Black History Month is observed every October here in the UK. While it’s an opportunity to celebrate black history, it also raises questions about whether it’s enough to celebrate black history once a year and how black history is taught in schools across the UK.
How Black History Month Began
The Association for the Study of Negro Life and History in America created Negro History Week in 1926 under the leadership of Dr Carter G. Woodson. It was held in February because it co-incided with the birthdays of US president Abraham Lincoln and Abolitionist Frederick Douglass. In 1970 it was expanded to a month and became officially recognised as Black History Month.
In the UK, Black History Month was launched in October 1987. It was initiated by Akyaaba Addai-Sebo, Co-ordinator of Special Projects for the Greater London Council to tackle “the identity crisis that black children faced”.
At first Black History Month events largely focused on American Black History but as time passed there was a growing call to include the important contributions that black historical figures made to the UK.
Why Black History Month Matters
Black History Month is an opportunity to raise awareness about less known historical figures. Learning about their heritage and positive black historical figures helps black people to make sense of what happened in the past and why society is the way it is.
There is a growing demand for black history to be part of the curriculum in UK schools in effort to change the narrative that black history is limited to slavery. It’s important to understand the context of what happened during colonialism and the huge impact of migration on black families in the UK.
Black History Month also has a part to play in educating modern society about systemic racism and unconscious bias. Raising awareness creates a greater understanding of black culture and inequality.
Arguments Against Observing Black History Month
Black History Month has attracted criticism for being a token gesture that creates an excuse to ignore black history for the rest of the year. It has also been seen as patronising black pride by teaching the same limited facts every year. This allows the larger truth of how black people have contributed to the development of Britain to be overlooked and ignored.
The curriculum is not representative or inclusive enough. Black history is part of British history. Young people need to fully understand the past to understand the impact of racism on British society. Schools have an important opportunity to teach to offer a broader history syllabus from primary school age onwards despite it is not embedded in the national curriculum.
The emphasis tends to be Black American history focusing on the civil rights movement, rather than the achievements of black British people throughout history and Britain’s role in colonising other countries.
Black History Month can be used to acknowledge positive stories of triumph over adversity instead of focusing solely on the trauma of slavery and the civil rights movement in America.
Black people’s lived experiences should be shared in schools instead of relying solely on white teachers who may not include black perspectives and project unconscious bias.
We challenge you to engage in Black History Month year-round. Engage with ACAP’s black history projects
ACAP are currently conducting an oral history project entitled ‘Windrush: 3 Generations’. our young people have been conducting an oral history project to document the life stories of the Windrush generation and their descendants who have made a huge impact since arriving on UK shores. We’ll be continuing this project until the end of the year in time for the publication of our book next year
ACAP have also documented the history of Sound System culture in the UK, interviewing the pioneers in the movement. The documentary aired on Zoom and Livestream on 29th October 2021.
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Stay in touch with our other Black history projects on our social media