For years, I’ve had a complicated relationship with Black History Month.
This year, “complicated” isn’t strong enough of a word. It’s more like I’m prematurely exhausted and annoyed. I’m mentally preparing myself for 28 days of #BlackoutTuesday, aka performative, hollow gestures masquerading as allyship. At the same time, I’m also — call it naive optimism — hopeful.
On one hand, as a Black woman in media, I’m never more in demand than I am in February. I’m asked to speak on panels (now, it’s the virtual kind). I’ve been asked to give talks to impressionable teenagers at my old high school, where I was once a confused young girl surrounded by kids who didn’t look like me. In the moments when I’ve gotten to look out at a 16-year-old Black teen and make her feel less alone, I’ve loved Black History Month.
But this year, after a worldwide racial reckoning, the brutal killing of Black men and women by police, and terrifying displays of white supremacy, I just know this Black History Month is going to hit different. For better or for worse.
The month has almost always been about paying tribute to the history of Black people in this country — a history that is full of pain or stories of extraordinary human beings whose contributions to the fabric of this nation are overlooked and ignored (Black trauma or excellence — no in between). So, in the past, while it was nice to feel wanted every February, I wondered why I didn’t feel as wanted every other month. I wondered why I wasn’t worthy enough to speak to Black girls who were just like me in September or October. I wondered why the achievements of Black people, specifically Black women, weren’t lauded every month. They should be, but the truth is that in many classrooms and publications, they still aren’t. Every February, Black women take on the emotional labour of making sure the women who came before us are recognized because the Black women who have shaped this country — and are moulding its future — have been continually discounted for the stories of problematic old white men.
This is where the hope comes in. I hope all the “listening and learning” and feigned wokeness of last summer starts to pay off in tangible ways this month. This is the time for allies to prove they’ve actually been listening. It’s their time to pick up the burden. I hope this month is different not just because non-Black people are promising to do better, but because they are actually following through.
This Black History Month, we’re showcasing Canadian Black women who deserve to be known — past and present. And I’m asking, and hoping, that as we make sure we continue to celebrate the achievements of Black women long after February 28, you do too.