Black History Month highlights centuries of struggle
ADAM SLATER reflects on the importance of Black History Month
SINCE 1987, the UK has celebrated black history in the month of October. Usually typified by celebrations and events across the country, this year has been a little different, but arguably more important than ever. But why do we celebrate black history for a month?
I’m 24 and looking back on my time at school, I now realise I was quite lucky to have been told anything about black history at all. But the lessons I received all had a distinctly American flavour, concentrating on their practice of slavery and their civil rights leaders. Britain’s leading role in the slave trade and its critical contribution to our development was not aired.
Nothing was taught about the British empire’s many colonial conquests or the crimes that accompanied them, nor the huge contributions of African and West Indian soldiers in both world wars.
Unfortunately, the limited and Americanised telling of history left many black British heroes out of the history books and gave way to a feeling that racism was an “American problem” and that there was not as great a struggle for black emancipation in the UK.
This tendency was highlighted again this year. The slow, tragic death of George Floyd, captured on camera in Minneapolis, made headline news for many months and sparked a wave of support for the Black Lives Matter movement around the world.
Pleasingly there was a huge reaction in Britain with protests in small towns and big cities alike. But the complacency continued from sections of the establishment. Many British commentators were quick to ask, “what has this got to do with us?”
The answer lay in dozens of never-mentioned memorials celebrating slave owners, multiple videos of British police brutality and the disproportionate deaths of black people from Covid-19. Statistics released this summer showed black men were stopped and searched 20,000 times in London during the lockdown – the equivalent of one in four young Black men.
The same was true in the 1960s. Almost everyone has heard of Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks, but how many of you heard of Paul Stephenson, the man who broke the colour bar in a British pub, or Claudia Jones who started the Notting Hill Carnival or even Walter Tull, who played professional football in England before serving and dying in the First World War? This is why black history month is so important.
Standing up and demanding change have been the hallmarks of black history and without it, who knows what modern society would be like today. The world can learn a lot from black history. For it is a story of human determination and will to succeed despite barriers.
From being seen as not equal to growing acceptance and celebration of its culture and its people, the black community has come a long way. That’s why black history should be remembered all year round as, not only is some of it British history, but because it shows you a life lesson - to never give up and to strive for what’s right.