Recently Wyatt Cenac, formerly a correspondent on the “Daily Show,” joked that Black History Month is for white people not black people during an interview for his film screenings “Shouting At The Screen“. He said that he’s black every month of the year and he doesn’t need a reminder of our nation’s race history, it’s white people who do. His statements hit a nerve, in a good way.
I have two baby daughters, one black and one white. I’m white and I live in a predominately black neighborhood. Skin color is on my mind all the time. My family didn’t talk about race growing up, except to say, “We’re not racist.” However, now that I look back, messages were mixed.
If I’ve learned one thing from living and working in black communities for the past 14 years it’s this: I, as a white person, can never go wrong by trying to talk about race relations with people who are black. At first, I was scared I might use a term incorrectly among my black colleagues — “black” or “African-American”? — so I just started to ask. Any mistakes I made in terminology were quickly erased by the fact that I was trying. The significance of trying meant that I acknowledged that prejudice and racism is real. Once the conversation was open, I learned a ton. The WORST thing that I can do is pretend as though skin color and race doesn’t matter in our society, or to me.
So, my white friends, no more tiptoeing around Black History Month. And what a better excuse to try to better understand black history and culture than your new baby? Here are some ideas:
1. Go to a Black History Month event. And not just the ones with your mildly diverse group of friends. If there’s a black community in your area, go there. Be the only white people, it’s OK. It’s good for you.
2. Look for online black publications in your home town. I hate to admit it, but in writing this post I tried to find Black History events in my home town of Bradenton, Florida, and I didn’t find anything, despite a significant black population.
3. If you’re religious, go to a predominately black church or temple.
4. Post photographs of successful people of color around your home. Research has shown that simply looking at photographs of powerful black leaders for 10 minutes before taking a test that measure prejudice reduces levels (you can take it, too, by clicking here).
5. Explore black arts. Film, jazz, fashion… find something that really interests you. It’s one thing to tour a culture, it’s another thing to become a fan and participate. American black culture is so diverse, find an artist, musician or whomever and get involved. Your enthusiasm will rub off on your baby for years to come. Personally, I’m a big fan of the new black comedians like Sasheer Zamata (who just joined the “Saturday Night Live” cast) and Jessica Williams from “The Daily Show.”
This is just a quick list, would love to hear ideas from others!
For more posts from Rebecca this month: