Every year when Black History Month approaches I am both excited and disappointed; excited because I know that a great series of events, lectures and talks will be taking place that fascinate me; disappointed because I know that once the month is over they will all but disappear again until the same time next year.
My problem with Black History Month centres on its paradoxical and, ultimately, self-defeating nature. Whilst Black History Month does appear to acknowledge the value and worthiness of the culture and history of the black African diaspora, in fact it does exactly the opposite.
Black History Month amounts to little more than a tokenistic gesture – a single month in the year to teach and celebrate black and African history and culture is a pathetic compensation for the lack of a more generally inclusive, holistic and culturally diverse curriculum, academic literature and university programmes. In other words, Black History Month should not exist – as White History Month does not exist – because black history and culture should be much more integrated into that of the white “mainstream.”
Thus, when children learn about Florence Nightingale they should also learn about Mary Seacole. As well as learning that Alexander Bell invented the telephone, students learn that African-American Garrett Augustus Morgan invented traffic lights. This more comprehensive learning should be taking place in our classrooms every day – not just for one month each year.
Accepting Black History Month means accepting that the history and culture of black people is less important than that of whites and Europeans, only deserving mention once a year and silenced for the rest of the time.
The incomplete education that students in Britain (both black and white) are receiving is reprehensible – and harmful – in several ways. Currently we are denying children the right to a more complete education which would allow them to understand the massive contributions of Africans and black people worldwide to culture and civilization. (By this token, the history and culture of Asian and other non-white societies should also be further integrated into British academia).
It is unsurprising that racism continues to blight British society when our education system would leave anyone under the gross misapprehension that African history began with the trans-Atlantic slave trade; that black people did not exist in Britain until the Empire Windrush arrived; in short, that black people are less cultured and civilized than whites. What does the absence of that literature, music and fashion of those belonging to the African diaspora from education programmes teach? It teaches that black people have not made any worthy contributions to those fields – are, perhaps, incapable of doing so.
Black History Month in the UK was perhaps a good idea back in 1987 when it began but now we are in the twenty-first century and it just seems insulting. The longer we have Black History Month, the longer we have to wait for the full and proper integration of black history and culture into that which is much more widely taught and celebrated every day of the year.