Should we still have Black History Month? Part 2

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Following on from Part 1

The history is predominantly to do with slavery and fighting for civil rights. There is hardly any mention of the kingdoms of Mali and Cush. No mention of the history of Black people throughout the world before slavery apart from Egypt. Considering that we often go into English history to 1066 and beyond, there is rarely any mention of successful Black people before the 1800’s.
It should come as no surprise as there is only a particular part of British (or English) history taught anyway. Triumphs in war and the Industrial Revolution are taught rather than the horrors of the Crusades, wars in Ireland and the colonisation of India. In short, we don’t learn about anything negative in British history. And if slavery is brought up, it’s framed as ‘history’, rather than a series of events which influence how we live today. We learn about how the Industrial Revolution affected us directly, but as for slavery – everything is ok now. Look, there’s a Black President! What about Sir Trevor McDonald?!

In the clammer for equality and integration, it seems as though Black people want their history to be recognised as just as important as British history. All of the arguments for an integrated Black history range from examples of the contributions to history, to the social influence that Black people have had. Could it be that that notion in itself is actually quite selfish? If it is really true equality we are after, what about an Asian history month or even integrating Asian history into education?
There are over twice as many Asians in the UK as Black people, as they make up 7.8% of the population of Britain. Large parts of India were effectively ruled by the East India Company, and the British took direct control of India in 1858. There was a genocide before the Partition of India in 1947 which killed between 200,000-500,000 people, and displaced almost 14 million people. Prior to this, the region had one of the richest and advanced cultures in the world, with some of the oldest sacred texts in the world (the Vedas) found there. Asians don’t even get a week. Maybe there are more similarities to Asian and Black history than we realise. For example, the fact that the Caribbean is known as the WEST Indies, and India is part of the EAST Indies, shows that the names were given by Europeans, who produced the maps we use today. Notice how the most used maps have Europe at the center? I digress…

Of course there are so many positives to having a Black History Month, and if it was absorbed into mainstream history, perhaps the many debates, discussions and events could die out too. Should Black people stop arguing about integrating their history into this society and focus energies on setting up centers which teach this history to children and people who are interested? There are so many people researching into the history we aren’t told about, and so much more is out there to be discovered. If Black history is integrated or not, what shouldn’t stop is the quest for knowledge and the truth. The schooling system will never give you all you need to know. I mean, there should be more lobbying for things like mortgages, growing your own food, nutrition and money management to be taught in schools? Media analysis: why is Islam always mentioned when someone who happens to be a Muslim commits a crime, but there are never headlines about the Christian male who raped and killed, with pictures of him proudly displaying a cross tattooed onto his arm?

Ok I’m going so far off topic now.

Let’s stop waiting for information to come to us, and let’s go and get it, regardless of the time of year.

Make Black History every day, I don’t need a month – Kanye West

Should we still have Black History Month? Part 1

black-history-month

With many thanks to Akyaaba Addai-Sebo, since 1987, the UK has been celebrating BHM in the month of October. Schools up and down the country usually put up displays and encourage students to do a piece of writing, usually focusing on Martin Luther King Jr, Rosa Parks, or others of that ilk. Should BHM continue to be as it is, or should it be, as many would like it to be, integrated into average history lessons and curricula?

Currently in most schools, history lessons focus on a certain selections of history. We in England learn about the Tudors, the Victorians, the two World Wars, how the Allies triumphed, and how the Holocaust was one of the worst events in history. We even learn bits about the French Revolution and the Middle Ages including the Black Death and the Magna Carta. Sure there have been Black people living in Britain for hundreds of years, they played a part in the two World Wars and struggled for equality, but is that any reason to introduce more Black History? Isn’t one month enough?

At the end of the day, England is a White Protestant country. Don’t let Stratford Westfield or Peckham fool you, of the 80 million people living in Britain, Black people only make up 3.5% (1.8million people). To put that number into perspective, you can fit almost all of the UK’s Black people into the built up areas of West Yorkshire. How then on that basis can such a small minority justify changing how history is taught to everyone in the UK? Majority rules right?

Black History Month was often a time growing up where more questions were directed to you, and if you didn’t know an answer, you were likely to be laughed at during break, ‘I thought you were black’. It was unwanted attention and pressure to pay extra attention and raise your hand a little bit more. It wasn’t a time of pride, it was a time of wondering why people were looking at you more than usual. The content of the lessons were a welcome break from hearing about Isambard Kingdom Brunel and Sir Walter Raleigh. Growing older, and reflecting on the things we were told during BHM, questions begin to form.

There is a heavy focus on the 1960‘s Civil Rights movement in America and slavery, in comparison to mention about the Empire Windrush in 1948. I remember going to history class one day, and the teacher told us to stack tables on top of each other, and line them in a semi-circle around the classroom. We were then instructed to lie, one under and one on top of the tables to simulate how slaves were transported to Brazil, America and the Caribbean. As much as it was ‘interesting’ and somewhat informative, growing older, we start to realise that these few events only show a particular selection of Black History. For example, Brazil is hardly ever mentioned as the country which received the most slaves from West Africa. Black British history? John Blanke, Mike Fuller or John Edmonstone? Never.

