Black History Month is being celebrated across the U.S. and many other countries to honor and celebrate the community of people of color. But, one thing that many forget, is that Black History Month is not just about celebrating or honoring the black community, but about empowering them. Many recent and even not so recent events have showed us why it is important for us to acknowledge the discrimination and take measures against the same. Time and again, we are reminded that the world is divided into different colors, and people are treated differently on the basis of how light or dark their skin is. And, it’s not even about acknowledging this wide gap just this month, it’s about uniting at the front and creating equity on all levels.
Even today, there are many people who may support black empowerment, but haven’t truly understood the privilege they have for not being black or any other color that’s not white. But only a few understand that and come forward with integrity to share it with the world. One of the greatest examples of that in recent times is, the U.S. Rep. Dean Phillips, who was asked to share his experience of the riot that happened at the Capitol on January 6th 2021.
Rep. Phillips described his experience as terrifying when a mob broke through a line of police and infiltrated the building. “We know the sound of the breaking glass, the screams and the furniture being shoved in front of the doors. We know the feeling of being trapped and believing being taken hostage may be the best case scenario. We know what it feels like searching for something with which to defend ourselves and realizing a pencil is all we have,” said Phillips.
What touched people’s hearts were his statements – “But I’m not here this evening to seek sympathy or just to tell my story, rather to make a public apology. For recognizing that we were sitting ducks in this room as the Chamber was about to be breached I screamed to my colleagues to follow me, to follow me across the aisle to the Republican side of the Chamber so that we could blend in, so that we could blend in.” He thought the insurrectionists would spare them if they mistook them for Republicans, he explained.”
But within moments I recognized that blending in was not an option available to my colleagues of color,” he remarked. “So I’m here tonight,” Phillips said while getting emotional, “to say to my brothers and sisters in Congress and all around our country, I’m sorry. I’m sorry. For I have never understood – really understood – what privilege really means,” he continued. “It took a violent mob of insurrectionists and a lightning bolt moment in this very room, but now I know, believe me, I really know.“
We need to learn from Phillips to recognize the struggles faced by our colleagues because of the color of their skin, and that’s exactly what Black History Month is all about.
For any of you still wondering, when is black history month?
It’s observed in February in the United States and Canada, and in October in the Netherlands, United Kingdom, and Ireland.
And others who are wondering why is February Black History Month?
Well, there’s a lot of history that comes with the African American contributions, but February is a combination of birth month of two legends of the U.S., Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, as well as the transformation of Negro History Week to Negro History Month to celebrate the accomplishments of Black People.
Black History Month today is not just the celebration of existing accomplishments of Black people, but now it is the promise to elevate the people of color to accomplish above and beyond the opportunities, by giving them access to equal treatment in all aspects of life, especially the workplace.
How can HRs honor Black History Month at the workplace?
There are many ways in which HRs can honor Black History Month at the workplace and Black History Month People in their organization and demonstrate their company’s commitments to DE&I.
Let us look at the top 5 ways of doing that.
1) Raise for a cause
Recent reports have shown that Black People and Hispanics are around 4.7 times more affected by the coronavirus, in the United States. Black infection rate is 62 per 10,000 whereas white infections counted for 23 per 10,000. There is no evidence for genetics being the cause, so the probable causes are exposure to environments that give them conditions that predispose them to the coronavirus infection, they are less likely to have appropriate health insurance, and they are more likely to work jobs that cannot facilitate remote work.
So, this month, to support those Black History People, you can arrange a virtual crowd funding and raise for providing adequate health insurance for any people of color that do not have this facility and support them in the times of a global pandemic. Bring your entire organization together to raise funds for this cause and make some contribution to support the people in need.
2) Have your workforce enact a black empowerment play
Black History will give you a long list of African-American contributions to art and literature. There are even empowerment movies such as Hidden Figures and Get Out that will creatively educate you about the struggles faced by minorities. But, the impact strikes better when it comes from the people you know. So, you can ask your employees to enact a play based on a Black Historic Movement and make everyone acknowledge not just the struggles of the blacks, but also the privileges of the whites.
Now, this statement will have many circling back to “All Lives Matter” instead of “Black Lives Matter”. But, think of it this way, two people are pushed into the ocean, one of them knows how to swim and has a life jacket, the other doesn’t know how to swim and has no life jacket. The white skin of people is their life jacket, and the blacks are often left to fend for themselves.
Enactment of a powerful play will have your employees get clarity on the white privilege and black struggles, making space for a color-embracive workforce.
3) Arrange a “Life Sharing” Event
In our day to day lives, we know racism exists, but many organizations fail to notice it happening in their workplaces. It’s time to change that.
Arrange for an event, where employees can share their personal discrimination stories. This will help you in identifying any discrimination practices happening in your organization and enable you to reform your DE&I strategies. This doesn’t necessarily have to be an open event. In fact, you can have a DE&I expert and counselor come to your firm and make your employees comfortable enough to talk about their problems regarding any disparity. Later you can anonymously (with the permission of your employees) make everyone aware of those problems.
It is important to instill sensitivity towards the problems faced by others, and it is more important to do whatever you can to help them solve it. The melanin is not a factor to make a colleague feel distant from the rest of the workforce in any way. And such events will help in bringing that sensitivity within the entire workforce.
4) Host a black-owned products fair online
Black businesses are coming into existence with each passing day, but the support that they get from the audience is often limited and restricted. To honor Black History Month and the people, identify such businesses and offer them your audience (employees as well as customers) on your virtual platforms.
You can have a virtual event, and host the products of these businesses and let your employees and customers choose from a variety of products that are designed, developed, or sold by such communities and do your bit to elevate their future growth.
This will bring your organizations and all its stakeholders together, spend time with each other, and support black-owned businesses by being their customers.
5) Include the families and educate everyone
When talking about inclusivity, why not include the components that matter the most in a person’s life? Yes, the families! Families are really integral to many people and including them in the events that honor the Black History People, would be a great step on the part of the organization.
Children learn from what they see, they absorb, and adapt to the surroundings. So, it is extremely critical to educate young minds on the need and importance of DE&I in all aspects of life.
This can be a great measure to bring in awareness and include more and more people in driving equality on a larger scale.
Once February ends, do not stop including DE&I in your recruiting and management strategies, do not stop celebrating the achievements of the people of color, and moreover, do not stop learning about how you can make your organization a better place for people of all kinds and colors.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Tanvi Tirthani is a content writer and strategist with a special foray into technology. She has been a keen researcher in the tech domain and is responsible for strategizing the social media scripts to optimize the collateral creation process.