October is here. The dark mornings, dark evenings, pumpkin spice and all things spooky. It is also Black History Month – a time to celebrate the history and contribution of black people. You’d probably assume I’d think this a great thing, but over the years and especially since becoming a parent, I’m actually starting to question whether we still need it. Here’s why:
- We can’t define ‘Black History’ – We aren’t referring to a particular country, culture or time period, yet seem to be able to lump it all together. Ask a group of people what they think Black History refers to and I’m sure they’ll all have different ideas. From Martin Luther King, to Mary Seacole. From Marcus Garvey to Kwame Nkrumah. From the slave trade to Windrush. All parts of history, relevant to black people, but so disparate in terms of era, location etc. Black people come from sooo many different countries, with sooo many different cultures, events and experiences, I find it difficult to group them together.
- A month is not long enough – See above. How can we really expect to celebrate the history of people from so many different countries and cultures in just one month and truly do them justice. We have been on this planet for quite a long time, so there are countless people and events that have contributed to ‘Black History’, but will probably continue to be overlooked. This month seems to cherry pick the most high profile events and people (often on the other side of the Atlantic, or Nelson Mandela), so that corporations can tick their diversity box. As much as I try to avoid quoting Kanye, he kinda has a point that black people make history every day. A month will never be long enough to really reflect that.
- Generalisation = Segregation – Because of this catch all term, grouping together all of the above, we are in effect separating the impact and contribution of people of colour from mainstream history. It feels like a ‘them and us’ situation, giving certain non-black members of society a good excuse not to engage, because it has nothing to do with them. Wrong. Black people have been contributing to western societies for a very long time. Did you know there were black people in the Roman Empire? And, as much as some people might not like to admit it, there have been western influences – good and bad – on parts of Africa and the Caribbean for years. I’m not just talking about slavery, but religion, economics. It has worked both ways.
- We’need to move on – I don’t mean we need to forget about the negative events like slavery, apartheid, or colonialism. I mean we must progress and develop our approach. Considering how diversity has become such a trendy topic these days, we need to try to move the conversation on and have a more diverse approach to history.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m by no means against acknowledging these events and people that have contributed to the world I live in, I’m a huge supporter. However I do believe that there should be more effort made to integrate ‘Black History’, or elements thereof, into history curriculae. Why is it that when we learn about soldiers sacrificing their lives in the Second World War, there isn’t a single photo of a black or minority ethnic fighter? (well there wasn’t when I was at school?). These are people who risked their lives for a country they had never stepped foot in, to give you and I a better future.
Let’s look at the UK. When we learn about the wonderful work of Florence Nightingale, why isn’t there a mention of Mary Seacole? Shouldn’t we teach children about the history of civil rights as a whole, so when they learn about the achievements of Emmeline Pankhurst, they also learn about the contributions of someone like Diane Abbot MP? Regardless of your political persuasion, that woman has done a lot for black people and women in this country. When we learn about the formation of the NHS, shouldn’t we talk about how hundreds of nurses from Africa and the Caribbean moved here to staff it? All of these are part of the UK’s history and shouldn’t be ignored.
My point is that ‘Black History’ belongs to everyone and isn’t exclusive to black people. My kids, and yours, should be getting a more diverse, inclusive – and to be honest, realistic – insight into the formation of the world they live in. Only then will they all learn to respect and appreciate ‘Black History’.
So this October, lets try to switch the conversation a little. None of us will know where we are going in life if we don’t know where any of us have been.