I’ve said it before and I will say it again …
But there is no potluck I hate more than the Black History Month potluck. And I don’t like the catered luncheons much either.
Why? Because the menu and format typically cater to pervasive negative stereotypes about Black Americans. Seriously. What the %&#@ do fried chicken, collard greens, black eyed peas and cornbread really have to do with Black History??
Yes, I know Black people eat these things — but spaghetti, lamb chops and souvlaki were just as common in my house growing up as any of those things. Throw in some hamhocks, turkey necks, watermelon and a little kinte cloth — and you’ve hit all the cliches.
Oh and the mac&cheese. Can’t forget the mac&cheese.
So while the intention is to acknowledge and celebrate the contributions of Black Americans during Black History Month, the opposite effect is what often happens. It ends up leaving everyone confused, uncomfortable and sometimes downright offended. Not cool.
But at least everyone eats good.
My current organization does nothing special to acknowledge Black History Month. Some people find that offensive too. I don’t because I know it’s not meant to slight anyone or because they do not care about the Black people or other minorities in the organization. On the contrary, they choose not to do anything rather than do something halfway that would end up creating more harm than good. And I am OK with that.
Still sometimes, I miss the excitement and celebration that the Black History Month luncheon brings. And I’ve seen some nice twists over the years that have made the event really special. Here are a few of my favorites:
- Interactive display. Set aside a place to highlight art, music, books and movies from Black Americans with explanations of the historical significance. Allow employees to make their own contributions and/or borrow items from the display with approval.
- Field trip. Many cities have Black History museums and/or displays around this time of year. Take a field trip or offer complimentary tickets for interested employees.
- Scavenger hunt. Black inventors are responsible for a lot of the office equipment and medical advances which make our lives so great . Create some clues and send teams on a hunt around the office for learning and prizes. The Black Inventor Online website is a great place to start for help with making clues.
- Trivia Bowl. Form trivia teams and battle it out with questions about Black American history for learning and prizes. It’s an easy activity to add as a part of the Black History Month luncheon, too. The Fun Trivia website has some great samples to help get started.
- Costume Party. Let employees choose to dress up as their favorite, well-known Black American, similar to how many dress up for Halloween. Be clear with employees on what types of costumes are acceptable. The last thing you want is for someone to show up dressed in black face paint or a loin cloth or something stupid. Consider drawing names from a hat to keep any mishaps to a minimum.
Whatever you decide, if you choose to plan Black History Month festivities for your organization, make sure it’s done in a way that is respectful and inclusive. And please schedule it before the last Friday of the month — because the stereotype about Black people being last minute with planning and tardy for every party shouldn’t be perpetuated, either.