Should we still have Black History Month? Part 1

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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

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As Black History Month comes to an end…

When I first decided to write a post a day for Black History Month, I didn’t expect that it would be so time-consuming! I also didn’t expect to have learnt as much as I have. I hope that all of you who have been reading these posts, have not only learnt a lot, but that these posts have caused you to think critically about some of the issues raised. There were many controversial issues discussed this month, for example, the issue of race within the Black community (I don’t rate Rosa Parks), and Human Zoos (Saartjie Baartman).
You may have noticed, that many of the people discussed aren’t the regular people you may find in schools on displays, and talked about in the media at this time every year. People like Martin Luther King Jr, Malcolm X and Mary Seacole didn’t make it into this blog precisely because they are so well-known and their stories, though inspirational, get recycled year in and year out. I wanted to acknowledge some people who often aren’t spoken about. Their stories may be well known to some, but to the average person, not so much. After all, Black History Month is a chance to educate those who may not be aware of important men and women who have helped shape the world we all live in today.
This post is a tribute to those who haven’t featured this month, but have played a major part not only in Black history but in the worlds history.

1000509261001_2098673023001_Martin-Luther-King-The-King-YearsMartin Luther King, Jr.  (15 Jan 1929 – 4 April 1968)

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Harriet Tubman (c.1822 – 10 March 1913)

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Patrice Lumumba (2 July 1925 – 18 Jan 1961)

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Hattie McDaniels (10 June 1895 – 26 Oct 1952)

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Muhammed Ali (17 Jan 1942 – )

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Alek Wek (16 April 1977 – )

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Nelson Mandela (18 July 1918 – 5 Dec 2013)

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Wilma Rudolph (23 June 1940 – 12 Nov 1994)

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Barack Obama (4 Aug 1961 – )

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Diane Abbott (27 September 1953 – )

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Sir Trevor McDonald (16 Aug 1939 – )

Mary Seacole

Mary Seacole (c.1805 – 14 May 1881)

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Malcolm X (19 May 1925 – 21 Feb 1965)

Emmett Till

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Emmett Till (25 July 1941 – 28 Aug 1955)

Perhaps it was it because he was from Chicago. He lived in a fairly integrated neighbourhood, where he attended an integrated school. Perhaps he didn’t heed the warnings of his mother that Mississippi and Chicago were two very different places. Perhaps because he didn’t know any better; he was only 14 after all.

Emmett Till was 14 when he allegedly whistled at a White woman in Mississippi at a grocery store. As a result, he was taken from his great-uncles house by 3 men in the early hours of the morning, beaten, shot in the head and dumped in the Tallahatchie River. His unrecognisable body was found three days later. He was only 14.

At his funeral in Chicago was attended by tens of thousands of people, who filed past his open casket after his mother said, ‘There was just no way I could describe what was in that box. No way. I just wanted the world to see’.
The act of showing the world, incensed not only Black, but White America, which showed the differing attitudes of the North and the South. The trail of the perpetrators (Bryant and Milam), lasted for 5 days and acquitted the two men, in spite of the fact that they admitted to taking Till and witnesses testified to having seen Milam enter a shed and hearing blows and screams. The jury later admitted that they thought the men were guilty, but didn’t feel as though life in prison or the death penalty was punishment befitting a crime; two Whites killing a Black man. But he wasn’t a man. He was 14 years old. Bryant and Milam confessed to killing Emmet in January 1956 but they never served time in jail, and both died of cancer in their 60’s.

 The story of Emmett had an effect on one Rosa Parks, as she refused to get off her seat and move to the back of the bus 4 months later. She said ‘I thought of Emmett Till and I just couldn’t go back’.

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I don’t rate Rosa Parks…

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Most people know who the lady on the left is. Rosa Parks. The mother of the American Civil Rights Movement. The woman who refused to give up her seat on the bus and sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott which lasted from Dec 1 1955 to Dec 20 1956. When she passed away in 2005, she became the first woman to lie in honour at th Capitol Rotunda. What would have been Parks’ 100th birthday was even celebrated, and Obama said that ‘Rosa Parks’ singular act of disobedience launched a movement’. Although Parks’ actions will forever be remembered as a key moment in the Civil Rights movement, today is about the little girl on the right.

Claudette Colvin (Sept 5th 1939 – )

9 months before Rosa Parks made her stand (or sit), the then 15-year-old Claudette Colvin became the first person arrested for resisting the segregation of buses in Montgomery, Alabama. In fact, there were 3 others who were arrested before Parks, who made up the case Browder vs Gayle in 1956. So if Colvin was the first to do what she did, why then isn’t she celebrated as highly as Parks?

Apparently, because Colvin was dark-skinned and actually gave birth to a son in Dec 1955, she wasn’t seen as a good representation for what the NAACP wanted to portray. Parks however, was a secretary at the NAACP, light-skinned and educated. Aurelia Browder (who resisted arrest 7 months before Parks) was chosen to front the case because she was middle-aged and educated. The other 4 plaintiffs consisted of 2 teenagers and 2 senior citizens. Browder was deemed as the best representation for the case.

When asked why she didn’t get up when the bus driver and then police asked her to, Colvin answers:

I could not move because history had me glued to the seat… because it felt like Sojourner Truths hands were pushing me down on one shoulder, and Harriet Tubmans hands were pushing me down on another shoulder… I yelled out “It’s my constitutional right!”

Colvin gives the occasional interview and you can watch one with her here.

I do rate Rosa Parks, just not as much as Claudette Colvin. Please forgive the almost blasphemous title.

#creditwherecreditisdue