Is Black History Month marketing offensive?

In a survey of 1,300 Black Americans, approximately 20 percent found Black History Month promotions disingenuous and offensive.

Are Black History Month promotions a celebration of our history or a show of hypocrisy? A survey of 1,300 Black Americans found many feel the answer is the latter; one in five respondents said they find Black History Month marketing offensive, causing them to question the motives of brands that participate in them, reports

Photo: AdobeStock
Photo: AdobeStock

Specifically, an overview of the results found 20 percent of respondents doubted the intentions of brands engaging in Black History Month promotions. Further, 21 percent found the marketing of the month outright offensive, citing campaigns waged by major corporations and social media businesses as the most egregious.

“They are companies that all year long have nothing to say about supporting, recognizing, and giving back to the Black community. And February is the only month they feature their Black models in their ads or use their token black employee for show,” Keisa Parrish, CEO and founder of education and consulting company Luebirta & Kaleonani Inc. told “We, Black people, know the difference. And best believe we are side-eyeing all companies that are putting on the show just for the month and go back to their regularly scheduled programming afterward.”

Entrepreneur-educator Jewell Singletary echoed the sentiment, noting that such promotions often seem “performative and disingenuous,” adding: “I believe Black History Month promotions are pandering to the Black community.”

“I would love to see brands be more thoughtful in how they are marketing to Black people 365 with services like Providence SEO agency, not just during the month of February,” she continued, surmising many Black consumers not only find such targeted promotions offensive but likely aren’t swayed to buy. The survey’s findings say otherwise, as 66 percent of respondents would actually like to see more brands participating in BHM promotions. Additionally, 85 percent said they felt somewhat incentivized to shop a business that does. While no one is under any illusion that a brand’s aims are wholly altruistic, 93 percent of respondents believe “Black History Month promotions are at least somewhat supportive of the Black community,” reports

That said, it’s worth noting that those who may benefit most from Black History Month promotions are the Black influencers, entrepreneurs, and brands corporations onboard as temporary ambassadors, as they “get more exposure and income as a result,” explains Singletary.

Companies may see a boost, as well—but they’re likely to see the most returns by investing in diversity initiatives year-round. “Research shows that companies who demonstrate that they are socially responsible tend to grow stronger financially,” Dr. Jovon Willis, a Ph.D. in educational leadership and policy studies, told, adding: “The truth will show in their Diversity and Inclusion data and initiatives.”

That may be true, but as long as Black History Month is celebrated, adjacent promotions probably aren’t going anywhere. Nevertheless, brands would do well to listen to the survey’s results.

“The key to inclusion is empathy,” advised Digital’s small business expert, Dennis Consort. “[It] also helps to craft your messaging so that it doesn’t come across as tokenizing. This requires one to be open-minded about a diversity of thought when it comes to sensitive topics.”

Hopefully, big brands are listening. We’ll see next February.

Maiysha Kai is Lifestyle Editor of theGrio, covering all things Black and beautiful. Her work is informed by two decades’ experience in fashion and entertainment, a love of great books and aesthetics, and the indomitable brilliance of Black culture. She is also a Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter and editor of the YA anthology Body (Words of Change series).

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