Tis the season for Black History Month gigs!
It’s that time of year when black performers, writers and artists get more emails than any other time of year combined. Black creative types work on their craft and hone their talents all year long waiting for those February-only offers to come pouring in, so here are ten easy things you can do to make the experience smooth for all concerned parties.
- Tell us upfront if the gig pays.Don’t make things awkward out the gate. Many of us are used to working for free – we’ve been doing it for 400 years – but if you have a budget and we’re not part of it and you’re putting on a black-centered event, we’d like to know that going in. Don’t make us the bad guy for asking for our value.
- Pay us.
If you have a Black History Month event and you’re not paying the actual black people working the event, you’re…well, I think you get it. Don’t be a reenactor!
- Stop white supremacy.
You can save a ton of money by switching to non-racism and making Black History Month moot. I can’t think of a black person who wouldn’t prefer actual liberty over being asked to sing “Lift Every Voice and Sing” for the one-thousandth time.
- Treat us like we know Barack Obama personally.
He’s unemployed now. He might make the trip if we call and tell him you’re over here at a gig acting up.
- Ask a black friend about theme before you offer.
This used to be a request to stop asking us to do off-color things like dancing in banana suits or in places where we had to eat in the kitchen. Nowadays it’s more about not asking us to do yet another Harlem Renaissance trivia contest or a civil rights reenactment because those are the only two black things you know.
- Try booking it in the evening.
Black artists are largely forced to work day jobs because we only get these gigs one month out of the year. It’s harder for us to do it if we have to use time off from our regular, not-February-caring jobs to come perform.
- Be open to changing the event if we think there’s a problem.
We’ll probably take the gig, but if you don’t want us to advertise it or not talk bad about it and you afterwards, take our word on the problematic sing-a-long or Rosa Parks look-a-like contest.
- Let us sell merchandise.
This should be a gimme on any gig, but I’m going to say it louder for the ones in the back who don’t pay.
- Tell us if a luminary will be present.
If the mayor we’ve been railing about on social media for the past year is going to be there, let us know so we can opt out and not look like sellouts, or at least get “Who Voted For this Guy?!” out of the set list.
- Do your homework about me.
I have social media, YouTube videos, books and an actual website. Even a cursory glance should let you know that you probably shouldn’t ask me to come speak to your middle school class, even for Black History Month. Don’t ask us to come do something that we don’t do. We prefer to play to our strengths, even if the money is there.