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“Black History Month Is Every Month,” A Guide to Being Powerful, Not Cliche

African-American historian Carter G. Woodsen created Negro History Week, the precursor to Black History Month, in 1926. The initial concept had less to do about increasing Black representation than it had to do about actual history.

Africa is the foundation of all cultural creation, starting from the Samaryians and later Egyptians, whose philosophy and art was stolen by the Greeks and Romans to form European cultural identity. African-Americans built the society we live in: the economic superiority of the U.S. dollar, won wars, raised children, made music, made American culture.

Carter G. Woodsen recognized the Black experience in this country had been intentionally miseducated, which reinforced the psychological warfare on a people perpetuated in all aspects of American culture. Without seeing Black culture as American culture, the image of a black male in a hoodie became associated with being a thug. It made a coward justify the death of a teenage boy because he was wearing a hoodie. As we commemorate Trayvon Martin’s life today, we know that this narrative is not only wrong but fatal.

As a marketer, your goal is to influence through messages and images. Being aware of the world through Black history is becoming aware of the Black experience. Being aware of how the Black experience creates, shapes, and moves culture forward – as well as the forces that try to suppress this – is critical to creating a just and equitable society.

Today, brand marketers have found themselves on the front lines of the end of the status quo or standing in the crossfire in recent months trying to toe the line. Last June, brands who posted their Black Squares ‘in solidarity’ found themselves being checked by Black Twitter, asking them to pull up and prove how they stand up for Black rights and equity in real-life, not just online. The once cliche “Black History Month is every month” became a self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s no longer about how many black faces someone can count down your Instagram feed, but now:

Is your brand actively a part of shifting and elevating the narrative of the Black experience (or at least offering the space for this) as a regular practice or as just a marketing push?

Is your platform a positive and uplifting space for Black people?

“If you can control a man’s thinking, you do not have to worry about his action. When you determine what a man shall think you do not have to concern yourself about what he will do. If you make a man feel that he is inferior, you do not have to compel him to accept an inferior status, for he will seek it himself. If you make a man think that he is justly an outcast, you do not have to order him to the back door. He will go without being told; and if there is no back door, his very nature will demand one.” –  Carter G. Woodsen.

If you’re a brand already doing this, you know what it’s like. You used your brand to breathe life into history this month. You might have contributed to the conversation by hosting a Twitter chat or IG live specific to issues you’re currently working through to serve the black community better or finding ways to give back to the black community with tangible resources.

Maybe it didn’t even feel like anything new. You’ve been building on the plan you already had to hire more black creatives, doubled-down on social impact projects that support the Black community, or work on getting a Black person elected to office. This is conscious work that builds a culture where the Black lens becomes intrinsic to brand expression, the fruits of which are the foundation of the society we strive to achieve.

Others have found themselves feeling like their brand voice may not be custom fit to educate about the impact of a specific race of people. Your goal as the content strategist, social media manager, founder, and person is to do the work internally, continue the dialogue, and recognize your responsibility as a voice of influence. The real work doesn’t begin in a content strategy meeting but at looking at how you’re showing up every day as a conscious social equity creator.

For your organization, it may look like this:

  • Instead of posting a graphic with diversity statistics, you could hold a dialogue about what building for inclusion looks like in your field (whether you are close to that ideal or not).
  • Highlight a Black artist that has passed on by interviewing or partnering with black creatives who continue on their legacy today.
  • Having internal conversations around ensuring black people in your organization feel included in critical decisions. If you don’t have black people in your organization, are you actively trying to do so, and if so, how are you creating an inclusive environment for their success before they arrive? How are you working to create a more equitable and just community?

No matter what, your focus should be on impact and intentionality – not just posts. Be clear internally on what that impact looks like, then use your social platforms to hold yourself accountable for doing the work and as a space to hold your receipts of the effects you created for and with Black people.

Your brand is more than just your products and services; it’s a force of influence and cultural creation. You’re either creating the world we all want to see or building a brand that gets left behind.