Every year, February is used to honor historical leaders of black culture and celebrate the various heritages within black identity. From wearing traditional clothes to donning certain hairstyles, there are many things black people do to embrace who they are this month. As black people celebrate their culture, there are a few things they shouldn’t have to deal with. PRISM put together a list of what you should and shouldn’t do.
Don’t: Use the N-word if you’re not black
While it’s probably in your favorite hip-hop song, it definitely shouldn’t be in your vocabulary. The word has historically been used by nonblack people to demean black people. For example, white slave owners used the word to disrespect their black slaves, so to now hear white people use it “casually” is unsettling. Since this word has been used against black people, they have the right to reclaim its usage. This is very similar to women and the B-word.
When used in a context between women, it can be used in a lighthearted manner, sometimes even as a term of endearment. But when used in a context between a man and woman the word takes on a different and derogatory meaning. If you think a woman has the right to decide if she doesn’t want the B-word to be used against or around her, then black people have the right to decide if they don’t want the N-word used against or around them. Overwhelmingly, they don’t.
Don’t: Touch someone’s hair
For many people of color, hair is tied to their identity. Eurocentric beauty standards have glorified straight hair, but recently, natural hair has come back in style. All people use hair as a vehicle of self-expression, so randomly touching anyone’s hair can be considered rude. But for people of color it can feel belittling — it can make them feel less than human. It’s obvious that we all have different hair textures, but don’t be weird and just touch someone’s hair because it piques your curiosity. Even if you ask someone first and they agree, chances are, they’re saying yes because they’re too uncomfortable to say no.
Do: Learn the difference between cultural appropriation and cultural appreciation
Cultural appropriation is a relatively new concept, but in practice, it has existed since the creation of the United States. But because the term is fairly new, the line between honoring someone’s culture and appropriating it remains blurry for some. Cultural appropriation is when someone takes something that originated in one culture and credits its origin to another culture. An example of this could be sporting cornrows.
This hairstyle is used by black people to maintain and protect their hair, keeping it neat and stylish. While someone like Kim Kardashian can rock cornrows (though they don’t really suit her hair texture), she shouldn’t call them “Bo Derek braids” when she does it. In naming these braids after a white actress who wore them in a movie, Kardashian has totally neglected the true origin of the hairstyle. Respecting a culture requires research. So before you wear a traditional clothing item or a certain hairstyle, understand what it’s really for and decide whether or not you should indulge.
Don’t: Question the existence of Black History Month
Black History Month is meant to honor the contributions of black people to the United States. And while we do learn about black history in schools, it’s covered extremely quickly and without much detail. This month shows that black culture goes past hip-hop music and that black history is more than just slavery and the civil rights movement. Black History Month is really just a small attempt to provide the American people with a perspective that’s different from the status quo.
Do: Stand up against microaggressions
Microaggressions can be tough to catch because you often have to mentally revisit the situation to understand what really happened. For many students of color, however, they’re not hard to recognize. A microaggression is a subtle but offensive comment or action that targets a minority.
It can be used to demean them or the minority group they are a part of. For example, asking a biracial person “What are you?” is a microaggression. But microaggressions aren’t just limited to race. People from other marginalized groups such as people with mental illness or members of the LGBTQ community can also be victims of microaggressions. At first listen, many people may overlook microaggressions made against or around them, but they shouldn’t.
They should use the moment to educate. Explain to whoever made the comment how it made you feel and why it was problematic. Whether or not they knew what they were doing was wrong, calling them out may prevent them from doing it again and can allow them to spread the knowledge to others.
Don’t: Forget these points once the month ends
Humans are creatures of habit, so this may be a little difficult, but we need to generate more safe spaces. It can take an emotional toll on black students to go through some of the things mentioned on this list. So, in order to develop a better and more inclusive environment for all students, let’s try and respect people’s cultures.