An open letter about Black History Month

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Haywood Watkins III writes:

The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to a distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. And they have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. 

We cannot walk alone. 

And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead.

“I Have a Dream” by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1963

Dear Black History Month marketers,

I grew up with subdued resentment and an unspoken vendetta fostered by media and marketing that was brought to center stage one month of each year, Black History Month. Each February I was met with images of Emmett Till, Rosa Parks, and Dr. King and the consistent thread  amongst all stories, whether overt or covert, was the transgression of white people. The month of February signaled 28 days of separate but equal to somehow pay homage to those who fought ferociously against that very ideology.

Carter G. Woodson, the creator of the first Black History Week (later extended to Black History Month), never intended for the week or month to always remain. He hoped that the need for distinction would be eliminated when black history became a fundamental piece of America’s history. I do not think we have arrived at a place socially where Black History Month has outlived its purpose, but I strongly believe the current execution of the Month is doing more harm than good. There is richness to the history that is being overlooked that deserves to be told holistically and unabridged.

Black History Month is not a month for African Americans. It is a month for all. It is a time to reflect not on travesty, but achievement. Advances created not in spite of race, but accomplished by people able to look beyond it. February should be more than a reflection of subbed-in black faces. It should be a depiction of progress made, together. Viola Liuzzo, Vernon Dahmer, and Levi Coffin among many others knew this to be true. I think it is time that, as marketers, we did as well.

To honor their sacrifice Jon Ransom and I created a Black History Month campaign entitled, White Faces of Black History. This campaign brings to light untold stories of Black History focusing on various contributors overlooked perhaps due to the color of their skin. It is our hope that this campaign shows first hand that people can identify beyond their assigned identity and that common ground lies wherever individuals decide to place it.

So if we believe the content of one’s character trumps the importance of his or her skin then our Black History Month marketing must change. In other words, Black History Month can no longer be a one-sided depiction of society past, present, or future. And for King’s dream to continue to become a reality neither can the other eleven months of the year.

Still dreaming,

Haywood R. Watkins III

The above picture is one of several postings in Brooklyn, NY of the White Faces of Black History Campaign. This particular posting is a showcase of Viola Liuzzo, who was shot twice in the head by a FBI agent for supporting local civil rights marchers by driving them home. 

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