My Problem with Black History Month & Being Used by White Authors/Readers After George Floyd's Death
Updated: Feb 26, 2022
When George Floyd was murdered and essentially martyred by a police officer in 2020, and it seemed like there was going to be a revolution of some sort, I felt a wealth of emotions. One of the strongest of those emotions was guilt. The reason for that guilt was because, briefly, while reflecting on the brutality of that man’s murder, I thought to myself: this might be good for me. It was a repulsive thought. Not a thought I’m proud of. But it’s one I couldn’t avoid. Because, suddenly, while there were peaceful protests as well as riots in the streets, my book (How To Make A Monster: The Loveliest Shade of Red), my name, and my image started popping up more frequently.
Several people in the online reading community (mostly Instagram) were suddenly in a rush to let others know about me and my writing. I was showing up on Black Author lists created by people who most definitely hadn’t read my work, and probably hadn’t read much of anything they were posting about. A fellow author even went so far as to scroll nearly a year through my feed to find a photo of me in order to post in his Instagram Stories along with some bullshit caption about supporting Black authors. These people did this just to let their friends and followers know that they "support" a Black writer. You know, physical evidence in the form of my brown skin to show that they’re on the right side of things.
George Floyd/Black Lives Matter protest; summer 2020
These people certainly didn’t go on to read my work from that point. Didn’t leave reviews. Didn’t buy any of my subsequent books. It was all performative. Virtue signaling. Using me to signal their virtue. And I understood it. I’m still not mad at it. I mean, what was I supposed to say? No? Don’t promote me? I’m a ‘the end justifies the means’ sort of person when it comes to certain things. So, if a few people discover and genuinely enjoy my work because of a handful of frauds, I can live with that. But it never sat right with me. The way I felt about the above situation is the way I feel about Black History Month.
There are positives that come out of Black History Month, of course. But, at the end of February, has anything really changed? Has any real difference been made? For my writing career after the protests of 2020, the answer was no. Every March 1st, the answer is no.
Since I was a child, I’ve seen the same topics, the same historical figures, a focus on the same area of the world and on the same periods of time. And I see either the same indifference or outright anger about the month. The same arguments about why there is a Black History Month at all.
“For the most part, educators say, K-12 students who do learn about black history are hearing about the same few historical figures over and over: Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman and President Barack Obama. Getty Images (4)" - Time Magazine; Jan 31 2020
What I would like to see is change. A bit of difference. Historical homogeneity. An understanding that Black History is human history. What we have learned about so often during Black History Months throughout the years is segregation in America. And part of the response to that problem is a month of history segregated from all history in general. That doesn’t make much sense to me.
In short, what I want is for Black history to be integrated into the rest of the year. Into the rest of our lives. ALL Black history. Not just the brief history of Blacks in America. Show me the centuries of Black experience that don't depend on some level of victimhood at the hands of white men. Let me learn about Hannibal Barca of Carthage, and how he and his army nearly defeated the Roman Empire. Teach me about Mansa Musa of Mali, a West African King and the richest person who has ever existed. I would appreciate hearing about Black history before British colonialism and American slave ships. And I would appreciate hearing of these things every single month of the year.
Mansa Musa is said to have been worth the equivalent of 400 billion dollars
I don’t want you to throw up a few facts in February and consider it a job well done. Because that’s not allyship. That’s not much of anything except the routine that has kept everything status quo thus far. I want you – I want all of us – to normalize all Black history so it doesn’t feel abnormal or adversarial when February (or October in the UK) rolls around. I want history to be history, and I want Black folk to always be included whenever applicable.
What I also want, personally, selfishly, is to make Black history. To BE Black history. As a prolific author who happens to be Black. And not just someone mentioned, added to perfunctory posts, and inevitably overlooked simply because I am Black.
These Are The Things That Keep Me Up At Night