Why your workplace should be celebrating Black History Month
This October, organisations across the United Kingdom are celebrating Black History Month. From Lunch and Learn events to film screenings to leaders of colour being celebrated within their organisation, workplaces involving themselves with this commemorative month sends out a clear message: that black identities are valued and embraced.
Black History Month first began in London during the 1980s. It became an opportunity to both challenge racism and educate others about British history that was often missing from the textbooks. Increasingly, Black History Month has also become an opportunity to celebrate the achievements made against racism and to acknowledge the contributions that black people and black cultures make to society.
Much has changed since the first Black History Month in 1987. That year, Diane Abbott became the first black female Member of Parliament and is the longest serving black MP in the House of Commons. Now, Black History Month is recognised nationally, with all major leaders paying tribute to its importance. Achievements like these demonstrate how we’ve moved away from simply tolerating difference to fully embracing and celebrating black identities.
Nevertheless, not every event since the first Black History Month has resembled the steady ascent to equality in the journey away from racism. The racist murder of London teenager Stephen Lawrence violently solidified racism’s persistence in 1990s Britain.
Inequality for black people has continued into the millennium and beyond:
Although Parliament has undoubtedly become more diverse, black MPs continue to be a disproportionately large group of politicians facing online abuse.
Although more organisations are waking up to the fact that social prejudices can spill over into the workplace (via unconscious bias), some of the leading companies in their fields are still failing to give complete equality and inclusion to BAME staff with pay gaps identified that on average provide 13 percent less pay than white colleagues.
Although there are more black students in British further education, there is still a disparity among high-achieving black male graduates and employment after leaving university.
Although many companies have taken huge steps to tackle racism in the workplace, there are still more FTSE 100 CEOs called Steve than from ethnic minorities.
Although the playing field is levelling so that BAME people aren’t having to tell their children to “work extra hard”, black and minority ethnic people continue to be a disproportionate figure of those facing mental health problems.
Although Doreen Lawrence’s fight for justice for her son’s murder was acknowledged by the nation when she carried the Olympic torch into the London Olympic Stadium in 2012, racist hate crimes have risen in post-Brexit Britain.
There was (and still is) so much to change around tackling racial discrimination here in Britain. If organisations acknowledge their influence and ability to raise awareness for black voices and identities, they can help to combat these disadvantages.
Actively engaging with Black History Month at your organisation will bring this important social issue to the attention of all staff, line managers and leaders. Acknowledging that Black History Month is a social issue important enough to celebrate will reshape the workplace culture into one that celebrates multiculturalism and diversity. Celebrating this month can even construct an organisational narrative around ethnicity and racism that represents this cause as something that your organisation regards as important. This not only draws awareness to this cause as, by celebrating Black History Month 2019 at work, you are also demonstrating to your staff that all their identities are valued and respected.
6 ways Black History Month is being celebrated (by organisations) in the UK this month:
1. M&C Saatchi hosts the ‘56 Black Men’ exhibition.
56 Black Men is a project that depicts 56 black men – including MP David Lammy – in hoodies to address the negative media portrayal of black men in British mass media. M&C Saatchi are supporting this campaign by hosting a free exhibition in their London office throughout October to shine a light on this campaign.
2. Nike and the Chelsea Foundation take poetry to primary schools.
As part of the Premier League’s “Building bridges” campaign, Chelsea Foundation, together with Nike, are visiting 50 primary schools throughout October encouraging students to submit poems to the Foundation about equality, diversity and inclusion.
3. Apple Music curates Black History Month playlists.
Apple recognises the contributions that black artists make to music and the arts through this dedicated playlist.
4. Channel 4 release short films.
In partnership with publication gal-dem, Channel 4 have released six short films about being black and British.
5. Sainsbury’s hosts BHM events.
The newly launched BAME network ‘I Am Me’ at Sainsbury’s is hosting events across the country to encourage employees to share their experiences and discuss topics around race and ethnicity.
6. BBC spread the word about Black History Month.
These diverse examples demonstrate how Black History Month can be celebrated within the workplace. Celebrating this cause can enable all employees to advocate for equality around ethnicity and race by clearly standing against racism and prejudice. By discussing black history and culture at work, your ethnic minority employees will see that their identities, background and cultures are valid and celebrated within your organisation. To continue the debate beyond Black History Month, the book Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge (see our diversity and inclusion book reviews ) offers a thought-provoking discussion about black people facing a multitude of inequalities from various perspectives – including employment, education and personal development.
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