Let’s not cram black history into one month of the year

It’s hard to believe the month of October is almost here, which means Christmas is just around the corner. Apologies if that’s woken some of you out of a sweet reverie, but we can’t hide from the truth.

October doesn’t just herald the countdown to Christmas, in the UK October has also been classified a Black History Month and after all these years (34 to be precise) the question on some people’s lips is still….why do we have one month to celebrate the history of black people when black people are still here the other 11 months of the year.

In 2020 author Malorie Blackman put out a tweet which reminded people of this fact:

On the 10th of September 2021 Channel 4 commissioned a whole day of programming which was fronted by black people. #BlacktoFront was an overwhelming success and as one person on Twitter stated, “#BlacktoFront happening outside of Black History Month makes it a little bit more special.”

This is something that I wholeheartedly agree with, why do we always wait until October to recognise, celebrate and in many cases even just mention the impact that those of African and Caribbean heritage have made in the UK.

Black people are not seasonal, we are here all year round. So why our achievements have to be ‘crammed’ into 31 days is anyone’s guess. It’s ok to mention the achievements of black athletes in January, or reference the impact that black music has had on society during the month of May. Mary Seacole was still saving lives in the months of June and July and Olaudah Equiano’s involvement in the abolition of the UK slave trade happened in the months preceding March 1807.

Over the past year and a half there have been many conversations about being anti-racist, and tackling structural racism etc and yet still, we feel it necessary to try to cram all the learning about black people into 31 days.

One thing that stood out for me about #BlacktoFront was the fact that I felt represented, and it felt great to see my black brothers and sisters fronting and working behind the scenes on so many great shows. It made me wonder why in 2021, there is, such a lack of diversity on our television screens. Not just in terms of black people, but also people of other ethnicities.

There was a lot of talk amongst the black community on social media about not changing the TV channel for the whole day on Friday 10th, because this was something we’d never seen before. Black people fronting so many great television shows.

If you look at the average TV schedule, it is a rarity to see a black person, at the front. We are usually the supporting act. It’s been great to see Charlene White, Judy Love and Brenda Edwards become part of the usual line up on Loose Women and it’s fantastic to see Clive Myrie as the new host of Mastermind. I love the fact that Mo Gilligan won a Bafta for his Latish Show as these are all signs that things are changing. But it is a very slow process.

We need to begin to recognise that there are many other black men and women in the UK, who we can reference all year round.

YouTubers such as Nella Rose, Filly, Chunkz and ASmxlls are capturing the attention of our young people because they are creating content that is of interest to them.

Stormzy is more than just a grime artist, he’s a businessman who now has his own publishing imprint, Merky Books, with Penguin Random House UK.

Jamal Edwards MBE has carved out a highly successful music business that has paved the way for many of the artists we hear on the radio waves.

Maggie Oderin-Pocock makes science look way cooler than some of the fuddy, duddies that are referenced during science lessons.

Edward Enniful made history when he became the first man and the first black editor of British Vogue.  

I could continue to list influential black men and women who are doing great things in the UK but who aren’t often referenced outside of October, if that! They have year-long careers and are making an impact in every industry so there is no reason why they shouldn’t be referenced alongside their white counterparts when we’re teaching. And it’s not because we’re trying to tick the diversity box, it’s because the work they do is relevant in the lessons we teach.

Yes, it will take a bit more effort to research individuals who may be linked to the area of the curriculum you’re teaching, but when you have a class where 95% of your students are from black or Asian backgrounds, that extra bit of time will make all the difference when GCSE students are having a lesson on the solar system and you can reference the work Dr Oderin-Pocock has done on satellites. And it’s not a shoe-in; it’s a genuine link that will help bring the subject alive.

There are so many black British men and women who have and are making an enormous impact on our society. So many who can influence the lives of young people and make them feel like there are opportunities for all. Let’s not confine the work that they do to a single month of the year; let’s recognise them all year round and make sure they are seen as being just as important and just as relevant as their white counterparts.

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