First of all, the way BHM is at the moment, it lumps together African, African-American and Afro-Caribbean history into one. There is no real distinction between the many differences between these different groups, it’s a broad and fragmented history or people with dark skin. It doesn’t take into account that the experiences in Black America, were and still are very different from the Caribbean, Brazilian, British and African. But of course in one month there is no time to get into things into detail. Really? No time?

We spend 2 years studying for GCSE History exams, but it seems as though it’s more important to remember how many wives Henry VIII murdered, than how many people perished on those slave ships in the Middle Passage. Knowing other trivia like the disgusting ‘Queen Elizabeth I had 1 bath a year’ is absolutely pointless and currently trumps other relevant facts and events such as the evidence that the palace in the Kenyan city of Gedi had indoor toilets and piped water controlled by taps. Even if these facts aren’t deemed relevant, wouldn’t time being best served by learning about why Britain has become so multicultural, and the reasons behind many people wanting to Keep Britain White?

End of Part 1…

Part 2 here

Sir Arthur Lewis

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Sir Arthur Lewis (23 Jan 1915 – 15 June 1991)

Sir Lewis was born in St.Lucia and was raised by his mother after his father passed away at age 7. He excelled in school and finished school at the age of fourteen after being skipping 2 school years. He continued his academic achievements by earning his Bachelors (first class honors) and completing his scholarship funded Ph.D at the London School of Economics by the age of 25. He set a record by finishing first in his class with first class marks in 7 of 9 subject. He stayed at LSE before becoming a full-time lecturer at the University of Manchester at 33 years old. He developed important economic concepts and started to become known and sought after during the late 50’s when many former colonies started to gain independence from European countries. He was appointed as Ghana’s first economic advisor in 1957 and helped to draw up its Five-Year Plan (1959-1963). A few years after being appointed as Vice Chancellor of the University of West Indies in 1959, he was knighted for his efforts and contributions to economics. He spent over 20 years as a professor at Princeton University, during which, he was named as the first president of the Caribbean Development Bank, as well as receiving the Nobel prize in Economics in 1979.

His other achievements include:
Member of the Colonial Advisory Economic Council
Committee for National Fuel in Britain
Managing Director of the United Nations Special Fund
First West Indian to head the University of the West Indies
Established the School of Engineering at University of the West Indies
Chancellor of the University of Guyana
Wrote 81 professional articles and 10 books

After his death in 1991, he continued to be remembered. The University of Manchester named a building after him in 2007, there is a college in his native St.Lucia named after him, and he is featured on the rear of the $100 Eastern Caribbean note.

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#stayinschoolkids

Toussaint L’Ouverture

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Toussaint L’Ouverture (20 May 1743 – 7 April 1803)

The Atlantic Slave Trade lasted from around the 16th century through to the 19th century. Although much emphasis is placed on the efforts people like Rosa Parks, Olaudah Equiano and Marcus Garvey who helped to end not only slavery, but bring equality, there were people and events which preceded some of the most courageous people celebrated in Black History.
There were the Maroons in Jamaica, led by Nanny, who was born of the Ashanti tribe in Ghana, who helped to free slaves and took control over much of the hilly inlands of Jamaica. Marcos Xiorro was an African slave who led a revolution in 1821 in Puerto Rico. There were also a few different slave revolutions in Mâle, Brazil in 1835. Arguably the most successful slave rebellion in the Americas was led by a man named Toussaint L’Ouverture.

L’Ouverture was born in the country then called Saint-Domingue (now Haiti) and was freed from slavery at the age of 33 in 1776. He continued to work but was able to acquire property and some wealth, due to his increased responsibilities as a driver and work force organiser. When the revolution began in 1791, he was placed in charge of a small band of rebels and negotiated with the French Governor to stop the use of whips, and an extra non working day amongst other things. These demands were not met, and the rebels started to increase their alliance with the Spanish. After many years of fighting and treaties with Britain and the US in 1798, L’Ouverture was captured, sent to France and died in 1803, a year before Haiti declared independence and abolished slavery.

These achievements are not to be taken lightly. Haiti was the wealthiest of all the Caribbean colonies in 1789, producing 60% of the world’s coffee and 40% of the worlds sugar. Haiti gained its independence almost 160 years before other Caribbean islands like Guyana and Barbados. In other words, this was not a colony which had no significance. How then has Haiti, along with other Caribbean islands with vast resources, become so poor in the 200 years since independence? It seems as though the UK, France and Spain continue to benefit, almost as though independence and the abolition of slavery signalled a change of oppression rather than an end to it. Has slavery ever really ended?