Black History Month: Necessary and enlightening

October 1st marked the beginning of the UK’s annual month dedicated to recognising the societal contributions and achievements of black individuals and those of African or Caribbean origin. This time of year serves to reignite the conversation of untold British history. Together, we commemorate the feats and extraordinary achievements of the British society of black and ethnic minority groups in the face of significant challenges, opposition and oppression.

Our responsibility to recognise black history is rooted in the fact that, until the 1960’s, the peoples of British colonised territory – including Southeast Asia, the Caribbean and a large part of the African continent – were legally British subjects.  This term was used until 1949, to refer to any person born or naturalised in the British Empire. Therefore, the ‘UK island Story’ cannot be taught in isolation and without recognition of the rest of British history. 

Indeed, we are reminded that our history is shared. Black and brown individuals in our midst are equal members of society, not intruders and not here as an act of charity but as the logical result of global British involvement.  

To those advocating to rebrand this month as ‘Diversity Month’, and those still battling to understand why black people deserve a month, you have fundamentally missed the point.  

In an ideal society, black history would be part and parcel of an inclusive, globally minded education systems, that voiced and respected all narratives. Unfortunately, we do not live in this post-racial version of society. Until such a time, we need to enrich the national curriculum by educating one another and sharing the whole truth. With regard to a “Diversity Month” conversation, along with the #AllLivesMatter agenda, in the context of black history, they arguably serve more as antagonist attempts to negate the very struggle for equality we seek to address. 

Some argue that the university should play a greater role in educating all students on diversity and racial injustice. While this is necessary, too often we find that predominantly white institutions control and frame the black narrative. The story of our achievements, the celebration of our cultures and the extent of our influence is our story to tell. 

Let us not find ourselves taking that direction. Rather, university involvement can go further by creating mandatory platforms, with adequate incentives for all students – many of whom lack a depth of understanding – to participate. Ideally, current students would use these sessions to inform new students on cross-cultural interactions, address experiences of micro-aggression, and ultimately establish an acceptable standard of behaviour at the university. 

Edinburgh University Students’ Association’s Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) Campaign has taken an active role in this conversation by hosting a series of events to celebrate and commemorate the work of individuals who have shaped our collective history. Events include ‘RESPECT! A Panel on Black Women’s Experiences and Significance’, ‘Black Excellence’ organised alongside the African Caribbean Society and the much anticipated ‘Black British History’ Workshop. We  can also look forward to the screening of Hidden Figures and Moonlight as well as a lecture from human rights activist and Professor Emeritus, Sir Geoff Palmer O.B.E, who will discuss Edinburgh’s long history with the slave trade. 

Having welcomed over 13,000 international students last month, our university is uniquely and ideally positioned to demonstrate a truly enlightened community by participating in these conversations. We celebrate the opportunity to have a Black History Month. 

Image: Silver Shine via Flickr

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