5 Things White People Can Do During Black History Month — And Every Month

by Rachel Garlinghouse
Originally Published: 
Joos Mind/Getty

The recent popularization of Black History Month might leave you confused. Should you celebrate it? Should you not? Who is BHM for? These are questions definitely worth considering.

I implore you to remember that Black history is history, it’s just that our textbooks have presented whitewashed history for so long. We have to unlearn false and incomplete history and be willing to embrace history in its totality. Whiteness has always been centralized as truth and the norm, and we should no longer adhere to that. In short, yes, absolutely, we should celebrate Black history—with a few caveats in mind.

However, I want to remind you that Black history, plus honoring, acknowledging, and celebrating Black people, shouldn’t be limited to February. I often tell people that when it comes to February, my children are Black every day of every year. I appreciate highlighting Black excellence, but let’s not box this into February-only.

Here are some actions you can take this month, and every month, to honor Black history and Black futures:

1: Shop from a Black Owned-Business or Brand

Supporting small, Black-owned businesses and brands is a wonderful way to honor Black History Month. Shop Black-owned bookstores, for example. Find Black-owned Etsy shops, purchase items from Black artists on sites like Society 6, or order food to-go from a Black-owned restaurant. Supporting small and local businesses is always a good idea.

Many people have asked me, if you’re white, is it okay to wear a Black History Month tee? My argument is that yes, as long as the tee’s messages aren’t written in the first person which clearly refers to the person wearing it who is presumed to be Black. One example is the popular tee slogan, “I’m my ancestors’ wildest dreams.” Clearly, this shirt is meant to be worn by a Black person. However, tees that list the names of inspirational Black people and tees that are pro-Black life can be worn by someone who isn’t Black. Just make sure that what you choose isn’t appropriation. (Don’t put your hair in cornrows either, okay? That’s appropriation, not appreciation.)

2: Read, Watch, Listen and Learn From Black-Centered Media

There are so many wonderful Black-authored books, for both adults and kids. Often these books also feature Black people as the main characters. Some might believe these books are only for Black people, but the reality is, Black people have been swarmed by white-authored, white-centered books for ages. Furthermore, we learn very little from sticking to media that’s all-too-familiar. Children and adults of all races benefit from reading a book authored by and about someone who is different than them. Also consider podcasts, television shows, and documentaries.

Another option is to watch a movie that centers Blackness and the Black experience. However, please be selective. Movies that feature the white-savior narrative (you know, the white person rescuing the Black person) aren’t helpful and instead, reinforce stereotypes. I know that many people like “The Help,” “The Blindside,” and “The Freedom Writers Diary” —but these films are deeply problematic. Instead, gather the fam and watch “Remember the Titans,” “Black Panther,” “Spider-Man Into the Spider-Verse,” “The Main Event,” “Jingle Jangle,” or “Akeelah and the Bee.” Remember, not every movie has to teach your children a history lesson. The movie you choose should have a Black protagonist, one who doesn’t embody stereotypes that uphold white supremacy. Watch out for movies that relegate Black characters to play the victim, the sidekick, or the villain.

3: Pay Reparations to a Black Organization

Do your research and find a Black-uplifting organization and give what you can. Also consider giving to a fundraising campaign for a Black business startup, including authors who are trying to self-publish new books featuring Black stories and characters.

There are many wonderful organizations to consider, including The Black Male Yoga Initiative, a nonprofit that uses yoga as an avenue to “promote awareness, engagement and self-empowerment.” Rodney Smith, Jr. is the founder of Raising Men Lawn Care Service and Raising Women Lawn Care Service, both of which provide free lawn care to people who are disabled, single parents, the elderly, and veterans, while mentoring kids along the way. The Conscious Kid is a Black and brown-founded organization that’s currently providing rent relief to families in need.

4: Follow Black-Authored Accounts on Social Media

We all love social media, so why not enhance our feeds with posts from Black-authored accounts? If you want to learn more about how to be anti-racist, consider following Ibram X. Kendi, Austin Channing Brown, Doyin Richards, and Layla F. Saad. Like the posts they share that you’ve learned from, read the comments, and be mindful of your place in their virtual spaces. Many Black academics, creatives, authors and influencers have Patreon, Venmo, etc. and you should consider paying them for their time and labor as they offer their wisdom and experiences.

Following Black accounts on social media is also a great way to discover new businesses to support. Remember, many companies offer items that allow you to show your support as a white ally, including some graphic tee companies.

5: Commit to the Rest of the Year

Don’t be someone who treats Black History Month as a trend that you’ll be gung-ho about through February but then ditch on March 1. It’s important that you learn for yourself and model for your family that the lives of Black people matter, every day of every month and of every year. What are you doing to support the Black community?

One thing you can do is commit to being a white ally and anti-racist. Anti-racism means you are openly and actively against racism and you are for racial equity. In order to do this, you have to do a lot of listening and learning, then applying. There are many wonderful books, podcasts, documentaries, webinars, and more that can teach you how to become someone who stands up for the rights of Black people and works to change systems that seek to uphold white supremacy.

Black History Month is a wonderful time to double down your efforts to embrace anti-racism and support those in the Black community. Remember, though this month highlights prominent Black figures and their accomplishments, Black History Month can be so much more, starting this year and with you.

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