29 October 2023
Writing: Edward Newhams (Year 12)
Photography: Clay Banks (Unsplash)
Editing: Antara Agrawal (Year 13)
As we near the conclusion of Black History Month, we have an opportunity to reflect on the many contributions of the African diaspora to British history. But we must also acknowledge that the reason we have Black History Month at all is our ignorance of these contributions.
Black people helped build Britain. That is undeniable. Despite this country invading their homeland, subjecting them to slavery and selling them as chattels, they still fought and died for us in two world wars. Despite housing them in squalid conditions, extorting them with exuberant rents and tormenting them with police brutality, they still migrated to Britain after WW2. They built back our destroyed economy (as well as the NHS!). Despite facing a racist print media, police force and political class, many black people still chose to make this country their home, and eventually the cultural capital of the world.
And their many contributions have been systematically ignored by our education system. Worse, they have been systematically marginalised. While at DCGS, those studying GCSE History will glean a pretty significant flavour of the impact of Black Britons in the ‘Migrants in Britain’ topic, this is atypical nationally. The average 16-year-old will leave secondary school with a vague apparition of Martin Luther King Jr. saying “I have a dream” in their head and absolutely nothing else - of course, MLK doesn’t even count for the ‘impact of Black Britons’!
The solution, of course, is Black History Month - a month dedicated to studying the significant historical footprint left by Black British people on this island. Now, all concerns about black representation in history can be swept under the rug: Black History Month is the final word on the topic!
I feel that confining black history to a month - rather than integrating it into history education more broadly - is undesirable. If we are taught ‘British history’ for eleven months and ‘Black British history’ for one month, then we fail to truly acknowledge Black Britons' part in British history overall. The superficial coverage of Black British individuals in one month in history makes them seem like mythical figures and fabled heroes rather than serious historical figures who made momentous impacts on people’s lives.
So ‘Black History Month’ is certainly better than ‘Black History Never’, but there is certainly a long road of reform and awareness to go. And we must appreciate, above all, that Black history is British history.