Black History Month for White People

Today marks the beginning of Black History month and I have a couple thoughts as a White person. I was moved by Denise Anderson’s post yesterday about “Kente Capitalism” in February:

Some stores do this with a fair amount of integrity, like Michael’s where they highlight the work of Black creators with whom they’ve collaborated that year. Others like Target will highlight the Black-owned or Black-created brands they’ve had relationships with for forever. And other stores will simply “add some Kente” onto the same stuff they’ve been selling all year long. I’m not saying don’t support any of these efforts, but I am saying be discerning. And ultimately, it’s best to just put money directly in the hands of Black entrepreneurs.

Does Black History Month make us uncomfortable? That’s okay.

I was given a African print dress with the PCUSA seal on it via Denise (who got a matching one) in 2017 when the two of us were Co-Moderators of our denomination and I wore it exactly once – at a denominational event with Denise who was also wearing hers. It felt uncomfortable as a White person wearing an African dress out and about except at that one event. Cultural appropriation.

I also feel uncomfortable singing “We Shall Overcome” or “Lift Ev-ry Voice and Sing” – both beautiful anthems. Although “We Shall Overcome” was written by a White man, the laws written by White people have long been among the things that Black people have had to overcome. I don’t feel worthy to sing it . (Also, every American should be familiar with the Jim Crow laws as well as Red Lining, etc. I’m not sorry if White people feel terrible about that history.)

Most White people don’t know that James Weldon Johnson not only wrote “Lift Ev-ry Voice” but he was also the first Black professor at NYU, among a long list of other admirable things.

But back to Kente Capitalism.

I challenge my White friends and family to broaden our horizons in terms of our purchasing power this month and make the effort to buy from Black entrepreneurs and Black-owned businesses. Find a Black-owned restaurant and treat yourself to dinner this month, especially at a locally owned establishment.

What I’m not saying: stop eating at locally owned White or Asian restaurants.

What I am saying: branch out and get to know a Black-owned restaurant. It will support that business and it will stretch our own experiences and relationships.

Make a conscious choice to read a book written by a Black author this month. Listen to podcasts by Black thinkers. And don’t tell anybody about it. (“Yes, I’m only reading Black authors now that I’m woke.” Stop that.)

It’s a spiritual practice to reach out beyond our usual way of being. Even if it happens only once in the next 28 days, let’s make an attempt to honor our Black siblings in ways that make a positive impact and help us understand something holy we’ve never noticed before.

Image of James Weldon Johnson (1871-1938)

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