Black History month is a month to honour and celebrate the achievements of important and influential figures throughout black history. Throughout the month of October, festivals take place, lessons and assemblies are taught in school, and there is an increase in documentaries and radio programmes surrounding the topic of Black History.
The likes of Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, and Rosa Parks are just a few historical figures that are celebrated in this month, as well as many ‘modern’ influential figures such as Barack Obama, Oprah Winfrey and Benjamin Zephaniah who help forge the way and inspire black people to aim high and achieve.
However, to what extent can we celebrate something if we do not understand or know what we are celebrating? When questioned on the events of Black History, many people know about the slave trade, the civil rights movement and the abolition of slavery. What about the rest of Black history? The presence of black people throughout the Victorian and the Tudor period as a result of colonialism, or the thousands of black soldiers who fought in the world wars. Take the example of the Crimean War; both Florence Nightingale and Mary Seacole played similar roles in assisting wounded soldiers but I am far more familiar with the work of Florence Nightingale than of Mary Seacole as that what was taught in school. This is not to say that there should be a competition between the achievements of white and black figures in history – as both equally shaped British history, but only one is widely recognised.
Limiting Black History to one month is not enough time for the achievements and figures to be honoured and celebrated, because for some people this might be the first time they are introduced to these figures. Despite the fact that Black history plays a large part of British history, it is segregated and taught independently as opposed to alongside the rest of history. If black school children in schools do not know about their history, then the rest of society do not know about the history and this then leads to racial ignorance and lack of understanding and respect for Black history. A study conducted by Havard and Pittsburg Universities concluded that ‘“racial socialization”—teaching kids about their culture and involving them in activities that promote racial pride and connection—helps to offset the discrimination and racial prejudices children face by the outside world.’ The findings suggest that it would be beneficial to children to learn about their backgrounds and different aspects of history and other cultures, and this should be integrated into British history for more than a one-month period.
Marcus Garvey reinforces the importance of integrating Black history into British history, ‘a people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots’ Not only increase awareness of the culture and the events in the past, but also to help empower and inspire black people and then they can continue to feel a sense of pride of their history which is not only limited to one month of the year.
If Black history had more than one month’s acknowledgement, then Black History month could be enjoyed for what it is meant to be – a celebration of achievements and could continue to inspire and empower children across Britain.
Feature image by George Thom.