Once February comes around, many businesses begin launching their Black History Month “collections” or collaborations. Target will dedicate a section of its app and store for Black-owned enterprises that they sell, or brands will include more diverse faces on their advertisements. Other retailers like Michaels will clear an aisle to sell “black art” sets for the month. The History Channel does its part by broadcasting various Martin Luther King documentaries or Malcolm X movies. While these visual celebrations are valuable and honest first steps in uplifting Black businesses and acknowledging the month’s existence, there are other more meaningful ways of celebrating. Sometimes it comes off like a marketing team is sitting there thinking, “we have to do something for black history month—let’s brainstorm,” and they do the bare minimum. If this business philosophy persists in marketing meetings, it can make celebrations of Black History Month come off as cheap and insignificant.
Last week, Bath and Body Works faced backlash on Twitter when they released their Black History Month collection. It took popular scents like champagne toast, coconut sandalwood, and teakwood and slapped on traditional African print and designs onto the packaging. A tweet by @blickiddyb said, “So gullible no new scents, just dashiki style candles and vibes to seal the performance. Support these black businesses and gone about y’all day.” Quick and meaningless business ploys like this come off as ingenuine and rushed. There was no thought behind curating a scent that correctly recognized Black culture with traditional ethnic scents. They could have easily curated a new scent including cocoa butter, jojoba oil, or lemon by working with a team of minorities.
For those who want to celebrate the right way, Black History Month is a great time to get educated on why this holiday is necessary. In this process, it is just as important to recognize that the small wins brought by Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglas, MLK, etc., are a part of an ongoing struggle that still exists today. Black History Month should automatically make one think of the “Black Lives Matter” movement and the issue of systemic racism that modern society is trying to dismantle. This education can be done through documentaries and books and easy things like podcasts on drives to work or walks to class. People can donate funds to organizations that look to better minority youth or the criminal justice system. The United States has come very far in addressing racism and fixing hatred, but there’s still a long way to go. It’s a great time to expose oneself to more black content creators on social media apps and diversify daily media feeds—whether that’s on Instagram, TikTok, or YouTube.
However, Black history shouldn’t just reflect the negativity and hate that America has pushed onto the Black community. There also should be appreciation for Black culture and all of the achievements it has given the world. Crab boils, creative nail art, rap music, extraordinary athleticism, and dance moves should be treated as aspects of culture that the Black community has shared with society and made life more fun. There are so many great Black artists and actors whose gift may be one’s favorite album or movie of all time. As college students, it may be more challenging to take active time out of one’s day to go about celebrating. Still, it could be just taking a moment of gratitude for that SZA song that you can’t stop singing or dedicating a movie night to popular Black culture films. Lastly, Black excellence and success should be honored and respected every day, not just in February. To think of how far African Americans have come in this country despite all of the barriers shows a resilience that people should commend more often.