This year, Black History Month has come at a strange time. We’re still in the midst of a global pandemic, police brutality is a piping hot topic in mainstream media, the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement has had another global resurgence and we’re spending large amounts of time online to feel connected. But for some reason, I’m not feeling the tide-like pull towards Black History Month this year.
In the weeks leading up to Black History Month, I became noticeably more uninterested in current affairs, politics, and even social media, and to be honest, Black History Month hadn’t even crossed my mind. A stark difference to previous years where highlighting and celebrating the uniqueness of our Black British history and culture was always front-of-mind in the lead up to October.
As an avid fan of journaling, I sat down and took a look at a few entries from previous months and It finally dawned on me. With everything that’s happened in the UK this year, I realised I’ve had to arm myself with an emotional gauntlet to navigate 2020 and protect my mental health. I’m mentally exhausted and I need some time to deal with that. Dealing with permanently working from home, lockdown restrictions, 3 months on furlough, losing close family friends to the virus, and protecting my health was one thing, but to witness the UK government nonchalantly ignore the fact that Black people have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 (due to a fatal mix of systemic racism and sheer ineptitude) cut deeper than I thought. I had to disconnect from social media for a month and invested in online therapy.
Black History Month isn’t just the month our community, proudly celebrates our diverse cultures and history, it’s also a month where Black people, are hypervisible within mainstream society. Whether it’s corporate brands celebrating their “diverse workforce”, mainstream TV networks and publications producing more Black-centered content, or white people, in general, taking more of an interest in books written by Black authors. The mainstream celebration of Black History Month simply isn’t sitting well with me this year and given the current climate, it seems eerily performative.
With brands and corporations declaring their solidarity with Black people and the topic of race now back in vogue, all while being hyper-connected online, I haven’t had the time to effectively process the trauma I’ve been carrying throughout the year. So when two businesses contacted me to take part in projects to celebrate Black History Month, I had to decline. How can companies post black squares on their social media platforms to support the BLM movement in June, only to stay silent about said issues until the lead up to Black History Month?
The math wasn’t mathing.
A recent Instagram post by Busayo Twins summed up this sentiment perfectly. In the post titled “Weird Black History Month”, the London School of Economics graduate beautifully articulates that Black History Month has come at a time where we haven’t witnessed corporations or local government officials put their public support of the BLM movement into action other than, social media statements. To put it in her candid words, “normally you get to see if the student has learnt the lesson and this time I don’t know if they’re learning”.
Carrying the emotional trauma of 2020 into BHM, especially in white spaces, is emotionally exhausting. And for me, reconciling this exhaustion, the severe lack of trust in the government, and the need to be involved in BHM activities has left me wondering; what does Black History Month actually mean to me? I’ll be completely honest, at this moment in time, I don’t know anymore. So I’m using this month, and the rest of this year, to rest and engage in more self-care and deep reflection – within my community and within myself.
How can Black History Month be used cohesively to serve our community and how can I be a part of it. How can I ensure Black LGTBQ+ people are equally represented? How can I incorporate regional Black histories and voices from outside London? What am I doing right now to cement a legacy to help liberate the next generation? These are just some of a few questions that I’ll be lamenting on as we inch closer to the end of the year.
Naturally, I’ll be promoting smaller platforms that need public support this month, but I need to come back swinging in 2021 and the only way I can do that is by protecting my peace. After all, I’m an important part of Black history too.