So Many People Failed Black History Month 2017; Here Are 8 Ways to Do Better

Elena Scotti/The Root
Elena Scotti/The Root

Black History Month 2017 proved my grandfather right: Common sense really isn’t that common.


This year, as in previous years, I subscribed to the notion of being #365BLACK, but I made it a point to be extra unapologetically black this year. I wore African print, consumed a little more chicken than usual and kept hot sauce in my bag #Swag.

“Adulting” has taught me that definitions vary from person to person, and this can also be said for common sense during this year’s Black History Month. Every February, my idea of celebration involves paying tribute to those who have paved numerous roads and indulging in the greatness that is melanin. For others, this simple concept was hard to grasp and even harder to execute. In 2017, the year of my Lord and Savior, there were still some folks who were out in this world confused about how to properly celebrate Black History Month.

Since I am an altruistic Christian who is always working on my admission into heaven, I feel it is my duty to help the beige on their journey not to embarrass themselves in 2018. This alone will probably secure my seat at Jesus’ table:

1. Remember: Like black lives, spelling matters.

When you’re honoring prominent figures in the black community, it is imperative that you spell their names correctly. Your tribute becomes void for even the simplest of mistakes. You end up looking racist or as if you don’t care.

I am here to tell you that Google is still a free service and will save you from the embarrassment that will ensue if you post an incorrect name. Hey, wypipo, quick history lesson: W.E.B. Du Bois ≠ W.E.B DeBois; be better than the Department of Education. The last thing America needs is for you to tap into your inner Betsy DeVos.

2. A picture is worth a thousand words.

If you’re going to celebrate one of the many great acts of black people, it is helpful to put the correct face with the name. If you are honoring a woman who freed herself from slavery, it’s best to use a photo of her and not her alleged descendant Johnny Depp. Your Black History Month post doesn’t hold the same weight when you place someone who is taupe out in front.


Be better than 45’s administration, and don’t spread #AlternativeFacts. Don’t be like the Grammys and think we all look alike, and remember that, contrary to Tangerine Mussolini’s beliefs, we do not all know each other. And I promise I will personally find you and slap the unseasoned food out of your mouth if you ever place a piece of fried chicken near any prominent figure in our history.

3. Know the history.

If you are like Vice President Mike Pence, you probably think that shouting out a white man during Black History Month is cool, but it’s not. I know it’s hard to wrap your mind around the idea that black history started before slavery, and I know it may be difficult to fathom anything having started without white influence.


I, in all my melanin-filled glory, am here to tell you that we don’t just arbitrarily call it the Motherland. There were kingdoms, inventors, intellectuals and thriving cultures before anyone was forced to leave their countries. We even have an entire museum in Washington, D.C., depicting our history. Take a look—it might change your life and Black History Month display boards. Making your Pinterest boards a reality and neglecting to add melanin doesn’t speed your cause forward; it stops it in its tracks.

As mentioned, I know a lot of you think we all look alike, but this is one time that you need not make that public mistake. A mistake like confusing Rosa Parks with Harriet Tubman will fill your life with more trouble than you ever intended. No one will think that you wanted Tubman to take a seat to relax from her tireless work of freeing our people; they’ll just think you’re racist.


4. Forget referencing your “black friend.”

Yes, kudos to you for acquiring some diversity in your circle of friends, but this does not warrant a medal and is not something to boast about. You will not become any more relatable to any black person by telling him or her that you have a black friend. It teeters along the lines of racism—actually, it Dougies smooth the hell over the line, and now you’re that fluorescent appropriating person. We can’t all be Adele.


5. Celebrities are cool, but black folks are more than a famous face.

Sure, it’s cool to shout out M.J. (pick one) or talented muva Beyoncé, but there is more to our history than the glitz and glamour of Hollywood. If you’re an educator, take this opportunity to immerse your classroom in the hidden figures that may be lost to you.


Try a day without using a black invention; it’s hard. If you’re just an average, run-of-the-mill ecru person, read a book and find out how you can be an ally to the cause. You don’t need an Oprah’s Lifeclass lesson on how to be a good person; you just need to let Google be the friend it was placed on this earth to be.

6. Know your culinary lane.

Yes, our food is amazing—orgasmic, even—but leave the seasoning to the professionals. I know you long to partake in the divine joys of our culture’s food, but this is not your lane. You may come from a people notorious for their allergy to seasoning, so a how-to tutorial on frying chicken may not be your calling or ministry. I promise you, the world will not be a better place with your gluten-free tutorial, and you are not doing any of my ancestors proud. In fact, I think they just rolled over in their graves.


Lawry’s and pepper go a long way. And if you’re an owner of a culinary establishment, you may want to shy away from stereotypical advertisements. Yes, I know it seems like a great idea between you and Becky, but trust me, Keisha won’t agree.

7. Say no to blackface.

Don’t be that person who is culturally insensitive and inappropriate. If you have to alter the color of your skin to portray any person or character and it’s not a damn Pokémon, you’re wrong. No, seriously; I’m not joking. Don’t let Sweet Potato Saddam’s appropriation of an oompa loompa make you feel that face painting to depict a person is OK. In this case, orange is not the new black.


8. #365Black.

Yes, these 28 or 29 days are what have been allotted to celebrate black history, but it doesn’t end there. If, on March 1, you find yourself unsure or reverting to your ignorant ways of January, ask yourself if you have made any cultural changes or if you understand the contributions of black people. Furthermore, please note that doing these tributes will not guarantee you a seat at our table. You will not be rewarded or celebrated for doing what you are supposed to be doing in the first place.


Moving forward, I implore you all to listen with open ears, open minds and closed mouths. If you don’t understand something, ask and be informed. It’s better to get the answer than to live your life in a perpetual state of DeVos. If you plan to celebrate Black History Month in the future, your knowledge needs to extend beyond the current administration’s. You can’t be out here in the world thinking Frederick Douglass and his coiffed hair are still kicking it and fighting for my people’s rights. No, you cannot make him your employee of the month.

Feel free to have secret white meetings and email chains about these helpful tips. If you knew better, you’d do better.



This is a good common sense list. Although the fact that “do not wear blackface” still has to be on this list (and it does) is so disappointing.

P.S. 9) Don’t refer to members of your audience as “my African-American.” “Where’s my African-American? There’s my African-American!”