We are pleased to share guest posts by local Rochester community members throughout this year’s 2nd Annual Digital Black History Month Education Campaign
What Black History Month Means to Me | by Kristen Seversky’
As a white, privileged, cis woman, I want to take a moment to acknowledge my intended audience with this blog post: my hope is to challenge you, fellow white readers, as you look to this space for uplifting Black History Month stories. I want to give you some options for making February more productive than copying and pasting Martin Luther King Jr. quotes – his words are powerful and timeless, but they won’t save you from yourself as you fall back into your defaulted habits. We must unlearn the behaviors that society has taught us and continue the effort to not only see but dismantle the systemic racism in this country. Start with this month, but challenge yourself to continue for the rest of the year and beyond. This is a huge part of what Black History Month means to me: a chance to increase my focus and centering of marginalized voices while helping more people see how our society ticks; a call to do better.
First, let me give you a little context as to who I am: I grew up in the rural “T” of Pennsylvania, which meant a childhood of four-wheelers, fishing, country music, running through cornfields, lake swimming, rustbelt cities, redneck jokes, and tokenism in various environments especially schools. With such lack of diversity, ignorance could easily thrive and I recall overhearing many racist remarks that, even decades later, still replay in my frustrated mind. My mother educated me on racism, privilege, and power dynamics thanks to her devoted life as an educator and nonprofit organizer. I was fortunate to be raised by her given how she worked hard to keep me aware of these dynamics and out of the privilege bubble I could have lived in otherwise. Even with her lessons and my schools’ various albeit scripted attempts to highlight Black History Month, I continued to live in a society that caters to me. Sure, I might experience sexism as a woman, but I’m still a white, privileged member of a country built for the white and privileged. As such, I will always have work to do to improve my awareness. Does any of this sound familiar or relatable? If so, here’s what you can (I’d argue ‘need to’) do to honor Black History Month and the work ahead of you.
Find local Black History events and attend group sessions
We aren’t likely to dismantle systemic racism if we can’t even talk about it. Joining local groups and actually listening to first-hand experiences with people in your local community can build understanding and rattle our sense of urgency. Important note: try to find groups whose members don’t look like you. A group of white people attempting to explain racism is not ideal, as the likelihood of privilege and lack of experience blurring the discussion is too high. Once you find a group with adequate representation, be sure to follow the next step —
Sit back and listen
As an extreme extrovert, I’ll admit this will always be tough for me. I process out loud and subsequently can take up space in a conversation, which is exactly what I need to avoid in spaces with marginalized voices. Remember, society defaults to us, white friends, so we need to do our best to recognize when we’re centering ourselves. Listen to the discussion; bring your most humble self; accept that you might be challenged or uncomfortable; and soak up the realities. We learn in those areas of discomfort so do not deny yourself the chance to grow. Find ways to amplify voices and new perspectives, instead.
Leverage social media
Feeling introverted or not finding many local meet-ups to attend? Change up your social media timelines by following people that are outside your career or everyday scope. Diversifying a newsfeed results in a constant flow of new perspectives and thoughts that would otherwise be missed in predominantly white spaces. Are you bothered by a particular Tweet or thought? Try reading more into the threads and seeing what the consensus or reactions are. Do not jump into the conversation unless you have “done your homework” and avoid giving immediate benefit of doubt to the familiar. Whiteness tends to come to the aid of whiteness before considering other vantage points so do not fall into that habitual trap. Challenge yourself to listen or read closely into what is being conveyed and see if you’re missing anything.
Catch up on good books
Meetups and group outings aside, there are many good books to read if you’re attempting to break down your own habits and increase awareness. Check out Ijeoma Oluo’s “So You Want to Talk About Race” to get started. Oluo offers clear lists for reference alongside her enlightening stories. Other good options are “White Fragility: Why It’s so Hard for White People to Talk About Racism” by Robin DiAngelo or “Between the World and Me” by Ta-Nehisi Coates. The point being: there are plenty of books that can inform you of your own bias or habits long before you burden others with the emotional labor of explaining them to you. Try to stay aware of your potential impact and take steps to help yourself, first.
Go beyond February
This last point is key: be proud of yourself for spending a month in a highly-focused state, but try to transcend the month itself. If done well, this thinking will become a norm for you and you will navigate the world in a more thoughtful and compassionate manner. You should always keep tabs on your privilege and blind spots, but at least you’re reducing the likelihood of exhausting the marginalized members of society while removing obstacles from their way. This is how dismantling systemic racism can work so bravo for taking the steps. Keep going.
Happy Black History Month, everyone!
About the Campaign
Every day throughout the month of February 540Blog will devote space to sharing Little Known Facts About Black Americans Throughout History. For us every month is Black History Month but we recognize and support the continuous need to take time and space to put a special spotlight on the accomplishments of Black and brown Americans from all ethnicities that have literally changed the course of history and yet have legacies that are not know by the masses.