The thing is this. There is much merit to stating that black history should be celebrated every month, but outside of what I have shared with my close friends and family I didn’t see much of it except some token events and highlights in October. Personally I have embraced it again, because even if there is a small window of opportunity to celebrate one part of the mosaic that makes up British culture I am happy to celebrate it again.
October as Black History Month in the UK, credits itself to he historical celebration of black contributions to American culture in the 1920s. The problem has been that the American narrative for far too long tends to dominate. My quoted pictures above attest to that. So for me rediscovering and sharing the contributions that blacks have made to British culture and society is of great importance to me. The good and the bad.
Did you know there has been a African presence in the United Kingdom since the 4th century? Or that certain members of a Yorkshire clan have a genome directly linked to West Africa? The finding of a female skeleton in Gloucester dating back to the 9th century was also sub saharan African and a shock to locals. Of course the bigger wave came with the introduction of the empire, and the slave narrative that came with it in the 17th and 18th century; and then since the late 1940s with the skills introduction from the Caribbean, most famously with the arrival of the Windrush (a former German navy troopship).
Blacks of African and Caribbean descent have contributed a great deal to the British narrative. From the composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor to the first female Attorney General, Baroness Scotland. Did you know that the Beatles song Being for the Benefit of Mr Kite, was dedicated to 19th century circus owner Pablo Fanque? Whether in sport, entertainment, education, government and politics and business the importance of seeing the wider picture has been incredibly helpful in shaping my own identity in Britain as well as having had the privilege of sharing. I actually believe a wider and cursory look at black history can help to challenge stupid myths around the black presence and contribution to British history
It is important not to dismiss the slave, colonial or post colonial parts of black history either. These are part of the make up and the legacy of the social construct of race still lives on today. It is also important to examine those negative areas that affect the black community around crime and family, whilst also celebrating those who have been decorated with civil orders and have achieved high places in government.
It is good to look further afield and see the contribution of blacks to world history. Africa’s Musa Mansa the worlds richest man or Thomas Sankara, the first African leader to promote feminism and equality. How about America’s George Washington Carver, inventor and scientist extraordinaire. Or The fact that Africa has had 7 female heads of state and the US still hasn’t had one? That Rwanda and Jamaica have some of the highest proportions of female politicians in governance and business owners, respectively. These lessons form the fabric of a wider conversation around intelligence and contribution to society often tarnished by race and ignorance.
Some will chose not to listen. Others will ignore what is right in front of them to prop up ignorance. Questioning why you have to mention that it’s black. An imposed title by the way, not a chosen one.
For me though, black history month, like Carnival, is an awesome spectacle and opportunity to share to the world the contribution of the African diaspora via the Caribbean, North America and Europe to a richer fuller world. That not only does it leave a sense of the history that has been shaped, but also gives hope to those today who want to leave their mark for the future.
I leave the final word to one of my heroes.