Being Black is not exhausting. Racism, injustice, ignorance and white supremacy as well as white silence is exhausting. Even Black History Month has become tiresome.

Black History Month has only just begun and there already has been an offensive and tone deaf act by a well-established company. PureGym, Luton and Dunstable thought it would be a good idea to label their new workout “12 Years a Slave” after the movie to celebrate Black History Month. Their Facebook post advertising this workout was captioned “Slavery was hard and so is this” (https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/black-history-month-pure-gym-12-years-slave-workout-b808539.html). This is why so many Black people find Black History Month tiresome. Having to point out the obvious that comparing slavery to a workout is wrong, even if the idea was produced by a Black person is tiring.

I reached out to Black people and asked them how they felt about Black History Month. One person told me that “Black History Month is important because we need to recuperate what we have lost but I can only take it in small doses. 2020 has been a lot”. She’s not wrong either. The death of George Floyd, the protests, Breonna Taylor’s killers getting away with murder, discrimination in the police, racially motivated hit and runs, seeing the deaths of Black people constantly occurring on your news feed. It’s heavy on the heart.

Another person highlighted just how emotionally inept some companies are. She revealed that the company that she works for are expecting her to write blogs and organise a Black History event on top of her day job without paying her extra. Black people are already paid significantly less for doing the same work as their white colleagues(https://www.theguardian.com/money/2020/jun/20/financial-inequality-the-ethnicity-gap-in-pay-wealth-and-property) , and therefore to ask them to produce extra work for free, especially during Black History Month, is insulting. She expressed “I have to mentally and emotionally prepare myself for when Black History Month comes. I can’t even enjoy it, it feels more like an oh here we go again because the month is more peformative than it is valuable”. Most companies use Black History Month as a token just like how they use Black Lives Matter. One example of this is that Nike consistently uses Black-centred advertising and feature significant Black figures like Colin Kaepernick and Serena Williams in their advertisements, and yet less than 6% of the company’s U.S. directors are Black (https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/video_and_audio/headlines/53181950/stop-using-our-pain-to-attract-black-consumers).

Like Black Lives Matter, Black History Month is treated like the hashtag Blackouttuesday trend people used on social media to show their solidarity with the Black community and then went back to ‘normal’. Companies and schools appear to participate in Black History Month and then forget about it the rest of the year. Black people are not Black History Month exclusive poster children for schools or businesses to convince themselves that they are actually diverse and inclusive. Black history is British history and to have Black history only explored in one month every year in a separate category is to suggest that it is not.

The purpose of the month is to remember Black history and to commemorate the lives of black Brits and to celebrate their contributions. However, unfortunately most schools do not deliver Black History Month thoughtfully and comprehensively. One huge example of this is when pupils at a school in London were told to wear “dirty and worn out” clothes stained with tea or coffee to make looking like a slave “authentic” (https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/primary-school-asks-pupils-slaves-black-history-month-dress-london-st-winefrides-catholic-manor-park-newham-a8004571.html).

In 2018 a number of local councils and primary schools decided to rebrand the Black History Month as “diversity history” or “inclusivity month” in order to be inclusive to all ethnic communities (https://www.yourlocalguardian.co.uk/news/16955128.wandsworth-council-responds-criticism-black-history-month-rebrand/). But this rebranding doesn’t offer a platform to amplify all voices. Instead it dilutes the Black experience. The ability to truly celebrate Blackness and deliver an honest dialogue about Black history, and the extent to which Britain’s history has impacted the nation to this day is hindered by the fact that the annual school curriculum teaches pupils that slavery and colonialism are things of the past, and that the country “isn’t as racist as what it used to be”, suggesting that our history does not inform our present. Since the school curriculum is not honest about the U.K.’s history and omits crucial facts to paint a one sided portrait all year round, some councils and schools cannot confront the guilt of empire because it disrupts our national amnesia of certain parts of British history.

When I was at school Black History Month meant watching films about slavery or reading a bit about colonialism. Although we shouldn’t disregard the importance of learning this part of history, we equally should not disregard Black excellence. We should learn about pioneering Black figures in all fields and hear their voices. Black people are so much more than victims. They need to be seen as agents capable of producing things and contributing to society because they are. The very foundation of colonialist ideology is the fabricated notion that white people are intellectually progressive and morally superior. White people are portrayed as the race who have the materials, knowledge and wealth to teach the ‘savages’ the virtues of civility. This whole premise deliberately takes away Black people’s agency to reinforce the white saviour complex and by extension, imperialism. By insufficiently covering or omitting the works of Black people, schools are perpetuating this discourse. It is exhausting enough that Black people get very little representation in all areas of life; the fashion and beauty industry, politics, the workplace, schools and films. Even when they are represented more often than not a white person is shaping their representation. Generation Z are growing tired of only being seen or heard in October and then Black history being silenced and their culture being appropriated for the rest of the year.

The Black community is sick of fighting to prove that Black History deserves its own spotlight and even when Black History Month is approved it is delivered distastefully or in a restricted framework, unless teachers take the initiative to broaden the scope. They are tired of hearing that specifically celebrating black history for even a month is not politically correct while institutions continue to be whitewashed at the same time.

Yasmin Al-Najar