Black history has become a commodity traded by Republicans and corporations
Why do we have a Black History Month in America? As many have said, black history should be part of our national conversation 365 days a year, not just jammed into a single month. While it may not have been intended this way, this annual February event only serves to further separate black people from mainstream America.
Martin Luther King Jr’s dream was to see black people treated as equals in this country, protected by the constitution and given the same opportunities to achieve as their white counterparts, yet black history month runs counter to King’s goals of inclusion. Since 1976, when it was officially recognized, it has become a tool used by black activists to shame businesses, schools and politicians into showing blacks they “care”.
And companies seem only too happy to oblige, even though I doubt if any of them really care about black history at all. As February rolls around, we see corporations from McDonald’s to Northrup Grumman advertizing Black History Month. The ads usually begin with “we salute” or “we celebrate”, but they simply don’t want to be called racist for not acknowledging it.
The National Basketball Association’s ads for black history month are somewhat better – they feature black doctors and judges – but even they continue to push the stereotype that all black boys aspire to be professional athletes. Black Miami Heat center Chris Bosh figures prominently throughout the ad. More African-Americans play professional basketball than whites. But how many NFL head coaches are black?
It’s hypocritical for businesses to honor Black History Month when the rest of the year they do little or nothing to mitigate the chronic double digit unemployment of blacks or address the woefully low numbers of blacks in board rooms and executive positions.
What’s the point of corporations honoring black history when they don’t practice what they preach all year long?
Sure, all major corporations have “diversity programs” but these include primarily cosmetic efforts (like honoring black history month). But I’m not necessarily calling for more affirmative action policies. I’m talking about making a commitment to hiring more qualified black people.
In 2011, Black Entertainment Television founder Bob Johnson challenged Fortune 1000 companies in America to seriously address the hiring disparity among blacks and whites by applying the NFL Rooney Rule to their hiring practices. The Rooney Rule requires NFL teams to include qualified minority candidates when interviewing for head-coaching or general manager positions. Since the Rooney rule was adopted in 2003, the NFL has hired 12 head coaches and at least one minority head coach or general manager has made it to the Super Bowl every year since 2006.
Johnson emphasized he wasn’t suggesting quotas. He was simply recommending “companies voluntarily implement a plan to interview a minimum of two qualified African American candidates for every job opening at the vice president level and above” among other recommendations. This is an initiative that represents why black history month was created in the first place – to encourage public schools to incorporate the many contributions of black people to US history throughout the year, not just for one month.
The Republican National Committee is also jumping on the black history month bandwagon. It hosted its second annual Black Republican Trailblazer Awards lunch on 4 February in Washington DC and launched its first ever ad targeting black Americans. Blacks are suddenly supposed to take the RNC seriously.
If you haven’t heard, the Republican Party has been short on black votes for the past 50 years. But after Obama won a second term based on winning 93% of the black vote, 71% of the Hispanic vote and 73% of the Asian vote, the GOP is slowly coming to grips with the reality that wooing the white vote won’t win them future elections. GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney won 59% of the white vote in the 2012 election, which the Washington Post called “more polarized along racial lines than any presidential contest since 1988”.
In a disingenuous, stilted voice, RNC Committee Chairman Reince Priebus declares in the 30 second radio ad, that the RNC honors the achievements of “black Republican trailblazers” like Judge Sara Harper, Michigan businessman Bill Brooks, and Dr Louis Sullivan of Georgia. The equally sterile, unimaginative print ad features several prominent black Republicans like Senator Tim Scott, Frederick Douglass and Condoleezza Rice.
The RNC Trailblazer lunch, which I attended, was more pandering than welcoming. Guests sitting at my table, Allen from Virginia and Jamila Bey of DC, didn’t seem too impressed by the event. Reviewing the crowd of about 300, Allen laughed that the average age of attendees was over 40. The program simply wasn’t very appealing to young blacks. Featuring a loud gospel choir, black actor Joseph C Phillips and the venue of the Howard Theatre, the event seemed to push stereotypes of black Americans more than anything.
Priebus made a point of telling the audience that several black Redskins football players were in attendance along with Toni Braxton’s sister, who was soon to release a new album. The subliminal message here seemed to be that all black people love or aspire to be professional athletes and singers.
I’m not interested in hiring a few people down the hallway and calling it outreach …
But that’s exactly what he’s done. Aside from making a few token minority hires, where is the RNC delivering on its message of economic empowerment to blacks or any other minority groups for that matter?
At the event, I asked Jamila, who is an atheist and considers herself apolitical, if she felt excluded by the GOP. “It’s not that I feel, I am ostracized.” It made Jamila feel like an outsider. The RNC, like the black history month it attempts to recognize, simply isn’t inclusive.
During the civil rights movement, my parents sat in at white-only lunch counters in Richmond, Virginia to fight segregation and fight for equality and inclusion in American life 365 days and 12 months of the year. Black History Month seems to take blacks back to those days when we were looked upon as Others, ostracized by the majority. If businesses and organizations like the RNC want to honor the spirit of black history month, they should give blacks the opportunity to participate in every aspect of their operations from machinists to the board room, on and off the court.