Each October, we see brands launching advertising campaigns and social comms celebrating Black History Month, championing Black people, their stories, and experiences.
In the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement, it appears that, now more than ever, brands are making sure that Black History Month is on their activity calendar. This is encouraging, and does valuable work to improve racial awareness and show support towards Black members of the population, but is once a year enough?
Surely, now, we should celebrate and support Black culture throughout the year, and not just when reminded by a calendar hook?
Over the past year, there have been some (but few) examples of brands championing Black voices and stories at other points during the year, demonstrating that it does not need to be Black History Month to uplift and celebrate Black people.
In March, shoe brand Clarks Originals collaborated with Black-owned apparel and accessories brand FANGIRL to launch a new platform called #InHerShoes. The campaign aimed to help tell diverse stories through a series of content on its social channels, featuring five Black British women who are pushing culture forward.
While the campaign was launched in celebration of Women’s History Month, Clarks chose to focus on Black women, shining a light on the importance of intersectionality and how the experience of being both Black and a woman can bring unique experiences and challenges as well as a distinctive perspective on life and creativity.
What is more, while Clarks is a British brand, it has a longstanding relationship with the Black community, specifically in Jamaica, so it is encouraging to see the brand engaging in this positive way—more of this was also seen in The Clarks and Jamaica story-led campaign the following month.
In May, EA Sports launched its award-winning campaign, Long Live the Prince; a campaign created by ENGINE CREATIVE and centred around Kiyan Prince, a young footballer from Queens Park Rangers academy who was stabbed to death while protecting his friend from a knife attack.
To mark what would have been his 30th birthday, EA Sports, launched Prince as a playable QPR character on EA Sports' FIFA 21. Kiyan’s story is a tragic one, and the campaign’s impact relied upon the launch coinciding with his birthday, rather than waiting to be part of Black History Month. Like all Black people, Kiyan existed outside of the month of October and while his story will go down in Black history, there is clearly a compelling reason to tell it at other times of the year.
In September, Channel 4 launched its 'Black to Front' series of programming, as part of an ongoing commitment to improve Black representation on-screen and more widely in the TV industry.
For one day, the channel exclusively broadcast programming featuring Black presenters, actors, writers and experts, contributors, and programme-makers, including one-off episodes of regular TV shows.
I tuned in to watch a few of the programmes, including Love it or List it (a personal favourite of mine) and watched as everyone in the entire programme, including hosts and participants, were all Black people. It was still the show that I loved but this time with Black people hosting—what is not to enjoy?
As a person of colour, I have grown up watching entire TV shows featuring only white people on screen. After many years it is something I have grown accustomed to, but why shouldn’t I see only Black people on a TV programme?
Why was this move considered so ground-breaking?
This only demonstrated how important representation is; seeing Black people perform with ease roles that are usually dominated by white people.
This was a forward-thinking move by Channel 4, showing their commitment to diversity, and not just during October.
However, I do hope that one day we see well-balanced, diverse, and equitably cast TV shows without needing a special day of programming.
All year round.
So, while Black History Month is a timely way to shine a light on promoting racial diversity, and any of these campaigns would have been great during the month of October, it is important we remember that Black history and present-day stories exist throughout the year—there is nothing stopping us telling them when it feels right and in a modern society it should be second nature to do so.
With these campaigns as inspiration, I hope that as we move towards 2022 and beyond, championing Black people in communications is going to be something we see more often and throughout the year.