Blackness as it is, real and vivid. 

Educating yourself about racism involves the comprehension of your own internal racism. Be self-aware of the microaggressions you witness, receive, or promote on a daily basis. Reading and listening to those who seek to teach others about racism, because it is essential. This does not qualify only to conventional reminiscence on Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and Frederick Douglas. It means getting deep into the roots of the system. 

George Lipsitz, an American Studies scholar and professor in the Department of Black Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara, does just that in his book The Possessive Investment in Whiteness. Lipsitz raises the point that American culture is embedded in “whiteness” and how white people see black people as a “problem.” The first action you must take to successfully celebrate Black History Month is dealing with racism by educating yourself about a wider range of information.

Expand the kind of content you are consuming.

Guess what? Just because you read Toni Morrison doesn’t mean you are literarily diverse. Question what kind of content goes in your reading list this month. There’s a great number of African-American authors who should be getting direct attention, especially during Black History Month. Here’s a list of recommendations of some great African American authors:

Audre Lorde (1934-1992): Audre Lorde dedicated her life and work to combat the injustices of racism, sexism, classism, and homophobia. Her first volumes of poetry include From a Land Where Other People Live (1972)– a work nominated for National Book Award in 1974– Cables to Rage (1970), and The First Cities (1968).

Alice Walker (1944): Walker is a romanticist, poet, and social activist. In 1982, she published a romance titled The Color Purple, which received the 1993 National Book Award for Fiction and the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

Maya Angelou (1928-2014): She was a writer and poet from San Luis, Missouri who rose to acclaim with the publication of her 1969 autobiography I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.

James Baldwin (1927-1987): Baldwin was a novelist and essayist. Known for If Beale Street Could Talk, The Fire Next Time, and Giovanni’s Room, Baldwin spoke out the reality of being Black in America and explored the psychological aspects of racism for the oppressed and the oppressor in his works. 

Ta-Nehisi Coates: Author of the National Book Award recipient Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates is an author and journalist. Coates has written several best sellers, such as The Water Dance and The Beautiful Struggle, and has also written the Black Panther comic books since 2016. 

Ibram X. Kendi: Ibram X. Kendi is the author of the New York Times bestseller and National Book Award recipient How to be an Antiracist. Kendi is also the director of Boston University’s Center for Antiracist Research and professor of humanities. Kendi will be releasing his second book, How to Raise an Antiracist, in June of this year. 

Don’t play passive.

Half-heartedness not only builds more walls, it stops progress. Don’t settle when more could be done, because change, the change that matters, is not achieved through inertia. 

There’s always more to do when it comes to celebrating Black voices. Still a definitive mistake that hinders progress is the scant voice in your head that says what you are doing is enough—“somebody else will do it,”—no, they won’t. 

Be active, endorse political actions targeted toward Black liberation, transform your work environment, donate money to organizations led by people of color, join a protest, or simply connect. Connecting could be having a difficult conversation about Black history, or about your relationship with privilege.

Do what feels right.

Whatever you decide to do during Black History Month, the most important thing you can do is to amplify Black voices, check your privilege, and educate yourself.  

It’s important to have these conversations and it is also important to do what you can. 

Not everyone has the capacity to engage in political actions or attend protests, but whatever you can do, do it with conviction, heart, and an intensity that you plan to carry not only during this month, but through your whole life as an ally.