Black History Month is upon us. October has been celebrated as Black History Month for nearly 30 years now, and it is testament to the importance of black history that there is indeed one month in the English calendar which is dedicated to it.
But isn’t it time for black history in the UK to be recognized for longer than just one month in the year? The truth is that black history is not just for – or about – black people. Black History Month is for everyone because black history is also British history – a fact that often goes unrecognized by non-black people in this country. All citizens of this country can, and should, learn from black history. Not just during October, but always.
Africans, Caribbeans and their descendents have contributed, to an unquantifiable degree, in the building, development and continued wealth of the UK. Their labour, often unaccounted for and unremunerated, is what makes this country – and the western world – what is it today.
It is said that you cannot understand who you are if you do not know where you come from. Many say that young black children today suffer from a lack of understanding of their history, but I would argue that the same is true of any British person who is unaware of the role of Africans and Caribbeans in their country’s history.
For that reason, it’s time to make black history something that is remembered, thought about and celebrated more than once a year. It is time to make black history part of the national curriculum and to teach it in history lessons; time to start regularly acknowledging the significant role that black people have played in the UK’s history to such a degree that it is as well known as England’s kings and queens.
I believe that this would foster a deeper understanding not only of African-Caribbean cultures and societies, but of English culture. It would encourage a sense of unity by demonstrating that African-Caribbeans and English are necessarily united. Maybe not by blood, but certainly by history.
Only a few months ago, the government released their report into the (under) achievement of young black men. One of the key recommendations was that more emphasis should be placed on positive black role models and leaders. Black History Month is an ideal time to raise awareness of black role models and leaders. Again, it is not only important that black people see this, but that the wider British population is exposed to the successes and achievements of black people.
This year’s BHM programme is varied, taking in a diverse range of topics and events, from black success in science to African photography. This diversity in programming is crucial in order to show that black history is not only to do with slavery. Nobody can deny the devastating impact of slavery. However, I believe that many young people do not want to learn about their past when it’s only to do with oppression and suffering.
In the bi-centennial year of the abolition of slavery, the topic will be high on the Black History Month agenda. However, it must be discussed in such as way so as to not only look back at the suffering, but to look at the great strides that have been made to date, and the learnings and lessons that will carry future generations forward. This is what can be used to inspire young black men and women, as well as provide crucial food for thought for all.
Archbishop Tutu sums my thoughts up perfectly when he says: “If we are to visit exhibits explaining the slave trade and how it came to be and how it ended, we must not walk away from such an exhibit merely feeling the sadness or pain from the sins of the past. We must use this opportunity to ask… critical questions”.
Black History Month should not be a token event in the UK’s calendar. Extending it – so that a knowledge of black history becomes more deeply ingrained into British culture – will ensure this is not the case. Using the past to provide positive fuel for moving forward is also key; we cannot change what has already happened, so let’s use the lessons for our future growth.
Black history is a living and breathing history, embodied by all of the African-Caribbeans as well as all of the English people living in this country today. Black history is British history and deserves to be celebrated all year round!
[This article was taken from my column on www.tmponline.org, written on 30 September]