Black History Awareness
October 2020. What images does that statement provoke in your minds? For most its probably going back to University, maybe second lockdowns or the opposite and heading back into work. How many of you thought of Black History Month? I wouldn’t be surprised to hear not many but that isn’t an attack on anyone. There has been an increased almost mundane energy around Black History Month within this country and that can really be chalked up to the robotic way in which we are taught about this, tracking all the way back to primary school. We are shown the same videos and movies about slavery and then read the same poems about the underground railroad then top it off with a class led assembly on Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jnr. There is so much more to Black history than ‘I have a dream’. There is so much more to understanding the struggles of black people and racism than slavery. In my personal opinion its very ignorant, tone deaf and lazy. It is an excuse and allows the Black community to remain oppressed.
Colonialism. The Grandfather of racism is what I call it. And if we are being completely candid- no one did Colonialism like the British. There is a tendency to skip over all of that part of history. Our curriculum covers Henry and his wives (just after the start of the empire), skips past all the raping, pillaging, theft, cultural destruction and enforcement of Christianity and capitalism; goes on to WW1 celebrating a victory that was fought by people of the colonies since the war never actually got to British soil. We then gloss over to WW2 which again, saw the blood of many ethnic minorities on the floor despite them having zero global recognition due to colonialism.
Unlike in America where you can find a very strong line of slave ancestry, within the UK our pain stems from colonialism. Our struggles started from the motherland. How do you expect parents to raise their children in a war-torn country where corruption runs deep into the fabric that make up the government and a stable economy is something out of a movie? When climate change (induced by ex-colonial powers) has altered the natural habitat of the land and introduced devastating droughts and killed off the wildlife. Surely when that is the country you are born into; your instinct is to leave. Once you leave and arrive in the UK you attempt to live the life that was stolen from you. Instead, you are met with microaggression after microaggression, overt racism from time to time and an entire referendum campaign targeted at sending you back to where you came from led by the now Prime Minister. You can’t help but feel so insignificant and hated simply for wanting to live. And that is the bottom line of it. Ethnic minorities in the UK came here to live. To enjoy freedom, to live a life free from torture, free from suffering and to get the best leg up they can. Our parents came here to work, and they work hard. The NHS that we clapped for every Thursday, is populated by ethnic minorities, the cleaners, the carers, the people who do all the jobs that many think they’re too good for, are done my so many amazing black and ethnic minority people. They work night shifts and sacrifice the little time they have with their children to give them a better life and in return the entire country seems to spit directly into not just their faces but in the faces of their children too.
Now imagine that that is your existence. All you ever see is black people being brought down simply for wanting to have a life. How does that play out in your mind? Does that sound like the basis of a mentally stable and self-assured human being? Not at all. And this is how a lot of Black children grow up. We grow up hating our blackness because the entire world is showing us that being black or foreign is wrong, its disgusting and revolting but no one can ever tell us why, which in all honesty, eats away at us more. Why? We start trying to rationalise it. Is it because black skin is ugly? Because if I’m ugly then maybe that’s why no one wanted to sit with me at lunch in primary school because I look like a monster. Or maybe is it because I’m loud? Let me never say anything against anyone anymore so everyone likes me- that way I can be accepted. Is it because my Mum speaks funny? If only my mum didn’t talk like that and if only she was better at English, then no-one would pick on me. It’s a very aggressive, very destructive and very hateful cycle of thought that young black people internalise and carry with them every day.
So, when the white teachers at school or white professors come and parade black history month like a cute little fad it really stings in a way that I can’t fully describe. At 20 years old I have lived 241 months and in every single one of those months I have lived as a black woman. I have never had a day off from thinking about my blackness or being impacted by my blackness. My white counter parts on the other hand have never had to think about their whiteness. Yet for the same 241 months, my white counter part is bombarded by white history, constant celebration of achievements of white people and is surrounded by white peers, white police officers, white business owners and a white government which to me, as a black woman is a completely different universe.
History alludes to the past but in actuality the study of history encompasses the past the present and the future. The idea of Black History Month in itself if very much affirming the fact that Black people are second hand citizens. One month out of twelve is not sufficient. We need to shine a light on black people and their achievements as and when they make them not 30 years after they die and not just in October. With that said, the achievements of black people are not just about social movements of equality. Black men can be nominated for Oscars, black women can climb Mount Everest; headlines which would make the front page were the main characters white. Sometimes what I want to see is someone of colour being celebrated not BECAUSE of their race but because of their TALENT but they also happen to be black.
Our education system does a lot in silencing black voices and white out black faces – just look at the recent ban on the teaching of critical race theory and The BLM Movement in schools as an example. However, where our education system doesn’t completely erase black and ethnic minorities, the media demonises us. The media conversation is definitely one for another day but look at all the black characters you have seen; Are they ever the protagonist? The main character? Not the sassy or rude sidekick? Ever the rich successful one? So, we are really fighting a battle on two fronts; Recognition and Accurate representation – interlinked but also very important in isolation.
I hope your Black History Month was well spent and was informative for any of you who realised or remembered. But I am more interested in the continued work towards uplifting Black Voices, and Black History 365 days out of the year.