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How Your Family Can Celebrate Black History Month All Year Round

Get ready to learn from and interact with people of many different cultures.

February 28th will come and go. Another Black History month completed. Your kids did a neat Black History project at school. You learned about Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, slavery, and Frederick Douglass. Now it’s back to normal. But you don’t want it to be. You want Black History month to positively impact how you see your country and see people of different races and ethnicities. You want to figure out how February can be a starting point for celebrating the unique contributions of diverse Americans and not just a time that’s limited to February.

As families, we have less control over what schools teach, society markets, or our government regulates. However, as a family, you can use the month of February to start conversations, enrich your experiences, and learn about different cultures. Hopefully, you’ll ignite a curiosity that can only be filled by continuing to engage in practices that celebrate African Americans’ contributions and the many rich heritages that make up America.

Here are some ways your family can celebrate Black History month all year round. None of this takes much work. It merely takes being intentional. Pretty soon, your kids will look forward to learning from and interacting with people of many different cultures.

Experiences

Often, the best way to learn about a culture and history is to immerse yourself in that culture. 

Each month, visit a black-owned or uniquely black-operated establishment: restaurants, clothing stores, entertainment spots, places of worship, barbershop, boutique, etc. 

You may get a few looks. 

It’s ok. They are only trying to understand why you’re there. 

Choose a day of the month to listen to music from predominantly black artists: jazz, blues, black gospel, hip hop, R&B, etc. (Think Motown Monday or Friday night Jazz.)

Experience the difference. Discuss what’s different from what you’re used to. What made you comfortable or uncomfortable? What’s good about it? What’s similar to what you’re used to?

Education

Visit museums, watch documentaries and movies, and read books.

As a family, choose a few months out of the year (for instance, once a quarter) to learn something new. You may watch a documentary or visit a museum. Read or listen to audiobooks. Libraries are full of children’s books that highlight various achievements and contributions of African Americans. 

You may follow a theme throughout the year—for instance, music. You might visit the National Museum of African American Music, watch documentaries on the Harlem Renaissance, or play jazz throughout your home on Pandora or Spotify. 

Another example—sports. You might learn about the Negro Baseball League, Jackie Robinson, Hank Aaron, etc. 

*Terms to Google: Harlem Renaissance, The Great Migration, Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Miles Davis, Tuskegee Airmen* 

Discuss how what you’ve learned has influenced this country. How have the contributions made America a stronger or better nation? What have you learned that was not so positive?

Relationships

Develop authentic relationships with African Americans where you learn about their experiences. Of course, no one person or family represents the entire African American population. You’re learning about the individual and how their experience as an African American has impacted their life. Their experience as an African American will be different than another African American. Eat with them. Spend time together. Go to places of entertainment with them. Initiate conversations to better understand their story. Be willing to be uncomfortable to better understand.

Check your motives in the process. Do it for the right reasons, not just to check off the box to say you’ve done it, but out of a genuine desire to better understand differences. Diversity brings richness to a community that can’t be gained any other way. We have diverse relationships because we all benefit from them.

Curiosity often begets more curiosity. It’s easy to turn the calendar and return to being with those we’ve always been with. Talking to the ones we’ve always talked to. And listening to what we’ve always listened to. 

But we can all be better. We become better through continual exposure, knowledge, and understanding. Let February launch us all to be better.

How Does Our Marriage Promote Cultural Diversity?

Here are 6 practical ways we make it happen.

With Black History Month upon us, my wife and I decided it’s a good time to talk about how we celebrate Black History, not only in February but throughout the year. 

Appreciating diversity has been a core value in our marriage since day one, partly due to necessity. I’m an American, born and raised in rural west Tennessee. My wife immigrated here from rural Southern Mexico. Growing up in a diverse community was a blessing for me. And as a couple, we want celebrating diversity to be part of our family DNA. 

Here’s how we make celebrating diversity a priority in our marriage. (It won’t hurt our feelings if you steal a few of these ideas for yourself!)

Our Friends

We get to choose the friends we want to be in our lives. And those friends often become family. We surround ourselves with people from different ethnicities on purpose, and we’re thankful to have a diverse friend group. We’ve often celebrated the holidays with Haitians, Jamaicans, Central Americans, and those from different parts of the U.S. 

