Celebrated every February in the U.S., Black History Month began as a way of remembering people and events in the history of the African diaspora, as well as acknowledging the black community’s contributions to society. But it’s important to remember that supporting and celebrating the black community isn’t confined to one month in a year.
Here are some ways you can really support, respect, and celebrate black communities during Black History Month and every other day of the year.
Continue conversations about black issues throughout the year: The effects of issues impacting black communities are felt year-round. The prison-industrial complex, for example, continues to disproportionately imprison black people than white, resulting in generational trauma for black families. Continue these conversations not just in the 28 days of February, but all year long.
Say black when you mean black: Although people mean well by referring to “people of color,” the lack of specificity in language takes away from distinguishing between the various struggles different groups face. Different issues require different solutions, therefore combining “people of color” into one group can spread false information.
“I definitely prefer the word ‘black’ than ‘African American’ because African American only has the scope of the U.S., which excludes the struggles of black people all over the world,” said Daevionne Beasley, a third-year sociology major at UC Santa Barbara (UCSB) and the Associated Students external vice president of statewide affairs in an interview with The Bottom Line. “It’s okay to say ‘black’ and it’s especially important when it comes to talking about black people globally.”
Support black people in STEM: Professor of black studies and Director of the UCSB Center for Black Studies Research Sharon Tettegah believes much of the focus on black academia leans towards the humanities and social sciences. She urges people to take notice and support black students and scholars in STEM.
“There are a lot of people doing research in STEM fields that look at various aspects of the black or African diaspora,” said Tettegah in an interview with The Bottom Line. ”For example, a group of students studying environmental issues were looking at the effects of fracking in the black community. I would like to see more students have an interest in addressing big issues in the black community.”
Support black as a form of justice, not pity: “You shouldn’t buy a black person’s piece of work just because they’re black, even if it’s not good art,” said Beasley, echoing the sentiments of Michelle Nicole, educator and co-founder of Passion and Power who challenged her Instagram followers to support black people as a form of justice and not of pity.
Actions like eating at a black-owned restaurant, supporting black student organizations, celebrating black creatives, or writing about people in the black community, won’t mean anything unless there is the intention to educate yourself about black issues and the black community. “Realizing that black people have been denied the rights for generations to own property and businesses, and give their kin generational wealth is definitely something to keep in mind when buying from black owned-businesses or creatives,” said Beasley.
Educate yourself on the black experience: Take a black studies course, or a few, to learn more about black people in the world — such as their history, culture, and sociology. Learn about black academia through the Center of Black Studies Research, which supports interdisciplinary research and community engagement of black scholars.
“People stay within their own communities,” said Tettegah, “so we all need to take some practice at associating and getting to understand people from diverse groups and get rid of stereotypes.” Professor Tettegah also suggests visiting The History Makers website, a digital collection of black stories across all disciplines.
Listen to the black community: Taking a black studies course is just a foot in the door. To begin to have an awareness of and understand black epistemologies and existence, educate yourself by listening directly to black people.
When writing on black communities, for example, reach out to black writers, or if written by someone outside of the black community, take the time to listen to stories directly from the black community and consult with them.
“Immerse yourself, get involved, learn more about [black] culture and really learn about it with open eyes and not judgement,” said Tettegah. “You learn a lot just by interacting with other people. Immersing with the company of people on a regular basis lets you understand a little bit, just the tip of the iceberg. It takes time.”