How could we ever begin to make atonement for the decades of racism, discrimination, micro, and microaggressions against black people?
The answer is simple: name a month after them!
In case you haven’t noticed, with several corporations' profile pictures changing to a raised fist and inclusivity campaigns getting rolled out of nowhere -- it’s Black History Month.
The month was conceptualized in 1915. But it wasn’t until 1978 that the Ontario Black History Society was established and its founders petitioned the City of Toronto to officially proclaim February as Black History Month.
The House of Commons didn’t officially recognize February as Black History Month until December of 1955.
Thirty years later, black people are still fighting to get their voices heard and their contributions recognized by companies that are proclaiming inclusivity, equality, and ~allyship~.
The core reason for Black History Month is to celebrate the rich history that these people have brought to the world, while also remembering and atoning for the cruel treatment they faced. But corporations have mangled the meaning and turned it into a lucrative PR campaign.
It's always interesting to watch companies scramble to prove their inclusivity throughout the 28 days of the month when they don’t care for the rest of the eleven months.
Inclusion in the Workplace
Claiming inclusivity is often more harmful than simply accepting your company has miles to go before it should be considered a safe place for a person of colour.
Hiring a person to meet a quota or prove your company isn’t racist is oxymoronic at best, and illegal at most. If you’re hiring people who don't look like the rest of your team, you're likely the problem.
Nearly 77% of ethnic Canadians deal with workplace discrimination. If your company isn't equipped to handle racism in the workplace, you’re not providing a safe or inclusive space.
Inclusivity begins with culture. Ask your employees if they think your culture is welcoming and safe. If your workplace and employees are unwilling to learn or change their behavior, your workplace is a toxic environment for the employees you 'just can’t wait' to hire.
Before you run to LinkedIn to implore more people to join your company, do the work to create a safe environment where Black, Indigenous and People of colour want to be included into.
Reframe Black History Month
Black History Month, Women’s History Month, and Pride Month have become scapegoat months when companies create a cheesy overlay for their profile pictures, write a little post about how inclusive they are, and then forget about it by the time the next month rolls around.
What if we stopped celebrating these months and instead, humanized the people around whom the months are focused - year round?
We’re not telling you to ignore the months. But we are telling you to stop limiting your respect, thoughts, and campaigns to one month out of the year.
Respect, allyship, and inclusivity should never be boiled down to a few weeks out of the year. That's a campaign, not a culture.
Black History Month is a great reminder of the mindset every business, campaign, and person ought to have. The problem often occurs on March 1st, when the fists are replaced, the inclusion spotlights are all whitewashed, and companies return to how they were.
This Black History Month, don’t limit yourself or your organization to 29 days of radical change and celebration. Instead, dedicate it to transforming your company for real.
We’ve compiled an inclusivity checklist for you and your organization. The more you check off, the closer you are to creating welcoming spaces within your organization. Be honest with yourself as you’re reading the points below and see if you can check off at least half.
[ ] I have a diverse team
[ ] I conduct regular assessments checking in with my team to see if they feel safe and seen
[ ] I have created a safe space where employees can make suggestions or share their concerns without retribution
[ ] My organization has a low turnover rate
[ ] I provide my employees with the proper tools and opportunities to grow and learn from people with different backgrounds
[ ] My company celebrates all marginalized people groups, no matter what month or day it is
[ ] I can confidently say I have never hired someone just to ‘round out’ my company.
[ ] I never highlight an employee solely based on how they looked and what they represented.
[ ] No one in my company is expected to change their behavior or any other form of code-switching when interacting with another employee
[ ] I have done the proper research and taken steps to ensure my organization is as inclusive as we say it is
Just because you're doing well, it doesn't mean there isn't room for improvement and no more work to be done. Stay on top of your organization culture by consistently asking yourself questions, staying opening to feedback from people you are trying to include.