Our Kids’ School

Passing on this appreciation for diversity to the next generation is crucial to us. Fortunately, we live in a place where we can choose the school our kids go to. We chose a downtown school for our son and daughter that celebrates various ethnicities and socioeconomic backgrounds. This means when our kids are at school, they experience the richness of other cultures and learn from each other.

Media We Consume

Where you spend your time and money shows what you value. We choose to promote diversity through the media we consume, whether it’s music, movies, or TV. We’ve watched films together that celebrate Black History, like 42, Black Panther, and Hidden Figures. Most streaming services have a curated list of movies and shows that promote Black voices. It would be easy to choose one night a week to watch one of these movies or documentaries and talk about them. I’ve gotta warn you, though: as you develop this habit, you’ll start asking why some shows aren’t as diverse as others… and so will your kids.

Voices We Listen To

There are tons of voices vying for our attention. Here’s the thing: we can only listen to voices who sound like us, look like us, and come from where we do. Or we can choose to also listen to those who sound, look, and believe differently. We try to listen to and understand others. Broadening who and what we listen to often shows us we have a lot more in common with others than we ever thought. 

Intentional Conversations 

We look at the calendar to be more aware of ethnic holidays and events like Black History Month. Then we talk to our kids about what they mean because we don’t want them to be afraid or unaware. If our kids ask a question and we don’t know the answer, we say we don’t know. And we’re ok with that. Then we learn together. It’s that simple.

Engaging with Cultures in our Community

Finding and going to cultural festivals in the area throughout the year is a fun way to learn. (Date idea!) These are great (and sometimes FREE) chances to learn about other ethnicities in your community and beyond! You can usually enjoy some fantastic food and unique music while meeting people who are passionate about sharing their culture. (BONUS: Kids will be ready for a nap when you leave. Oh yeah!)

Valuing diversity makes our marriage and family richer. Our kids see this, and they live it out in their friend groups, the athletes and musicians they enjoy, and the media they consume. Bridging the racial gap is a generational choice for us. Keeping the conversation going in our marriage is an essential part of leading our family and promoting diversity in the next generation. 

We’re all different, and that’s ok. Let’s celebrate our uniqueness. 

More on this topic:

I’m a black man who interacts with lots of different people in many different environments. As such, the racial unrest has made me a prime target for conversations about the African American experience. Two of my colleagues and I (Gena, a black female, and Chris, a white male) recorded one such conversation recently. You can listen to it here. I’m learning firsthand the amount of progress our country needs to make to overcome racial disparity.

I’m convinced more than ever that building relationships must be at or near the very top of those priorities. Through my conversations about racial differences with Chris and several others, here’s what I’ve learned.

1. The lack of awareness and disbelief of many has been surprising.

The black experience in America is extremely difficult to comprehend. The trepidation of an encounter with the police. The thoughts which flood my mind anytime I drive past a Confederate flag. The feelings we experience so often when we enter an environment as the only black person or family present. Being able to relate to the mentality of the black experience is hard. In many of my conversations, I’m realizing how oblivious to it my white friends are.

2. The conversations about racial differences definitely can create a level of discomfort.

At times, I can see or hear the natural urge which Chris and others have had to want to deny my experiences, explain it away, justify the actions of themselves or others, or not accept that the culture created in America could produce such oppression. Some things are flat out hard to hear. Whether it’s social norms, housing policies, or law enforcement, to know that you have willingly or unwillingly participated in oppressing others is a difficult pill to swallow. Resisting the urge to be defensive and prove the opposite is not easy. 

3. Relationship strength has made conversations productive.

It was definitely eye-opening to Chris that someone with whom he has had hundreds of conversations and someone that he respects lives such a different reality. We can discuss these realities of being the minority and thinking differently about safety and opportunity because of the high level of trust that we have for one another.

4. There are people who genuinely want to fix the problems but feel frustrated and powerless.

Chris and I have talked about what he can do. That question consistently comes up from my white friends. How can we fix this? I appreciate the desire.  I’m not sure if we, as a country or as individuals are willing to put in the long, diligent, hard work that it takes to recalibrate our country on these matters. Everyone is looking for answers.

