Celebrating Black History Month

Sheree Atcheson
Celebrating Black History Month

October 1 marked the beginning of Black History Month in the U.K., Ireland, and Netherlands, which began as a way of remembering important people and events in the history of the African diaspora and highlighting the achievements and contributions of black people. 

Black History Month has always been an important part of the year, but it may now be more urgent and necessary than ever before. Since the death of George Floyd at the hands of police brutality, more than 4500 protests globally have called for the end of systemic racism and abuse against Black people. This year has forced many people to face and openly talk about the reality of systemic racism for the first time, a pivotal conversation and recognition that is necessary and long overdue. 

Black History is not limited to one month… it’s a way of life.

Black History Month plays a crucial role in our year just as black people are essential to our countries: we all must remember, honour, and celebrate the Black communities and their history that has been integral to all of us. As was discussed in our recent panel discussion, Black history is history. It’s the history of the U.K., U.S., Canada, Denmark, and so many other countries around the world. Let’s continue to elevate it so it cannot be forgotten or ignored in our classrooms, living rooms, and boardrooms.

How are we building a more diverse and inclusive community?

Peakon has 230 employees across London, Copenhagen, Berlin, Auckland, and New York. We will be sharing our employee breakdowns in our first annual Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion report soon, and we will continue to ensure we are supporting all of our current and future Peakons from Black communities.

We have rolled out bias and allyship training, and have been running regular discussion groups company-wide on topics such as what it means to have Black hair, white privilege, and more. We will be rolling out anti-Black racism training covering the historical inequity against Black people that has led us to where we are now, alongside useful resources in being a proactive non-Black ally, and how to raise anti-racist children.

Bringing important conversations to the forefront

For Black History Month, we wanted to bring these conversations to the forefront again. We hosted an engaging discussion with all Peakons on the 14th of October, where we had a panel with Rochelle Malcolm (Modern European History PhD Student), Tony Kissack (Account Executive), Yvonne Nakato (Customer Success Manager) and Varisse Colphon (Client Onboarding Specialist), facilitated by myself, as our Global Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. Black History Month Panelists

Main panel discussion takeaways

In our hour-long event, we talked about Black History as a way of life, not just a month or moment in time. Our main takeaways were:

Black history is history

In the U.K., Black History Month was first celebrated in October 1987. Black history existed long before this, but it wasn’t amplified or showcased. For decades, Black people haven’t had their stories told in mainstream media or non-Black circles. Whilst they have celebrated and shared stories within different Black communities, these points in history have not always made it to non-Black people’s education, such as in school curriculums or company-wide educational pieces. It’s important that we all spend time educating ourselves on the history of Black communities that has shaped everything that we do.

Allies must move past awareness

Many people have not been aware of the systemic racism that Black people face, due to their privilege to disengage. They have started to become more aware, however, as this summer has been a wakeup call for many. But we need people to move past awareness to actively make a difference. 

Our group’s call to action for allies was to understand that racism is more than just violent acts. Educate yourself and your friend/family groups on the systemic racism that Black people face and recognise your privilege to disengage – remembering that those who do not have that privilege deal with an extra emotional tax to simply exist, work, and live.

Colourism plays a role in society and opportunities

It is a form of prejudice or discrimination in which people who are usually members of the same race are treated differently based on the social implications that come with the cultural meanings attached to skin color. 

For example, a study showed that Black women deemed to have a lighter skin tone received more lenient prison sentences and served less time behind bars. Another example is the “paper bag” test, used to determine if someone is the “right” tone. This has a real impact on media representation and its support (or lack thereof) of dark-skinned Black people – specifically Black women. It’s important that we recognise the harsher, unfair treatment of people due to the darkness of the skin and how we must challenge ourselves and those around us. 

Racism isn’t always violent and aggressive; it’s a spectrum

Many people see racism as overtly violent actions such as police brutality or lynching – and it is very clearly those things, but it is also much more subtle and nuanced. The group shared examples of microaggressions, such as being viewed as “one of the good ones”, people commenting that their cultural norms such as celebrating someone after death were weird, and people making comments on hair or how people look. 

The group asked everyone to really consider their role in being anti-racist, actively understanding the impact of these micro-aggressions on them – these comments do not have a “micro” effect on the people receiving them.

Celebrate yourself and those around you

Black History Month is a time of celebration as well as education and awareness. We asked each panelist who they were celebrating. 

Ebony Thomas performing WASHA by Mthuthuzeli
Ebony Thomas performing WASHA by Mthuthuzeli. Photo by Camilla Greenwell.

Varisse is celebrating her mother, who she said has had a huge impact on her life and continues to provide so much inspiration for her. Tony is celebrating Septimius Severus who was the first ever Black Roman emperor who helped strengthen Hadrian’s Wall. Rochelle is celebrating Ballet Black (a professional ballet company that celebrates dancers of Black and Asian descent). And Yvonne is celebrating herself as a champion of her own work, continuing to push herself and reach her own goals.

What’s next?

We will be continuing our regular monthly discussions on topics relating to Black people and specific Black issues, embedding training into all of Peakon’s employee lifecycles to ensure we are all being anti-racist, understanding the implications of all of our actions, and more. We have also started to share our roles on BYP Network’s job board, to help ensure we are reaching a diverse group of talented people. As we go on our DE&I journey, we will continue to share this progress with you all.

In the coming weeks, we will be sharing our first DE&I report, which will highlight our employee breakdowns, DE&I strategy, and the different areas of focus for all of us at Peakon. We are excited to go on this journey with you all and continue to prioritise inclusion in all that we do at Peakon.

Autor - Sheree Atcheson