If you spent any time on the internet during the month of February, you probably noticed that major companies recognized Black History Month with graphic treatments on their websites and platforms, spotlights on Black makers, and limited-edition launches. YouTube had a new Black History Month-themed logo on the platform each week; Apple launched an array of initiatives; and the NBA partnered with Nike to create new, league-wide warm-up shirts that read “Built by Black History.” Take a look at just about any major brand and, chances are, it used art and design to honor Black history over the past few weeks.
With February in the rearview mirror, it seemed like a good time for a pressure test. Were these authentic branding initiatives, or merely performative? To find out, I spoke with four experts: Maurice Woods, principal design lead at Microsoft and founder of the Inneract Project; Bobby C. Martin Jr., founder of Champions Design; artist and illustrator Jonathan Key; and Schessa Garbutt, founder of creative agency Firebrand.
Most saw Black History Month brand treatments as a good thing—but only when they were backed up by actions and values year-round. As Woods put it, “You ask most people of color, they want a Black history year.”