Black History Month (BHM) in the UK is celebrated in October, and we wondered what the recent protests after the murder of George Floyd and the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement have inspired people and communities all over the UK to do, any special projects or initiatives this year.
But why it is essential to give importance to black history month? Because Black history is British history. The cherry picking of history, the focus on only the palatable aspects of history, means that we are all poorer – poorer in thought and knowledge. We have presented history as Swiss cheese for years, with huge gaping holes, BHM is an attempt to fill some of those holes. It is also important because it allows the non-Black communities to learn or, at least, become aware of what essentially is part of their own history that they have been denied, given its absence from schools' curricula. The consequence of which is that history is being taught in a sanitised and exclusionary fashion.
Honestly, I would like to see plans to mainstream Black history in history curricula, presented in historical and cultural contexts and certainly no further attempts to dilute or rebrand BHM as “Diversity Month”. Racism and Xenophobia are born of ignorance; therefore, if history is imparted at an early stage in the education sector, then people will understand, for example, why the Empire Windrush brought Caribbean immigrants to this country and there would be no need for them to question what they see. And, more importantly, the dissemination of outrageous stereotypes against a section of society would cease.
Maybe in the future there will be no need for BHM, because our books and TV screens will show us as we are, contributors to world history and not just for 31 days but every day.
And we wonder what this Black British month will inspire schools and teachers, if they will carry out any special projects or initiatives this year after everything we have been going through.
If we want to understand our “nation” we have to look at how multicultural/ethnic it has always been. Two fairly recent books on black people in Tudor Britain tell us about the increase in the black population. This, of course, grew as the trade in enslaved Africans increased, and again when freedom was granted to the enslaved in the colonies in 1833.
So we should be teaching about Africa prior to the arrival of Europeans, about the wars encouraged by the Europeans to obtain prisoners of war, who were declared slaves and sold to the Europeans, and about Africans here – their treatment, work, protests about slavery and contributions to society for so many years.
It is not only the school curriculum that has to be changed, but the training of teachers. And in-service training should be provided for all existing teachers as their ignorance, one could argue, is one reason why many black pupils do badly as school. Peter Fryer’s book Staying Power, still the best on this history, should be available in all school libraries.