20 Things (Big & Small) You Can Do to Support Black History Month
In a year that Black Americans have seen both extreme highs, the first elected Black woman vice president and Black Georgia senator (not to mention the meteoric rise of Stacy Abrams), and lows, continued police brutality and disproportionate health and economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, Black History Month feels more important than ever. So how can you get involved? Here are 20 things—big and small—you can do celebrate and honor the Black American experience. Psst, this is just a starting point; let these 28 days morph in a year-long (or life-long) practice.
1. Adjust your vocabulary
Take Black History Month as a time to recalibrate your vocabulary. You’ve seen the word “BIPOC” floating around, but you haven’t stopped to understand it. Well, here’s a quick read for you. And is it “Black” or “African American”? You probably need a refresher on identity and race vs. ethnicity. And did you know that using “enslaved people” and “enslavers” is preferred over “slave” and “master”? The reason being that the latter emphasizes the humanity of the people who were forced into slavery and those who did the forcing.
2. And while you’re at it, learn how to pronounce Kamala Harris’s name correctly
It’s one tiny act but saying our VP’s name incorrectly has bigger cultural repercussions, which you can read all about here. And heads up: It’s Comma-lah.
3. Talk to a friend about why Black Lives Matter is important
You know why BLM is important, but you still have friends or family members who are saying things like “all lives matter.” It can be intimidating to get into a debate that undoubtedly spirals into semantics so prepare your response for the next time this convo comes up.
4. Get more Black voices onto your bookshelves
Whether you’re into cookbooks, history, novels or YA, you can diversify what you consume and surround yourself with. Nab some books by Black authors from the library or a Black-owned book shop in your area.
5. And your feed
6. And your queue
Do you tend to watch mostly shows and content with white characters? It’s time to cast a wider net. Check out Netflix’s Black Lives Matter library for tons of picks (we can’t help but recommend Astronomy Club: The Sketch Show for some absurdist, fresh comedy), HBOMax’s Black History Month collection, Hulu’s Black Stories list. Check your local library for some additional resources.
7. And definitely watch Paris Is Burning
The iconic documentary that inspired FX’s Pose, Paris Is Burning, highlights a crucial moment in American queer history: the 1980s Harlem dance balls that feature many Black gay and trans youth.
8. Listen to 1619
The audio series from The New York Times is hosted by Pulitzer-prize winning journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones and it “examines the long shadow of American slavery.” But that description hardly scratches the surface of this emotional and harrowing podcast. If you only know about the “peculiar institution” that was American slavery from what you learned in school, think of this five-part series as a free education. From 1619—when the first enslaved Africans arrived—to modern day, you’re in for a paradigm shift that will change the way you see the country. (And when you’re done with this one, here’s a list of additional podcasts that will help you learn about racism and race in America.)
9. Support Black-owned businesses
Buying a birthday present? In desperate need of some new art for the nursery? Celebrating an anniversary with take-out? From clean beauty, plant parenting, Etsy crafts to haircare, fashion and food, take an extra beat this month to think about where your dollars are going and who they’re financing. Let your wallet do some of the talking.
10. Do “28 Days of Black History”
From the minds of Anti-Racism Daily, led by founder Nicole Cardoza, is this incredible gesture: a month-long education delivered straight to your inbox, just sign up here. Per the newsletter: “Each day will include a work, the historical context, and questions for individual reflection and group discussion.” And it’s OK if you’re late to the game, you’re welcome to get started at any point. While the course is free, considering donating to the project if you can.
11. Unlearn everything you know with Rachel Cargle’s 30-Day Anti-Racism Course
Of course, anti-racism work extends beyond just Black History Month. To understand how you might play a role in oppression, Cargle’s free course is “designed to be an eye-opener and a call to action for those who seek to be allies to Black women. To #DoTheWork one must be intentional in breaking down the systems that continue to oppress and disenfranchise the Black community with Black women being the most affected.” You’ll receive daily prompts that will help you go from small actions to thinking bigger about how the current world negatively affects Black women and their communities while benefiting white people. (This is another free course that, if you can, you should consider making a contribution to.)
12. Talk to your kids about anti-racism
It’s never too early to have this talk—take it from A Kids Book About Racism author Jelani Memory. Whether you’re communicating with toddlers or tweens, there are plenty of books to help you along the journey.
13. Attend events in your area (even it’s virtual)
This is a time to reflect on and celebrate the incredible contributions of Black Americans. Show up to virtual events with the family, like New York Public Library’s family story time or go on a digital adventure through historical Harlem. You can even see if there are safe, IRL activities in your area like this Brooklyn Bridge (socially distanced) walking tour of the Underground Railroad.
14. Pay a (Virtual) Visit the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture
You don’t have to live in Harlem to peruse the halls of this famous institution. At the Digital Schomburg Center, you can interact with exhibitions, books, articles, photographs, prints, audio and video streams to learn more about the cultures of the peoples of Africa and the African Diaspora.
15. Explore the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture
All you need is a screen to access countless collections at the Smithsonian that shed light on the Black experience, including slavery, civil rights, literature, music, fashion and so much more.
16. Attend a National Black History Month Festival (Online)
The Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH) is holding their month-long, 95th annual Black History Month Festival. The 2021 schedule is focused on representing and supporting the Black family, and the festival is free! But if you want to drop into marquee events, like with Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, tickets start at $50.
17. Go to a comedy show—without leaving your living room
Laugh Out Proud is celebrating Black History Month with a lineup of talent from the Black queer community on February 6. You can stream the showcase for free, but supporting the comedians (like Gloria Bigelow, Sampson McCormick and more) via donations is very much welcome.
18. Research the history of where you live
Maybe you’re living a block away from an actual Underground Railroad stop. Or perhaps that massive statue in the middle of your favorite park is actually a memorial to a pro-slavery Confederate leader. Hmm. Digging up what’s in your own backyard will help you see that America’s complicated history is still right in front of our eyes.
19. Be actively anti-racist at work
Whether you love your job and the people or dread absolutely everything about it, white culture is probably playing a role in your workplace politics. Take the time to learn about what role you might be playing and how you, as just one person, can make a difference.
20. Continue fighting for justice for Black lives
You were all about protesting and donating to bail funds this past summer. But the fight is far from over. Breonna Taylor’s family has still not seen justice, and Black lives—including children’s—are consistently in danger, whether it’s at the hands of police brutality or because COVID-19 is affecting communities of people of color at higher rates. Continue showing up where you can and donating to bail funds and organizations (like Chris Redd’s COVID-19 protest relief fund or Stacey Abrams’s Fair Fight voting rights organization) that support Black lives and justice.