Since 1976, every U.S. president has officially designated February as a time to remember and reflect on African American history. Sprouting out of Carter G. Woodson's "Negro History Week" from 1926, it also aims to demonstrate the value of Black America by using history to promote equality.
"If a race has no history, if it has no worthwhile tradition, it becomes a negligible factor in the thought of the world," Woodson wrote on the commemoration of the week.
In recent years, though, more and more companies have used Black History Month for their own marketing efforts and products. Syndicated religion columnist Rev. Irene Monroe and dean of African studies at Berklee College of Music the Rev. Dr. Emmett G. Price III, who together host the podcast All Rev'd Up, told Boston Public Radio on Monday that corporations need to do better.
This month, retailer Target received backlash for selling magnets from Bendon Publishing that misidentified illustrations of historic figures Carter G. Woodson, Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. Du Bois.
"They mislabeled some of the most significant individuals within American history, not just Black history," Price said. "To think that the manufacturing process — which is not a 30-second or 30-minute process — nobody caught this? Nobody at any juncture of the quality control process caught the fact that they were mislabeled."
"There's nobody Black in those high places where they need to be. That's what that really suggests," Monroe added.
Target, in a statement to NPR, said it would stop selling the magnets in their stores and notify Bendon Publishing of the errors. However, the mistake is not the only issue, according to Monroe.
"It does bother me the way they think they can repackage Woodson, Washington and Du Bois as a product. It's just absolutely repugnant," Monroe added. "But I need to say this here: We've seen this a number of times."
She compared it to an instance in which she said Dodge Ram misappropriated a central message in Martin Luther King Jr.'s 1968 speech "The Drum Major Instinct."
"The one thing that King rallied against [was] materialism, and especially using a car," she said.
However, these instances don't stop there, according to Monroe. Around a year prior, in 2017, Pepsi aired a controversial commercial starring Kendall Jenner using the famous image of African American mother Ieshia Evans, who in 2016 peacefully confronted police during a Black Lives Matter protest in Baton Rouge.
In a February 2018 article, she wrote that the advertisement "preyed on racial and ethnic stereotypes" in an attempt to expand its consumer base.
"When it comes to African Americans, we seem to be OK for photo op moments, for cash cow moments," Monroe said, "but never for having a real conversation of what Carter Woodson had intended for this month to be."