As some of you may or may not know October is Black History Month. Starting in 1987 the month-long event sees a nationwide celebration of the history, contribution and culture of black people. Any event which places a spotlight on the role minorities has played and continues to play in shaping Britain would seem to be a positive action and something to be encouraged, yet the event has drawn criticism in the past and continues to be a matter of debate. Prominent celebrities from the BAME (Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic) community have criticised the event. Morgan Freeman slated the event stating: ‘one month? I don’t want a black history month. Black history is American history’. The controversial reality star and actress Stacey Dash has also questioned the need for a Black History Month. Speaking on Fox and Friends in January 2016 she explained ‘either we want to have segregation or integration. We’re Americans. Period. That’s it’ and called for the event to be scrapped. Some have also questioned why black history should have a month to itself when months do not exist for other minorities like Indian, Asian Chinese and Polish communities to receive the same treatment.
In recent years there have been calls for schools to broaden their curriculums and teach students about black history, rather than teaching black history for just one month. There have also been calls to focus on less well-known figures and issues. For most students the limited black history they learn will be the Civil Rights movement in America and Martin Luther King or Malcolm X. Some students may learn about Mary Seacole, the ‘black Florence Nightingale’, but this is usually the limit of their education. Whilst these issues are obviously important, and many in the BAME community support Black History Month, they also want to see a long-lasting change and commitment to celebrating black history and educating the next generation. More focus should be placed on BAME scientists, authors, mathematicians, and musicians, not just civil-rights or political figures. We should also be teaching our youth about the issues to do with race in British history, and not just the civil-rights movement in America. This presents and promotes the dangerous idea that racism and discrimination was only an issue within America, and that all was fine in our nation. Let’s teach British children about the Windrush scandal, the contribution of Caribbean and other BAME immigrants to the NHS, the death of Stephen Lawrence and Britain’s role in Empire. Let’s place as much importance on black British history as we do white. In recent years exam boards have been adapting their courses and listening to concerns, both AQA and OCR have introduced new courses that examine immigration, but there is still much work to be done.
Others have criticised councils for their decisions to widen the focus of Black History Month to include other minority groups, moving away from the history of the event and diminishing its original meaning. The Conservative-led London borough of Hillingdon stopped Black History Month in 2007, and now offers a programme of multi-ethnic events called Culture Bite, with events on South Asia, country dancing and wine tasting. Wandsworth, a Conservative borough in south London, has also altered the event to be “Diversity Month” which focuses on the experiences and culture of several minorities within the borough. Events feature Indian, Polish, Spanish, Chinese as well as African and Caribbean cultures. In an age of austerity, should allowances be made, or should we be condemning councils for these changes? Events such as these can unwittingly encourage people to view all minorities as somehow being connected or the same, promoting ignorance and generating racism.
This month the UK Black History Month website was brought down twice by hackers in a case of ‘cyber-racism’ perhaps showing that Black History Month is needed more than ever; not only to educate, celebrate and unite but to also act against the ever-increasing far-right views spreading across Britain particularly in the wake of Brexit.
If you want to get involved in celebrating Black History Month, events are taking place across the country. These include art exhibitions, film screenings, talks, food festivals, and the first Afrobeats musical Olivia Tweest touring the country (on at Coventry’s The Belgrade Theatre in October). The University of Kent will be holding a special art exhibition in Keynes Atrium, and a keynote speech on the 10th October run by the Law School called Decolonise The Curriculum! will be taking place in Grimond Lecture Theatre 2 from 14:30-16:30. The Gulbenkian will also be screening Untold Stories: A History of Black People in Kent on the 22nd October from 19:00.
Happy Black History Month to all University of Kent students!