Appropriating Black History Month is Not Progressive, It is Exploitation


Elvert Barnes

Protests against racism and political repression scattered 21st Street in Baltimore, Maryland on Saturday, May 30, 2020. Photo courtesy of Elvert Barnes.

Alessandra Ashford, Opinions Editor

#BuyBlack and #BHM are trending hashtags on social media and have been made more popular in February by corporations who see it as an opportunity to cash in. But I question the authenticity behind the intentions of these corporations. There’s a fine line between appropriation and exploitation.

In a time when schools across the country are banning the teaching of America’s racist history, corporations show that they care about Black lives by carrying hoodies with “Radiate Black Joy” written on them for just 28 days.

While books discussing racism and the LGBTQA+ community are being pulled off the shelves in public school libraries, streaming services have temporarily put “Black Stories” at the top of their menu bars. But when February is over, those items disappear, and clothes are removed from many clothing racks.

This is not representation. Black people deserve representation in all months of the year. Black people deserve to have Black icons and historical figures on clothing every month of the year. Black people deserve to see themselves represented year-round. Corporations treat Black people like we only exist during February, and problems in the Black community, such as police brutality and lack of access to quality healthcare, magically disappear on March 1.

Only representing or talking about Black people and their issues during Black History Month is not progressive; it’s the exact opposite. This type of “representation” is purely performative. Don’t encourage consumers to “support black-owned businesses” only because it’s Black History Month. Support them because you want to buy items regardless of what month it is.

So why do companies do this? The answer is simple: it’s all about profit. In fact, corporations don’t just do this during Black History Month. During Pride Month, companies often turn their logos rainbow, write supportive messages toward the LGBTQA+ community, and even sell rainbow-colored items for June. However, they don’t support the LGBTQA+ community or actively promote or donate to causes that harm the community. This practice is called “rainbow capitalism” or “rainbow washing.”

As a Black queer girl, it is insulting when companies pander to under-represented groups to gain more profit during their history or awareness months. I am a person, not an opportunity to increase profits. Black History Month is a time to celebrate my culture and who I am as a Black American, not to be commodified by a corporation.