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The White Person's Guide to Surviving Black History Month at Work
It's a short month—you got this.
Identity groups are to the calendar what washed-up celebrities are to the Hollywood Walk of Fame: everybody is gifted a little piece of real estate.
February, of course, is Black History Month; many blessings to all who celebrate!
I know this because it popped up on my iPhone Calendar on February 1st, like all the new federal holidays you can’t delete.
Although I bet Apple wishes it could delete it now. Here’s a fun Black History Month cautionary tale, told in 3 acts.
And then, inevitably:
My memory of the Before Times is hazy, but I seem to recall Black History Month celebrated almost exclusively in elementary schools. It was a perfectly fine addition to the regular school history curriculum. You’d learn about great Americans like Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman and Jackie Robinson, you’d make crayon drawings, maybe even a paper maché bust, of Martin Luther King, Jr.
You’d illustrate little books about how the Civil War was fought to free the slaves. On the cover, you’d draw an American flag.
It was political indoctrination at its finest, and we all finished sixth grade knowing that America was great, all men were created equal, slavery was bad, and civil rights are good. It was your patriotic duty as a citizen to believe this.
Like the flag, Black History Month has evolved somewhat.
Black History Month has made a rather notable recent jump from sixth grade classrooms to sleek corporate boardrooms. Patriotism and history are out, trite cultural clichés are in. BHM is nothing more than a month-long struggle session inflicted on those who still toil unhappily at one of America’s teetering globocorps.
If you work for yourself or for a small business that’s blissfully immune from political holidays, you may simply proceed with your regular life and reclaim your time this month.
If you work in a corporate environment however, you will be required to participate in Black History Month-themed activities and events.
This is actually progress; when the first post-Floyd BHM-themed Zoom invites went out at offices around the country, they were segregated; you had to be a certain race to enter.
White-shoe corporate counsel eventually intervened, so now you, corporate white person, are permitted to take part! Be grateful, you ingrate!
In fact, you may be strongly encouraged to participate. If you work at a Fortune 500 company, your enthusiastic embrace of the month’s festivities will be mandatory, since your performance review, bonus, and any future promotion will be tied directly to how much time you devote to your personal DEI efforts.
You literally must Do The Work if you hope to keep doing the work.
Of course, you will have to fit your BHM events into your already stuffed February calendar, since you are already forced to spend many hours per week on vital non-work related DEI training.
I talked to Kelly, who works at a giant media conglomerate headquartered on the East Coast. She has multiple graduate degrees from top schools, and earns the kind of money that inspires you to try to keep earning it. Kelly is required to complete up to 60 DEI-related activities each year, in addition to her normal heavy workload.
“I just attended a DEI event on disabled people. We were taught that saying ‘that’s crazy!’ or ‘that’s insane’ can be offensive to our mentally ill colleagues. Never say ‘disabled person;’ say ‘person with disabilities.’ The word disabilities is also bad. Everyone has different abilities, not better or worse abilities.”
This is great news for anyone who’s sick of quadruple amputees bitching about how their terrible injury somehow makes their life harder, as if you, a four-limbed person, have it any better than they do.
Kelly confessed that right after the session she accidentally said “that’s crazy” in a meeting and had to apologize.
Pity poor Kelly, the only non-crazy person left at her office.
Surviving Black History Month at Work
Since BHM doesn’t come with any specific ceremonies or rituals you can take part in to satisfy your allyship quota, some offices solve this by launching their own month-long program of BHM-themed presentations.
I spoke to one of my best friends, Brenda, who works in marketing for a global consultancy firm. She told me that her survival strategy is to RSVP to every single BHM event the company holds in February. This, she says, will ensure her (white) boss is generous during her upcoming performance review.
Because her bonus is directly tied to how many hours she clocks at the DEI factory, Brenda RSVP’d to 20 events—almost one per day.
She shared with me a few descriptions of the events she’s attending; most of them are delivered via Zoom. These are real, folks:
“Soul Food: Problematic?”: Join us as we sink our teeth into a home cooked meal and a little history. In this event we will take us on a deep dive into the origins of soul food, a cuisine that can be traced from West Africa to the American west.
“Sugar in Our Wounds: Exploring Resilience with Theatre”: This program features a dynamic reading and discussion of the production of Sugar in Our Wounds, Donja R. Love’s drama set on a southern plantation in 1862, where two young enslaved men torn from their families find solace in one another, propelling them into a harrowing fight for love and survival. This will focus on courage, hope, and reinvention amidst significant adversity through the lens of Black Queer love.
“What's Hair Got To Do With It?”: We will explore the stigma around black hair and resulting discrimination African descendants systemically encounter in professional and educational spaces. We will examine this longstanding form of racial discrimination through a historical lens alongside the examination of civil rights litigation combatting race-based hair discrimination.
I’m no historian, but those don’t sound much like history classes.
Brenda told me her foolproof strategy for successfully completing all 20 events. The below are her suggestions, so please get mad at her if you don’t like them.
9 Rules for Celebrating BHM at Work:
Starting in January, sign up to attend every BHM event offered at your company. Most of these will be delivered via Zoom, so you have no excuse.
When the event begins, sign in so your attendance is noted, then immediately mute your computer and minimize the browser window.
Proceed with your normal work day.
Repeat this process for each event.
Make sure you do not participate too enthusiastically or accidentally “take up space” intended for other participants.
If you are forced to attend a session in real life, do not roll your eyes, laugh, or look bored at any time during the presentation.
Do not raise your hand and offer opinions or thoughts on the topic at hand. If you utter the words “my black friend,” you may as well start packing up your desk.
Do not wear themed clothing or accessories. Leave the Kente cloth scarf and Wakanda Forever t-shirt at home. Do not attempt a Black Power salute.
Do not change your language, dialect, or word choice in any way. Remember the wise words of Mohammed Atta to his hostages: “Just stay quiet and you’ll be okay.”
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A Final Word
Tread carefully! Black History Month is a harsh…uh, never mind. BHM turns your office into a month-long minefield—it’s Survivor, only without torches (highly problematic). The object of the game is to make it to the end of February with your job intact and your ally credentials burnished.
Yes, all educated persons should know history, the names of key historical figures, and why they matter. But that is a job for schools and teachers. Corporate BHM for adults is no longer about history to educate or enlighten.
It is about half-baked virtue signals. It is about forced compliance in a progressive belief system (like critical race theory, or the revisionist 1619 Project) powered by a core of radioactive plutonium, like the deeply held conviction that certain racial groups are bad, nay, evil.
Black History Month at work is a subtle reminder that your days in the corporate salt mines are numbered; as soon as a more appropriate hire can be found, you will be flushed out with the rest of the useful idiots.
Good luck! See you in March for Women's History Month—have you finished knitting your vagina costume for the office parade?
April is Arab American History Month. No costumes please.
May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, the only month of the year Disney Imagineers are banned from wearing Hawaiian shirts to work.
Make sure you save some gas in the tank for June—you know what that is!
Until then, I remain—
P.S. If you enjoyed this essay, you’ll enjoy my upcoming book, Domestic Extremist: A Practical Guide to Winning the Culture War (June, Regnery). Pre-order your copy today, and thank you!
Learn more at: https://peachykeenanwrites.com/