When Britain has been dismissed as diplomatically irrelevant and a ‘small island that no one listens to’ in recent years, our Prime Minister has been quick to defend his country as one that remains a global power. David Cameron has boasted of some of our biggest accomplishments and successes. Among these, he stated that Britain had ‘helped to abolish slavery’ and even as the nation approaches its Black History Month this October, Mr Cameron highlighted the “rich diversity” our country experiences in 2015.
But in order for a country to be so positive toward its multicultural communities, it must have an educational system that confronts an honest, unadulterated version of black history in Britain. The country must not limit the knowledge it passes on to future generations, but have a curriculum that includes elements of British history that have formed the fabric of the country. As a result, while the abolishment of slavery was a milestone, our schools should expand their lessons on black history to stories beyond individual triumph in the face of adversity and to how institutions of colonialism and racism have formed the country we live in today. There is a knowledge gap – a widespread unawareness – that if filled can weaken the legacy of slavery and commonplace racism; pushing racial equality and celebrating the true nature of our multiculturalism to the top of the nation’s political and societal agendas.
It should be emphasised that the diverse nature of our society is the very result of British partaking in the world. Some of our most celebrated national and cultural treasures are the consequence of our global trading network. The work of black slaves harvesting sugar has been suggested as to creating the substantial wealth Mr Darcy boasted in ‘Pride and Prejudice’ and contributed to financing the manor of ‘Downton Abbey’. Britain’s exploitation of colonies abroad and treatment of the black people who built the country we live in today isn’t black history – it is English history. While many of us will be familiar with stories of Mary Seacole and the civil rights movement across the Atlantic, there is much more to the history of black people in Britain. For example, it was not legally possible for a person to be a slave in Tudor and Stuart Britain and Africans were even ‘baptised, married and buried in English churches.’
The point being that for Britain to be able to brag to the international community that we are a progressive nation in its prime, we must acknowledge our failings as well as our successes but not let the slave trade warp our view of black history in the country. Britain fits the idea of an ‘imagined community’ in which Benedict Anderson illustrates that what a country decides to recall and promote as its history is centric to its self-image, while it disregards certain events or aspects of its foundations. Therefore, Cameron fondly mentioning Britain helping to abolish slavery is obviously remembered before the centuries of cruelty that preceded it.
It is an indication of a self-aware nation to not only acknowledge its wrongdoings, but to continue to educate the next generations of them. Is there a better way of discouraging something similar happening again than teaching a nation’s immorality with a brutally honest approach? When the history of black people is understood and recognised by all, we will be one of the few countries to counter modern-day prejudice and discrimination in the most constructive way possible. It will only be when we embrace a multicultural education that we can appreciate, and truly celebrate, our multicultural society.
Feature image by Jordan Stewart.