African, Caribbean, and Asian history should form a large part of the history taught in schools in this country. This, sadly, is not the case and modern British schools irresponsibly ignore Britain’s long and troubled colonial past, and the figures that rose against it. This means that British history, for most people, is merely the product of a long line of stern, unsmiling, and moustachioed white faces.
What should we do to resolve this? In my opinion, the very worst thing you can do for the expansion of our understanding about black history is to commemorate it with one month. As Alan Bennett once wrote in ‘The History Boys’, “there is no better way of forgetting something than by commemorating it.” His argument in the play was that the cenotaph and the other war memorials do not embed the history of those two brutal wars in our shared consciousness, but instead guarantee that that history occupies our minds for just one day, so that the rest of the year may continue as normal. Is one day long enough to reflect on the tragic losses and global responsibility for those human catastrophes? Is one month long enough to ponder the contributions to our society from those who are not white men? These things should be one of the many layers of our daily lives, and should be part of the air we breathe and the ground upon which we walk.
Black history is British history. History courses woefully underrepresent many contributors to our country. We often overlook the value that women have added to our history for example, but a ‘Women’s history month’ would be insulting to all of those pioneers who fought for equality (which, by the way, also includes equality of history) between the sexes. Mary Wollstonecraft did not write her work on the rights of women for women’s shared history to be siphoned and forgotten, so that all other months could be well and truly devoted to masculine history without fear of retribution. This is what is happening with black history in the west. We care so much for equality that we are descending back into the practice of segregation.
If we continue this path of ‘positive segregation’, we merely continue to bury real societal problems.
Chris Rock, in his opening speech at the 2016 Oscars, blasted Hollywood for its ‘sorority racism’. It is a tremendously funny speech and for full context, I urge you to find it online. In it, he suggests (ironically) that if we want black people nominated for Oscars every year, we should have ‘black categories’. He compares it to the preposterous situation we are currently in, in which there are both men’s and women’s Oscar categories. In a field such as acting, Rock asks, why are men and women separated when awards are given? Black History month should sound as ridiculous to us as black Oscar categories.
If we continue this path of ‘positive segregation’, we merely continue to bury real societal problems. Introducing black hiring quotas at businesses will ensure that those quotas will never be exceeded. Introducing ‘best black actor’ at the Oscars will ensure that whites and blacks are never viewed the same in Hollywood. And continuing to observe Black History month ensures that black history is never given the true parity with white history that it deserves, and that the real problem, which is found with the writers of school curriculums, and historians, will never be properly addressed.
We focus too much on race these days. Every person in this country should be given equal opportunities to develop and achieve success. If someone is denied those opportunities, whether they are black, white, Jewish, male or female, then we as a society should stand in solidarity. But to prioritise one people over others, and to fight inequality with segregation, is to guarantee that race will always be an issue in this country.
It’s Black History Month in the UK and with it comes the question of whether or not we should dedicate October to celebrate Black, Asian and other minority history in this country. The most popular arguments voiced on this issue are that Black history shouldn’t be restricted to this one month, it should be integrated with all history and taught the same way white history has been taught for decades. The other, is that if we truly want to reach equality, where the colour of our skin is not a topic of heated discussion at all, Black people shouldn’t be treated any differently. Equality means equality right?
Unfortunately, that’s not how it works. Having Black History Month removed from the British calendar would have to mean that we are learning and celebrating the contributions made by people of colour regularly- that is purely normative. Firstly, Black History Month in the UK is still centralised in the US. Anywhere in the world, when we think of Black History we think of vague facts about the Civil Rights Movement, Martin Luther King jr. and the fact that White people raided Africa, kidnapped and shipped people back to the US, to be whipped into obedient cattle that worked the land for free. This type of thinking takes away from the Black British experience which is not taught in schools and is not actively sought out. The UK has failed to recognise and acknowledge Black, Asian and other minority histories, so there is still a need to dedicate a concentrated time to honour those who suffered to make it in this country.
Taking Black History Month away, would be taking away the opportunity to explore and acknowledge this history
In my research into the identity of being Black and British and how it all began, I found that Liverpool, Plymouth, Bristol and of course London all had slave ports. That the First World War was not only fought by white soldiers but by Indians and people from the Caribbean under terrible conditions. Due to the insatiable need to keep conquering and colonising the world, those soldiers got wrapped up into having to die for a King and country they did not believe in. Many died on their way to battle, due to a refusal to provide those soldiers with the right equipment and clothing for the harsh British weather. All this, under the belief and promise that their countries would be free of British rule. Our very own Brighton Pavilion was turned into a segregated hospital for Indian soldiers who were surrounded by barbed wire to stop them from mixing with white Britons.
All this is not common knowledge, and is not taught in schools. People know about Malcolm X but no one knows about Dr. Harold Moody (look him up). Taking Black History Month away, would be taking away the opportunity to explore and again, acknowledge all this history. Logically speaking, no one, especially white people, is going to seek out Britain’s brutal past because it simply does not feel relevant to the way circumstances are today. There’s information out there that a lot of people have no idea exists and so we live in a society where there is no urgency to learn about how Britain got it’s wealth, or how Black and Indian people arrived here in the first place. Taking Black History Month away would be fuelling British white denial, and we definitely don’t need anymore of that under the Brexit climate.
Black History Month is a time to celebrate black literature and art. For us minorities it’s the time to look at and drown ourselves in radical self love. There is a rich and deep culture that is still to be discovered and Black history Month helps bring attention to it. It’s a time for us to celebrate us and honour those who came before us. For non minorities, it’s the time to challenge yourself into thinking about whose backs your white privilege is built on. It’s a time for companies to look at their staff and decide they need to create more opportunities for marginalised groups to join their teams. It is a time for much needed positive action. Taking this dedicated time away would only silence us and allow a system of oppression and injustice to flourish.
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