Before we can truly find answers, it’s important that we understand the root of the problem and its compounding impact. (And if you’re expecting me to state the root of the problem here, then you’re missing the point that there’s long, diligent, hard work needed to recalibrate the country.) Although I will say, I believe at every step along the way, it’s important for my friends to feel encouraged and empowered to call out both blatant and subtle racism in their homes, workplace, and community. 

5. My own testing mechanisms for gauging one’s willingness to engage in dialogue.

I believe that Chris and many others truly genuinely desire to learn, understand, and value the challenges blacks have faced. I’ve recognized that being genuine and open and willing to work to be a part of the solution can be two different things. Lots of people are interested in being a “good” person that treats people the “right” way. Being open and willing to understand how you may be falling short of that is another matter altogether. When I trust that you’re open and willing, I become more willing to share the depths of my own experiences. 

6. I have mixed emotions about the sudden interest to have these conversations about racial differences. 

  1. Disappointment and Frustration that it’s taken a series of blatant events and a quarantined environment to open the country’s mind to many of the poignant realities of the African American experience. That, in itself, is disappointing and frustrating.
  2. Thankful for the humble and honest engagement that Chris and others within my work and social circle have been willing to participate in.
  3. Skeptical. Turning a huge ship like systemic racism requires sacrifice, change, and urgency, a patient urgency. Those that reap the biggest benefits of the current system must be willing to give up some of those benefits. I’m skeptical because I believe that the cost for true equality is greater than some are willing to pay.
  4. Proud of the effort my parents worked so hard to instill in me to ensure that I knew my value as a human being, as their son, and as a black man.  Given that my father was arrested during the Civil Rights movement in the 60s for protesting and that my mother has achieved the title of “First Black Woman to…” for several of her professional and civic accomplishments gives me a sense of pride for what’s possible for a black man in America.

I walked away from my conversation with Chris more convinced that these conversations must happen. They do help me to remain aware of the progress that needs to be made for true equality. They also illuminate the need to help our white friends comprehend the gravity of what’s at stake as a country if we aren’t willing to do the hard work to push for equal value for all.

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The world is on edge. The deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and others have caused a boiling over of an already heated pot of racial tension that’s been brewing for decades. More than ever there is a need for ongoing, respectful dialogue between white people and African Americans. Things have to change. I’ll say it like this: With all the distrust, tensions, and negative emotions flying between people of different colors right now, we aren’t going to get anywhere without talking and listening. 

I recently had the opportunity to dive into just such a conversation about racial differences with two of my friends and colleagues, Gena and Reggie who are African American. Here are a few things I learned:

Open, real conversations require sincere relationships between white people and African Americans.

I’m talking about developing friendships here. I’m thankful for my relationship with Reggie and Gena because it allows us to talk sincerely. It’s respectful, but it’s real. They can trust that I’m really trying to understand their perspective, even if I don’t word things in the right way. And I can trust that they will pull no punches when telling me the truth from their perspective.  

There are realities in an African American’s world that aren’t part of my reality. And I have to understand that. 

There are things I simply don’t have to worry about because I’m white. I’ve never had to have the conversation with my kids, if you’re out walking and a police officer drives by you, here’s what you do… I’ve never had to wonder if I can get a mortgage loan because of any other reason than good credit. And it’s a mistake to view African Americans through the filter of my own experiences. 

African Americans don’t want others to feel sorry for them—they want others to hear, understand, and value them.

To a degree, this is what we all want as individuals. But what I learned from Reggie and Gena is that African Americans don’t typically feel this from white people. 

As I listened to Reggie’s and Gena’s stories, there were times when I felt myself getting really angry at the sense of injustice I was hearing. It made me want to do something. I wanted to fix things that I couldn’t really fix. And through the course of the conversation about racial differences, I was reminded over and over again that the focus of my mind doesn’t need to be on righting the wrongs or apologizing for things I had no control over. My focus needs to be on listening to the people in front of me, hearing their voices, and validating their experiences. This is where mutual respect and value starts, I think. 

I need to approach the conversation with humility and a spirit of learning. 

I have an obligation to become a student of people different from me. There may be some things I hear that make me uncomfortable, some things that make me angry, and even some things I plain don’t agree with. I need to ask more questions than give opinions—be mindful of my words, yet not so afraid to say the wrong thing that it prevents me from asking questions that would help me understand.

