Introduction: Black History Month in a Summary
Black History Month in Britain is dedicated to those of African, Caribbean, and Asian descent. During the month there is typically a uniting from those of minority backgrounds to celebrate shared histories, differences, traditions, and to raise awareness of pressing racial and cultural issues. It is a time where people of similar backgrounds hold events which highlight their talents and achievements while simultaneously pushing for political, social, and academic change, which is often done through a variety of different mediums such as art, film, dance, theatre, radio, and social media.
Black History Month is vital in the further learning and education of a new generation of ethnic minorities in Britain. This education acts as a beacon of light on the past, present, and future struggles of minorities in the fight for equality and justice.
The History of Black History Month
The event was created in the United States by historian Carter G. Woodson in 1926 in the hopes of acknowledging black achievements, which is still a priority in the US and UK to this day. It was initially a weekly campaign: “Negro History Week.” While Black History Month is celebrated in the US in February to acknowledge historical figures such as Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, the UK typically marks the event in October in correspondence to the start of a new academic year. Furthermore, the US celebrated 90 years of Black History Month’s existence, while this year the UK’s celebrations mark 30 years. As mentioned, the UK version not only recognised the contributions from those of African and Caribbean heritage, but also those of Asian heritage, too.
Inevitable Questions in the Run-Up
As Black History Month approaches, there are inevitable questions that will be raised, such as why it is only celebrated in a month and why there is no white history month. As for the first question, this is something that I have asked myself on several occasions and is still very unclear to me. It seems almost reductionist to the struggles and inequalities that those of African, Caribbean, and Asian descent face in retaining this event in one month. However, I do believe that having a month such as this is one of ways in which further integration of black and Asian history into mainstream education can proceed.
In response to the latter question, I say, why should there be a celebration of a race and a culture which has been so overly idolised and praised for as long as I can remember? Black history and Black pride exists (as opposed to white pride) because a lot of black culture was taken by the white west during the slave trade period and beyond — it aims to assist the reclaiming of the identity and culture. And lastly, Black History Month was created specifically for the minorities in America and the UK, not for the majority.
And so, as UK Black History Month celebrates 30 years in existence, the question some may ask is if it is still relevant and if it should continue. Black History Walks is an organisation directed by Tony Walker. It provides monthly films and educational walking tours on London’s 2000-year African history. Walker explains that Black History Month was created to “correct the deliberate destruction done to African memories by European misrepresentation.” It is an important month as it prioritises re-informing and re-focusing minds on the tribulations and discrimination ethnic minorities face and have faced. It teaches, in particular young people, that we must at times step away from what we are taught daily and start to challenge a status quo which aims to oppress and divide the marginalised.
Amid the increased racial attacks in the wake of Brexit and the ever-present figure of white supremacy in politics, academia, and beyond, it is very much a justified campaign of strength and unity which must continue if we are to see further progress.
Black History Month is a great opportunity to celebrate each other as well as acknowledging what divides us. This year’s Black History Month, as well as the ones to come, should not falter in promoting equality and justice and the fight against the deprivation and appropriation of identities and histories that are rightfully ours.