As black history month comes to an end in the UK, black history has never been more relevant than in 2020. So what is black history month? Black history month takes place every October not to be confused with February which is when it is celebrated in the US. It was first celebrated in the UK in 1987, and was organised by Akyaaba Addai-Sebo. The purpose of black history month is to recognise and celebrate the contributions people of African and Caribbean background have made to the UK over the years.
I have taken the time to reflect on black British history in a way I never have before. It goes without saying, that this year has been nothing less than historic for black people across the globe. But, before this month I can honestly say that I never knew much about the black experience in the UK. It only took a few hours of research for me to realize that the black experience is just as “damned” as it is in the US, but in different ways. Now, of course, my experience is only as a black woman born and raised in the US.
Reading past headlines proudly declaring the first black captain of the England rugby union team, or the first black artist to be elected into the Royal Academy of Arts, begs me to question why there is a need to proclaim these positions as the “first black” at all. In the US we are also guilty of such because minorities continue to break barriers, but who established these barriers and why are we still abiding by them if collectively we really believe that everyone deserves to be treated equally? I believe that most Britons don’t believe that racism is as big of an issue in the UK as it is in the US. But the truth is black people are subjected to systemic racism in the UK and we can’t ignore it or deny the truth simply because it isn’t pleasant.
“If this year has taught us anything, it should be that separating history into categories such as “black history” vs “history” is the first problem we as humans make globally. How can we all care about something we are unaware of?”
As a difficult year to be a black person, having witnessed the many injustices there’s never been a more important time to celebrate black people. As a black African Briton, I have felt a big shift around the topic of race in the UK. This year we have all witnessed one of the biggest civil rights movements in history, resulting in some of the biggest institutions in the UK making public stands. From Premier League players kneeling in support of BLM to Ofcom’s rejection of over 24,000 complaints against Diversity’s BLM performance on Britains got talent. It has got us all asking – is this the year of change?
In the UK more needs to be done to elevate black voices and share our history and the contributions we have made to this country. No longer is it enough to say black people are here, it’s time to really acknowledge the historical impact that black people have had on this country.
It shouldn’t have taken a pandemic coupled with the gruesome murder of George Floyd to trigger the want for change around the world. If we all stand together and demand what is right, eventually real change will come.
Although the official month has come to an end, if you’re interested into looking into the topic of black British history more the following books are a good place to start: Natives by Akala, Brit(ish): On Race, Identity and Belonging by Afua Hirsch and Black and British: A forgotten history by David Olusoga.