I’m also moved to engage in books and documentaries that help me learn more about the history, culture, and experience of African Americans. And there is plenty out there to choose from. (Check below for a list of links to recommended books.) 

This is a sad but sincere confession on my part. I’ve never been so interested to understand the African American experience until I began listening—really listening—to African Americans. And I can’t reiterate enough that this seeking to understand, to engage, to listen, happens in the context of developing genuine relationships. People have to know you care before they open up. This is no less true in the dialogue between Whites and African Americans. 

After my conversation about racial differences with Gena and Reggie ended, I wanted to talk more. There is so much I have to learn about racial differences. The road to resolving these racial issues is a long one, but maybe it begins with real conversation. 

Book recommendations: 

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness  

The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America 

Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria: And Other Conversations About Race

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People are trying to have genuine conversations with people that don’t look like them more than ever before in the wake of the recent deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Cooper, and Ahmaud Arbery. Some of these conversations are happening between long time friends of different races and ethnicities where one person did not realize the magnitude of their different shared experiences. Here are 10 things you should know before talking with your friend about your racial differences. 

  1. Regardless of whether this is your first conversation or your 1,000th conversation, there’s a lot you don’t know about the person you’re talking to. You don’t know what you don’t know. Even if you’ve been watching the news, following social media, participated in protests, and visited museums, there’s a lot you don’t know about your friend and their experiences. Humility goes a long way.
  1. Relationships aren’t so much fixed, as they are built. It takes time to build trust and gain understanding. It even takes time to process our racial differences in our own minds. Setting an expectation of learning about your friend and even yourself is a process, not a one-time conversation. The more you build trust, the more vulnerable people may become, and the more likely they may be willing to share.  
  1. Acceptance and respect are a free gift. The goal in conversation is not to come to an agreement or to win one of you over to the other’s side. Acceptance means accepting the other person for who they are and respecting their very being, experiences, and realities. 
  1. You may hear some things that make you uncomfortable. You may hear about things you’ve done, what your family has done, or what the race you identify with has done. It can be difficult not to feel attacked. And on some things, even after thinking it through, you may still disagree. If you want to build a relationship, this isn’t the time to defend or justify. It’s time to be uncomfortable and seek understanding about racial differences. 
  1. Asking questions shows that you’re interested in the person and their story. Often, we spend the majority of our energy on seeking to win the discussion, prove our point, or show how much we know. When you ask questions from a place of curiosity and a desire to understand, you demonstrate an interest in your friend. This shows that you value them.
  1. Having a genuine relationship means genuinely acknowledging your friend’s realities. Their realities may contain experiences that seem totally foreign and impossible to you. Don’t deny their realities just because they seem unimaginable today. Hear them. Show empathy. Allow yourself into their world no matter how different it may be.
  1. Be willing to acknowledge messages shared through the media and how others may perceive those messages very differently. How two people receive media messaging may be completely different. What you see as just “news,” another may view as racism. Be open to seeing this through someone else’s eyes.
  1. People of any given race may have many shared experiences. However, they are still individuals with their own stories, beliefs, and personality. No one person can truly speak for an entire race (though some try). Yes, there are shared experiences that a black person experiences because they are black. Remember that your friend is an individual. How racial tension affects them may be different than what you see on social media or read in a book. 
  1. Be open to educating yourself about various cultures through research, books, documentaries, and museums. This can help you know questions to ask and things to be curious about. Don’t be surprised when they have not read or looked at the same material. Reading about your history can be difficult when you feel like you’re living the history. This doesn’t mean that you are now an expert. If anything, it should build your resolve to have more diverse interactions and meaningful relationships to further your understanding and enrich your life.
  1. Friendships work when both people feel valued, seen, and heard. This is a basic human need we all share. For too long, blacks and many others have felt unwanted, devalued, and marginalized. The civil unrest across the globe right now, at its core, is a scream to be valued as equals. Talking to your friend is about being part of the solution. Know that being part of the solution starts with valuing your friend enough so that they can be fully known by the people they are in relationships with.

Perfection is not the goal when it comes to relationships. When perfection and getting it absolutely right becomes a priority, then the fear of failure can keep us from taking the first step. Building and strengthening our relationships is at its best when we are able to share experiences and learn from each other to become better people ourselves.

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