Saturday, February 3, 2024

When a Business, "Honoring," Black History Month Goes Wrong

If one were to study the history of certain stereotypes regarding Black Americans they would find what they learn fascinating. Watermelons were a cheap and easy to raise crop for freed slaves so it made sense to grow it--it was a symbol of self-sufficiency and inspired pride. Chickens also have a fascinating historical link through history. Then the horrendously racist movie, "The Birth of a Nation," in 1915 portrayed Black people as lazy and eating watermelon and fried chicken which gave it a stigma. If a restaurant explains and explores these concepts it is doing something thoughtful. When a business just says they're doing a, "Black History Month," meal and throws a bunch of now-stereotyped food on a plate with little thought it's offensive. That's when a place is better off not doing anything for the month than doing something wrong. There is always a restaurant or two that does this during February--they try (barely) and fail. In another example of mistakes being made, Target tried but failed with a magnetic learning kit book.

As has now been reported all over, the,  "Civil Rights Magnetic Learning Kit," for sale at Target mislabels a number of historical figures. Booker T. Washington is labeled as W.E.B. Du Bois, to give one example. I can't find the link, but I recall a recent-ish segment on Saturday Night Live that joked about notable Black figures being incorrectly identified as other Black people. It's tacky, yet another stereotype (the idea that everyone of a certain race looks alike to other races), and you would think someone would get on quality control. Again, this isn't the first time a business attempting to honor Black History Month has gone wrong. Whether it is Bath and Body Works with a questionable line of products or a bank putting out a Harriet Tubman debit card where she's seemingly doing the, "Wakanda Forever," pose (although it was clarified that wasn't the case) so many businesses celebrate Black History Month is messy ways or as Ernest Owens put it in an article in 2022, "Your Company Is Celebrating Black History Month All Wrong. Here’s How to Do It Right." As for how to do it right, Owens discusses the importance of addressing racism in the workplace, shifting power, and doing more than empty graphics and tone-deaf marketing.

Completely ignoring Black History Month in your business is a terrible idea. Doing an awful job acknowledging it can be just as harmful, however. The key is to realize the importance of what you are honoring and to avoid making obvious mistakes. Sometimes that is easier said than done, I suppose.

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