UPDATE: March 3, 2023: This story was updated to identify the HR professional who started the Twitter conversation cited about fewer bookings during Black History Month.
As February silently winds down, so too is what leaders in the space are characterizing as a quiet Black History Month.
In a tweet posted in mid-February, Madison Butler, a human resources professional lamented that she had only been booked once for Black History Month — a time when her calendar typically fills up with at least 15 engagements. Her tweet received more than 1,000 likes and was widely shared, resonating with others who normally speak to the Black experience during February. While the author didn’t respond to a request to speak to HR Dive, several others who reacted to the tweet shared their thoughts.
“This is a warning sign that a lot of people should be taking very seriously,” Mary Pryor, senior director of strategy at talent management agency Wasserman, told HR Dive. “It’s almost like the internet and everyone else, I feel, is giving this ‘I’m-over-it’ energy on anything relating to Black history or Black voice when, in reality, there are still extremely concerning deaths of Black people by police, even other Black police.”
Pryor, who normally secures speaking engagements and partnerships during Black History Month, said the noticeable change in Black History Month discussions points to a larger cultural shift. States are limiting how Black history is taught and companies are cutting DEI departments as part of larger layoffs, she said.
“There’s a lot there that has to be a real gut check,” said Pryor, who also is co-founder of Cannaclusive, an organization focused on promoting the fair representation of minority cannabis consumers. “It has to come down to more than the bottom line.”
Farah Harris, a workplace belonging and well-being expert and CEO of consulting firm WorkingWell Daily, said many companies that were clear about their position on race in 2020 have gone silent. She noted some outliers, like Ben & Jerry’s.
“It’s been very quiet, and it’s been quiet on not just the requests but just what organizations are vocal about. In the last two years, we’ve seen a change,” said Harris. “We’re trying to go back to pre-March 2020 in all things. It’s not just in quieting the conversations around DEI, it is also quieting any conversation that addresses a refreshing newness talking about the human experience in the workplace.”
For example, despite employee preferences and health concerns, she said, companies are making workers return to the office, instead of working remotely.
Harris worries about a lack of will to address long-standing race issues in the workplace. Even if a company focuses on LBGT or disability issues, often the most marginalized person is a Black woman or a Black trans woman, she said.
“It’s not that those other marginalized groups aren't important; they are. However, if we don't address the race issue, we can't address those other issues,” Harris said.
Companies, she said, need to figure out their priorities and follow the lead of workers who have gone through a period of reflection during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I think organizations need to have their own Great Awakening, as well, to evaluate what is their mission, what is their vision and what is the culture they want to have and to be honest,” Harris said.
Nydia Simone, founder of Blactina Media, a media company that promotes the Black Latinx point of view, said a lot of the people she worked with on partnerships at larger corporations have been laid off.
“A lot of those people aren’t there anymore,” she said. “It’s Black History Month, but I don’t see any of those bookings.”
I feel like everyone who would have booked me got laid off.— Nydiasimone ???????? (@nydiasimone) February 15, 2023
Back in 2020, it seemed like people were “trying to throw money at us,” Simone said. “I feel like everybody is expecting that now.”
Simone worries that Black History Month has become commodified and that instead of resting and celebrating being Black and the Black experience, Black people feel more pressure to educate White people.
“The root of it is celebration. I hope that hasn’t gotten lost,” Simone said.