Black History Month has come and gone, but people are already gearing up next year as the celebration has become big business. While there is no accounting of just how much is spent and made on Black History Month (BHM), the figures are growing. Last year, Americans spent $437.6 billion during the winter holidays (which included Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa), according to the National Retail Federation.
While Black History Month retail sales have not neared that number, the cultural holiday is becoming more and more commercial. BHM started as “Negro History Week” in 1926 and has been celebrated annually since 1976 in The United States and Canada in February and in the United Kingdom in the month of October.
Along with Juneteenth and Kwanzaa, BHM has continued to expand its popularity.
“The American history that is taught and revered still does not accurately and consistently reveal the many contributions of African-Americans. Due to the continued efforts of Black Americans and others who understand the significance of knowing our full history, Black History Month has become more widely celebrated and, thus, more commercial. Additionally, let us not overlook the fact that businesses now recognize the positive impact on their bottom line when they visibly support Black History education, celebrations and other diversity and inclusion efforts,” notes Lenora Billings-Harris, author of Trailblazers: How Top Business Leaders are Accelerating Results through Inclusion and Diversity.
With more and more U.S. cities organizing official BHM events, there is more money to be made.”I do think that Black History Month has become commercialized. Diversity celebrations that lack substance have contributed to the watering down of the critical issues associated with diversity. I like a good art show, fashion show, or festival as much as the next person, but my idea of “celebration” is making sure people get their fair share of the opportunity they have earned,” explains Janet Smith, co-founder and president of IVY Planning Group, a 20-year-old management consulting and training company that specializes in diversity, strategy and change management. And with commericalism, says Smith, comes a watering down of the month’s meaning.
“BHM has become a time for them to demonstrate just how out of touch many companies are, such as NBC’s “BHM menu” or “celebrate Black History Month with Heinken”? Ridiculous! While mistakes happen in corporate America, they are more likely to happen when senior leadership has failed to lift up diversity as a core business, mission-critical enabler of success…Companies benefit from the earning power of the Black marketplace, yet do not commit to having a management team that reflects that marketplace. When BHM highlights what each of us should do to honor our past by continuing to make that kind of progress, February will be a month to look forward to.”