Derby Telegraph

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.

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