It’s Black History Month.
I’m sure you already know that as it’s all over social media. As it is every October.
I love this because it draws real awareness to the significance of Black History, and it is much needed because in the UK most people (especially people like me) have a significant knowledge gap in this area. Personally, the history curriculum at every school I attended did not include ANY Black History, instead, it mainly centred around World War I, II and the Victorians – between Winston Churchill and Henry the VIII it also centred powerful white men.
For me, Black History Month is about understanding and learning about Black History, and it’s also an opportunity to ask myself some hard questions and reconcile the fact that the educational system that I went through in the UK excluded a vital part of our history, and meant that I only learned, until recently, a white-washed version of history.
So why is this important?
Unless we face our history, we carry our past into the present and project it into the future, which includes biases, beliefs and blind spots. Engaging with Black History is an essential part of the work needed to stand up against racism in the present day, to be anti-racist and to be an ally.
As much as I love the focus on Black History, I’m disillusioned by it too. The reason? I often feel that Black History Month lasts for 30 days and not 31, with the final day capped off with Halloween posts before the organisational campaign machine moves onto a different topic. For me to not feel disillusioned, and as an advocate for inclusion and diversity, I would love to see and hear how organisations are being anti-racist and recognising Black History and their Black employees over 365 days of the year and not just 30.
I want to see more exposure across the year.
I want to see more action and less lip service.
I want to read stories about how messy and uncomfortable it is to face into, reconcile and reparate for our history. I want to see accountability as opposed to advertising.
Black History Month gives organisations the opportunity to highlight the anti-racist work they are doing in their organisations, and, it gives a chance to focus on what else they might need to do – for example:
- Acknowledge Organisational History
Does your organisation have historical links with the slave trade? Has your organisation (or leaders within your organisation) held (or hold) racist beliefs and perspectives? How does the organisation take accountability for this?
These things cannot be brushed under the carpet or silenced through NDA’s. How can you genuinely acknowledge, apologise and reparate for the past?
- Developing Inclusive Policies
Are your workplace and organisational policies inclusive, and do they respectfully account for and provide for the Black employees in your workforce?
- Recruiting Diverse Talent
Look closely at your workforce and ask if it’s representative. If not, firstly understand why this is so. Before you do go out and try to ‘buy in’ diverse talent, it is essential that the work has been done to create inclusive leaders and an inclusive culture. There is no point simply looking to ‘buy in’ diversity because unless the culture is inclusive the reality is that the employee will not be fully supported to perform at their best, may be less likely to be considered for promotion and potentially will not have the same opportunities to progress their careers within the organisation – because, quite simply, the system is rigged against them.
- Allyship and Advocacy
As well as using your voice to speak up and out for diverse groups and individuals. Do what you can to amplify the voices of your Black employees.
Recognise where your leaders and leadership needs to do less talking, more listening and take action.
- Develop a Learning and Unlearning Mindset
When it comes to diversity, equity and inclusion there is a lot for organisations to learn. There is also a lot for organisations (and individuals) to un-learn, because so many of our racial biases are unconscious. Our individual and collective learning on how to be Anti-racist and an Ally can not only be a one-off exercise that only happens in October.
It is messy, it is uncomfortable, and it is essential.
- Go beyond the obvious
Organisational diversity, equity and inclusion applies to the people who work for your organisation, the communities you serve, and the people that you sell your products or services to.
Seek input, listen, and respond to their needs. You can try to walk in other people’s shoes, but the only way of really understanding is to listen to the experiences of people that actually wear and walk in those shoes.
This post isn’t meant to belittle those ‘just’ doing the ‘posting for Black History Month’ – it’s a wonderful place to start, and it makes a difference – it fills a knowledge gap and yet it’s important to recognise it is only part of what is needed.