Respecting diverse cultures and propelling equity and inclusion is always the right thing to do, but there is certainly a wrong way to execute as a brand. Take, for example, UberEats' 2020 Black History Month advertisement, which was rightfully criticized for its inappropriate depiction of a woman of color. This is a perfect example of why it is so important for brands—before you ever even consider joining the conversation—to fully understand what exactly it is that you are honoring. As we observe Black History Month, here are a few best practices that can help you ensure your celebration is thoughtful and not just performative.
Black History Month is a great opportunity to educate yourself. If you’re not sure where to start, pick an industry that interests you and learn about Black individuals who have left legacies as leaders, innovators and change makers. Look for books, movies, music and art by Black creators. According to Maya Angelou, “Do the best you can, until you know better. The more you know better, do better.”
Check your privilege and any potential unconscious biases at the door. Research and seek to understand the oppressions, disadvantages and injustices that face the Black community. Be aware of current issues and determine when (if at all) it makes sense for your brand to comment. Ensure your messaging doesn’t come off as tone-deaf and insincere, but shows solidarity. Remember: speak up, not over.
Celebrate and Support
To celebrate Black voices in your community, think of ways to spotlight their art and work. Spread the word of Black-owned businesses in your community. Share stories of Black figures in history who you admire. Invite a Black leader to share reflections of their life and work with your colleagues or at a professional organization meeting. Buy a book by a Black author, or donate to a Black-owned and operated nonprofit. One of the best ways to show your respect for a culture is to immerse yourself in it.
Ultimately, to understand historically marginalized communities, we learn most from being quiet and reflecting. Avoid celebrating Black History Month just this one month a year and instead celebrate, educate and show your support year-round. Avoid performative allyship and make sure your actions match your words.