Black History Month isn’t a token for performativity—it’s a call for change

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Black allyship shouldn’t be confined to just Black History Month (BHM)—consumers and corporations alike should be working year-round towards equity.

It can be inspiring to see the whirlwind of content released every February in recognition of BHM. From YouTube’s specially designed logo and their #YouTubeBlack platform to Amazon Music’s “Black Culture Is…” initiative, companies put forth content meant to signal their Black allyship each year.

Projects made in collaboration with Black folks should be celebrated. The creators behind these ideas have done an outstanding job commemorating the beauty of Black culture, the significance of Black history.

Unfortunately, these wonderful reminders are often tokenized by the companies commissioning them. Expressing public support during BHM means little when hiring policies still reflect white supremacy and anti-Black racism.  

A 2021 paper from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences identified two rationales behind colleges diversifying their campuses. The instrumental rationale argued minority perspectives yield educational benefits for all students. The moral rationale advocates combating racial inequality because all people have right of access to quality education.

Interestingly, studies have shown Black prospective students siding with the moral rationale, while most white students favoured the instrumental one. Many big brand companies are complicit in a similar pattern—they use equity policies for their own public perception instead of genuine support of marginalized groups.

Performative allyship means using a good cause to better one’s own image. Being an ally shouldn’t be a thoughtless trend—it requires a genuine and continued commitment.

Racism often walks hand in hand with capitalism. After all, if the end goal is to have maximum capital profit, a corporation has no place for accountability.

“Fixing” the issue of the commodification of BHM is incredibly complex.

A company can’t claim their support for the Black community if they continue marginalizing their own Black employees. Black labour is still widely exploited, either through assigning racialized employees lower-paying jobs or tokenizing Black voices in EDII efforts.

Corporations must switch from simply avoiding the “racist” label to making significant, continued development towards an accepting and safe atmosphere.

Allyship shouldn’t just be slapping a slogan on one’s brand. Conscientious effort is needed to discuss and change company policies to reflect respectful and equal interactions with Black staff members and Black consumers.

When it comes to allyship, the question isn’t “how will this benefit our corporation?”, but “how will this benefit everyone?”.

It’s our responsibility as consumers, too. Thoughtlessly posting a black square on social media isn’t effective—it’s a virtue signaling and doesn’t properly address the problem.

We must be conscious of the meaning behind each symbol. We must make the effort to learn about and unlearn the harm so ingrained in our society. Understanding the significance and effect of marginalization will help to call out harmful and inappropriate behaviour from authoritative powers not for performance’s sake, but because supporting one another is the right thing to do.

Black History Month isn’t only a celebration—it’s a call to action. It’s about time society understands that.

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