Black History Month UK – Let’s Do Better

Cede the floor. Pass the mic. Move from the middle. 

I was born in Jamaica, and grew up in Trinidad and Barbados. I just got my Ancestry results back (more on that later) and the tl;dr is that I’m Blackity Black Black Black. (Mostly. Because slavery.) ✊🏾✊🏾✊🏾✊🏾✊🏾✊🏾✊🏻

A lifetime ago, I was a trained dancer.

A lifetime ago, I was semi-fluent in French.

A lifetime ago I found myself living in France, teaching ESL.

I missed dancing, so one evening I went out to danser un peu with a girl who had befriended me. We were cutting a rug in the bar, and then some Bob Marley came on. (They LOVE some Brotha Bob!!)

Additional context:

Phenotypically, she and her forebears hailed from the territories in Zhun of Caucay. It appeared that they had been existing unseasoned, unwashed, and unable to find the beat, for centuries.

(Don’t come at me for the “unwashed” comment. The metro in summer is not for the faint of heart or sharp of nose. There is a reason why French perfume is so good. It’s a necessity.)

Ok so…Bob Marley comes on, and my Jamaican, Barbadian, Trinidadian, rigorously trained dancer’s body starts moving to the music I have known my entire life. This pale person, who had taken one “Caribbean Dance” class, proceeds to tell me that I am “not doing the dance right.” She then took my hands in hers to guide me in the right way to dance to reggae. Because, you know…she had taken a class. 😐

Jump cut to present day:

This is how a lot of y’all – you know who you are –  look and sound co-opting cultures that aren’t yours.

This is how you look and sound leading initiatives, movements, and companies that are not yours to lead.

This is how you look and sound on your monochromatic panels, regurgitating what you stole from us, cosplaying thought leadership.

Your weekend course – your “one dance class” – does not make you more qualified than those of us with lived, embodied experience.

We are qualified by LIFE.

  • Don’t make yourselves look ridiculous by trying to teach back to us what we already know.
  • Don’t make yourselves look mediocre by showing up with only pale skin and privilege while we present ourselves with experience, education, degrees, and qualifications.
  • Don’t make yourselves look opportunistic by siphoning our experiences second-hand, and trying to profit from them. It’s giving Robin DiAngelo.

During Black History Month UK (and, tbh, in general), we implore you to:

Shift back.

Step aside.

Cede the floor.

This is our time.

Pass. The. Mic.

It was never yours to begin with. It was stolen, along with our bodies, treasures, cultures, artefacts, ideas, and opportunities.

Run it back.

 

P.S. Agreed: “Not all,” but way too many. If it don’t apply, then scroll on by.

P.P.S. You should already have booked (and PAID) your BHMUK speakers, but BHMUS is coming up. Start sourcing Black speakers now. Don’t wait til Jan. 15 to reach out with “exposure” opportunities.

Pipeline problem, you say? No such thing. Please reference the Black Speakers Collection.

Also: Black speakers don’t only “do” DEI. We are experts in a variety of fields and topics.

End scene.


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Unless otherwise stated, text and images ©Lisa Hurley

Comments

  1. Frisco Benton says:

    Hello Ms. Hurley,
    Thanks very much for the powerful insight. I wonder if you could make time to provide me with your honest feedback about how I could support underprivileged communities of color as a white male.

    Some context, I grew up in foster care surrounded by people with less privilege than me, and was supported and nourished by black communities. My goal is to support underprivileged people since I believe that when we support those suffering the most, as a society, we all benefit. I plan to do this by creating initiatives for poor single mothers in black and brown communities as a way to stem the cycle of poverty.

    I also, am committing all of my potential success (if I ever experience any at all) to providing opportunity for the one community (the black community) that provided me with support when I had no where else to turn. I am capable, intelligent, and I have an innovative mind that I am still learning to harness (though admittedly, I am still not there yet). I understand the support portion of this well written piece, but I wonder if I should just stop trying to help and let my black brothers and sisters take the lead. I mean, it is more than due as you aptly pointed out. And who am I to believe that any innovation I ever craft will be better or more valuable, in any iteration, than that of those who actually experience the challenges first hand? And if this is truly my goal in life, and I should step back, then really what is the point? Better that I am not here. It would be best for me to simply leave it to the folks who actually built the modern world, not the ones who took credit for it.

    I must admit, your piece was difficult to read, and I would appreciate your insight if you could spare a moment. I want you to know that I am very glad you wrote this and I appreciate you sharing this very important topic with the world.

    P.S. Not that it matters, but I also did a genetic profile since my mother was ethnically European and my father was ethnically African. So while I am a white man with blue eyes and otherwise indistinguishable from any other white man on the street, it surprises most how dynamic my experiences and roots actually are. Thus the inquiry is both real and complex.

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