1. Attend a Black History Month event at your school or in your city.
Chances are, a community center, church, museum, or somewhere near you is putting on events all month for Black History Month. At GW in particular we have an entire calendar of events that you can attend. If you want to step off Foggy Bottom, here are a couple lists of events taking place around DC:
Here’s GW’s Black Heritage Celebration Events (the theme is “I’m Rooting for Everybody Black”):
If you don’t live in DC, ask around or just do some quick googling about what’s going on in your city. Black History Month events are a great opportunity to better understand the Black experience in America and our culture in general.
2. Ask questions
The best way to learn is by asking questions. I can’t speak for every Black person you may know, but I’m always welcome to answering questions about Black issues or just the general experience. If you’d like to know how you can be a better ally or even what is and isn’t okay to say or do in certain contexts, the best way to find out is to ask! Of course, ask if it’s okay first--not everyone may be okay with being an encyclopedia of the Black experience--but in general it should be okay.
3. Take time to recognize and dissect privilege you have
This one is more directed towards my White readers, but can apply to other non-Black people as well. Use this month as an opportunity to reflect on how your skin color hasn’t played a role in making your life more difficult. That’s what white privilege means. White privilege doesn’t mean your life isn’t hard, it just means your skin color isn’t making it harder. Reflect on times when you or someone else has been able to maneuver out of a situation or be treated differently because of your skin color in order to better understand how Black people in your life do not have the same luxury. Realize that you can use your privilege to help bring Black issues to the forefront and demand equality in ways that have not been achieved yet.
4. Learn about contributions Black people have made to society outside of the entertainment industry
While it’s widely recognized that all popular culture is rooted in Black innovation, from hoop earrings and acrylic nails to the entire music industry, we have had impact in different factions of society. The GPS you use to make sure your best friend got home safely, the light you turn on when you walk into the house, and even open heart surgery all come from Black minds. So do some research to see what daily things we use that wouldn’t be here without Black people.
5. Listen more than you speak
This one is more directed toward my colleagues pursuing higher education, but can be applied to everyone. Every Black person can relate to the moment in class when slavery, police brutality, or any Black issue comes up and multiple pairs of eyes shift to you. This can be frustrating. But what’s even more frustrating is when a non-Black person speaks on an experience you live every day. If you find yourself in a situation where you’re talking about how Black people feel about something or how it affects them, stop yourself. Take time to listen to a Black person and again, ask questions about their experience. Don’t assume you know everything about the Black experience because you read it in a book or watched the 13th documentary on Netflix.
6. Remember that it’s not okay to say the n-word.
Under any circumstance. At all. Oh but it’s in a song so it’s ok--NOPE! Oh but I’m not saying it with a hard r so it’s ok--NOPE! Oh but I’m also a minority so it’s ok--NOPE! You don’t get a pass because your skin is slightly more melanated. Remove if from your vocabulary. You can go your life without saying it, I promise nothing bad will happen to you by not saying it. If you currently do ask yourself why you want to say it so badly. Any reason you think of is not justifiable so don't do it. It doesn't matter if your one Black friend allows you to say it around them. Just don’t say it. If you see one of your friends saying it, call them out. It takes a village.
7. Encourage other non-Black people to do everything listed above
Especially #6. But in all seriousness, it’s important for non-Black people to hold one another accountable. Encourage each other to be better allies to the Black community outside of tweeting about it. Actions speak louder than words. And do the things on this list year round, not just for the next 21 days! Use this month as an opportunity to truly ask yourself if you’re doing enough, because positive change comes from understanding and shared experiences.
Articles off the clock
When my journalist senses start tingling, I need to start writing! These are articles that I was not assigned to write but feel is a story that needs to be told.