I have a problem with heritage months. Yes, I said it!
My problem is this: Heritage months — like Black History, Women’s History, and more — create silos.
While a week devoted to Black history was a bold idea a century ago (that’s right, Black History Month started as a week in February, 1926), it’s largely outlasted its usefulness.
Why? Because people should be celebrated for themselves at all times, not for how we want to categorize them and when we want to celebrate them. And when heritage months become the only impetus to diversify programming, celebration, and acknowledgment at work, well… It's a start, but it’s not a strong one.
People defy categorization
Take Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson: what month will she be celebrated in? February or March? What about Justice Sotomayor? Is she celebrated in March, or from September 15 to October 15th? Or do Latinx people just celebrate her in general?
What does it help to confine our celebrations and acknowledgement of these Justices to one or two months alone?
It’s like cramming for an exam. You shove all your learning into one night and then forget everything you studied as soon as you put your pencil down. When you shove all recognition, acknowledgement, and action into one month, nothing sticks and no long term impact is made.
History — Black, Neurodiverse, Asian and Pacific Islander, LBGTQ+ and more — is 365 days per year.
If I could wave my magic Kimberly wand and change how we relate to history, I would rehaul education first. The education system (including college) teaches sanitized White history. This pervasive narrative keeps the contributions of other peoples and identities siloed and minimized.
If we taught history from the perspectives of all, we would celebrate Justices Jackson and Sotomayor all year.
And while my wand is working in the background, there are two ways workplaces can move from ally to accomplice when it comes to celebrating heritage and identity:
Culture. Highlight your employees of all backgrounds when they’re doing great work. Otherwise it’s tokenism, period. Talk about how their identities, experiences, and heritage are woven into the fabric of your culture all year.
Education. Don’t shove events for Black people in February and Asian folks in May. We need intentional, integrated curricula that celebrate badassery all year. Think about it: people are born all year. Monumental events happen all year. There’s no reason why you’d need to commemorate women in March alone.
When I talk with my nephew, I like to ask him who he admires, in school or popular culture, and why. It would be bizarre if I asked him which folx he looked up to only in the month of June, now wouldn’t it?
History is shared. When we segment history into 28 or 31 days chunks, we’re robbing ourselves of our rich collective history. We’re also reinforcing this message: we only see and honor your identity once a year during a certain month and we’re not going to acknowledge your full, intersectional identities.
Okay Kimberly, you might be thinking. Do you want to do away with heritage months entirely?
No. They have served a purpose and I honor that. But they can’t be where the conversation stops. It’s my hope that one day, you and I will both look back on heritage months as quaint allyship efforts we and our accomplices swiftly outgrew.
Curious what I mean when I say allyship or accomplice? My book The Allyship Challenge has the details and the how-to’s.
All the best,