REPRINT & CORRECTION: How to Celebrate Black History Month if You're Not Black


Back in 2003, I wrote an essay helping people properly celebrate Black History Month. I was quite tired of receiving cards in April saying, "Dear Blackie, Happy Belated Month." It's insulting to get that card so late. I was planning to re-run the how-to essay, and just today I received a correction from a reader. Madame CJ Walker did NOT invent the straightening comb


A (CORRECTED) Guide to Celebrating Black History Month for those Who Aren't Black
by Baratunde Thurston


A lot of people don't really know what to do when Black History Month rolls around, especially if they are not black. For me, the options are clear: be proud of my race. As I've learned in over a quarter century of life in modern America, the best way to feel good about oneself is to put others down. So I'll be spending the shortest month of the year downplaying the achievements of all non-black Americans. It'll be fun.

But that leaves open the question: What do you do during black history month if you're not black? Fortunately, I have a solution for you people as well. (And when I say "you people," I mean it in "that" way). Here is my Guide to Celebrating Black History Month for Those Who Aren't Black

There are 10 things you can do to show that you value the contributions of African Americans to this great country of ours. Ready?

1. Read The Autobiography of Malcolm X

Better yet, watch the movie. That book is really long. The basic story involves a young man who goes through many life challenges, finds himself and gets killed as his message begins to really spread. Key takeaway: you cannot make a difference!

2. Invite me over for dinner

Whenever it's not Black History Month, I get sad. It's not because I miss the television specials or the Coca Cola commercials featuring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (Although, if there's one thing he stood for, it was for our right to consume high fructose corn syrup). Free at last!
No, I get sad because February is the one month when my white friends invite me over for dinner. It's their way of making up for the 400 years of free labor and institutionalized racism. I don't even mind being the token dinner guest. The only real problem is that after Black History Month, I'm still hungry! So, invite me over for dinner.

3. Get a black friend

I'm a busy man. I can't be the black friend for all of non-Black America. So it would behoove you to get your own. If you find yourself in this unfortunate position, locate a large group of black people in a poorly lit urban alley. They should be wearing the same colors (it's a sign of unity). Run up to the group and scream, "I WANNA BE YOUR FRIEND!" They will welcome you with open arms..

4. Once you have a black friend, appreciate him!

As a black person, I can honestly say I don't feel all that appreciated in America sometimes. You could go a long way toward healing the racial divide if you simply said something like, "Leroi, Madame CJ Walker invented popularized the straightening comb. Now let's go fight the power!" It helps if your friend's name is Leroi; just a tip.

5. Watch BET

I know it's not owned by a black person any more, but this Viacom cable channel still stands for Black Entertainment Television. For your February purposes, the "E" in BET also stands for education, because you will learn much about black people while watching it. Primarily, you will learn that black people are a very musical people. Through the magical storytelling power of song, you will learn of the great challenges facing the black community, such as what type of candy is best after its shaken. (Here's a hint: Laffy Taffy).

6. If you own a retail store, put pictures of black people on the wall

Anyone who's seen Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing knows that if there's one thing which will activate the dormant riot gene in an African American, it's the absence of their peers on the walls of a neighborhood retail establishment, especially a pizza shop. And if that pizza shop is owned by those I-talians, well, fuggetaboutit.

7. Don't be racist

This one can be a struggle for many, and it's understandable. Racism is everywhere. It comes naturally. But it's considered to be "offensive" if you are racist toward black people during Black History Month. If nothing else, it shows a lack of discipline. If you're serious about hating black people, prove it by delaying that hate for four short weeks. Think of it as a vacation from racism, or "vacacism." On March 1, you'll return to peak racist form, charged up and ready to marginalize.

8. Know the key people

Sure, there have been lots of unsung heroes in the history of Africans in America, but they're unsung for a reason: there are only a few that count -- the sung ones. These include Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, Malcom X, Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Jackie Robinson, Muhammad Ali, W.E.B. DuBois, Booker T. Washington, Frederick Douglass, Langston Hughes and maybe Thurgood Marshall. When in doubt, see if there's ever been a feature-length film about the person or if the Coca Cola Corporation has ever used their image during a February commercial. If the answer to both of these questions is no, move on.

That's it.

I know I told you there would be 10 things to do in this guide, but, quite frankly, there's just not that much to celebrate. And look at it this way: with this manageable list of eight, you can do two per week without adversely affecting your life's delicate schedule. It will be like Black History Month never even happened!

If you've learned only one thing from this guide, let it be the knowledge that the history of Africans in American can indeed be boiled down to a short list of a few accomplishments made by a handful of people. Once you realize that, you'll realize Black History Month isn't so big a deal after all.

About the Author
Baratunde Thurston has been black for more than 25 years and has been able to read and write for the vast majority of that time. He has also read The Autobiography of Malcolm X and saw the movie… twice.