Why a Black History Month?

October marks Black History Month in the UK, a celebration of the history and achievements of people of African descent. In this blog, Rebekah Bonaparte discusses why Black History Month is still as important as ever. 

Claudia Jones

Claudia Jones is credited with creating the UK’s first black newspaper, the ‘West Indian Gazette’ in 1958, she has also been described as the ‘Mother of Notting Hill Carnival’ for her part in its founding.

Among the many challenges 2020 has brought, the conversation around racism and inequalities came to the forefront for many with the resurgence and prevalence of the Black Matters Movement following the murder of George Floyd in the US. The effects of this were felt here in the UK, and the subsequent conversations around inequality and belonging in Britain serves as a strong reminder why Black History Month is still as important as ever.

Black History Month was first established in the UK in October 1987 in London. It was organised by Ghanaian analyst Akyaaba Addai-Sebbo who served as a coordinator of special projects for the Greater London Council. The month was adapted from the United States Black History Month that began in the 1920s, and was established in response to heightened racial tensions in the UK.

Prior to it being established, there had been riots in the 1980s, and throughout the 20th century, which left the burgeoning Black British population relegated to outsiders, and marginalised, separate from the British cultural identity which was perceived as representing the interests of only the English.

The creation of Black History Month served as a way to celebrate the black people living in Britain, at a time when the denial of black people’s contribution to history was limited to the horrors of slavery.

In his book, Black and British: A Forgotten History, British Historian, David Olosugo notes that the “uncovering of black British history was so important because the present was so contested.” So, to highlight black people’s place and belonging in Britain, Black History Month serves as a welcome reminder that black people come from a long tradition of people who have enriched this country and beyond with their culture.

There is a rich and relatively unknown history of Black people within the UK that does not feature on the national curriculum, a glaring oversight considering the range of backgrounds that are seen in British schools, around the city and while diversity has become a buzz word in business and beyond, it is important to acknowledge and celebrate this history at all levels of society. It’s through history that we form our collective identity and therefore in studying blackness in the British context we can, in one-way, foster inclusion and pride.

To be clear, black history should feature in all months of the year, but setting aside a month when black people and their contributions can be marked and celebrated and brought to everyone’s attention should not be taken for granted. Black people have done so much in this country and continue to influence and shape culture, a fact that should never be forgotten.

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