Why Black History Month Is More Important Than Ever

As the clocks struck midnight on the 31st December 2019, crowds welcomed 2020 with soaring delight. It was even coined the new decade of progress and hailed as the next roaring twenties. Unfortunately, the blissful naivety we once held could never prepare us for the year that brought with it the COVID era. 2020 has reared its devastating head and shaken the world as we know it. The longstanding sense of normalcy has since been shattered and replaced with a new anxious sensation. The noun ‘lockdown’ now evokes frustration and fear, the abundance of QR codes has never before been seen, and the rift between Black Lives Matter and All Lives Matter has only widened. 

This summer proved to be a monumental catalyst for facing uncomfortable truths we once chose to ignore. Sparked by the avoidable death of George Floyd, thousands found their voice. A voice that carries Floyd’s memorable words, ‘I can’t breathe’. Regrettably, his words emblematise the constant suffocation of the black struggle. The Black Lives Matter movement woke us up to the harsh reality that racism is still embedded in our everyday life. Racism permeates the criminal justice system, invades the political system, and hides within the educational curriculum. The Black Lives Matter movement underlined how ignorance is a choice. Real activism requires a conscious effort to stay awake. 

In the aftermath of this cultural shift, October has brought in the recognition of Black History Month with real force. However, as a byproduct of elevated media attention, this year Black History Month is bound to take on amplified criticism with questioning over its importance and purpose. Emboldened by online supremacist communities, fanatics have swarmed to attack social awareness campaigns such as Black Pound Day, Black Lives Matter and any posts supporting the plight for true social equality. As a result, the divisions between Black Lives Matter supporters and All Lives Matter groups have been brought sharply into view. Now every act and idea is up for fierce discussion between the two.

Photo by Ehimetalor Akhere Unuabona

Black History Month is essential for cultural and social awareness, especially in a society where colour erasion has been so prevalent. All around us, there are constant reminders of our colonial past. From street names, charity funds and statues placed in plazas. Embedded in our films and TV, there also lies covert reminders of the silenced voices of our ancestral past. Black History Month allows the opportunity to shed light on those forgotten.

The collective struggle for equality and rights is often remembered, but not truly understood. This year has proven such a fact, as thousands flocked to social media as a means of educating. Names of those persecuted such as Sally Hemmings, Emmet Till, and Marsha P. Johnson have re-emerged as ominous reminders of the evil humanity is capable of. Alongside these, the history behind each figure has also been taught in a newfound social media movement whereby informative activism has replaced the standard Instagram foodie post.

This appetite for knowledge was echoed in the literary charts over the summer as people sought to educate themselves on the ordeals they are privileged to never experience themselves. Minority ethnic voices were finally heard when books such as Why I’m no longer talking to white people about race skyrocketed across the non-fiction charts, three years after original publication. On the other side of the scope, a long-lasting debate still stands within the BAME community. How far is it the duty of an ethnic person to educate the mass? And how far is it the social responsibility of those who do not understand to educate themselves instead? Regardless, in the wake of the global movement and protests, the populace is finally correcting generational mistakes.

So where does the division stem from? Campaigns such as Black Lives Matter and Black History Month do not seek to claim one race as superior, nor condemn the descendants of those who have done wrong. Many opinionated people flock to Twitter to critique the need for a whole month dedicated to the study of the black struggle. An excellent example of this can be noted through the recent adverse reactions to four Royal Mail postboxes being painted black in honour of Black History Month. In reprisal, some argued that ‘White History Month’ metaphorically takes place every month with reverence to the accomplishments of our ancestors. The question of whether there should be a ‘White History Month’ boils down to how a lot of Britain’s white history has not been eradicated nor changed.

Race is not the problem; racism is the problem. Ingrained into our school curriculum, the aftereffects of colonisation still survive. A collective shock confronted many as they learned the horrors endured by not only black people but also other racial groups by the will of colonisers and many of their descendants. A silent scream has finally been heard as the anguish of racial inequality unveiled itself into mainstream media. Lessons were learnt online, which should have been taught in classrooms. 

Even now, many schools simply nod their head in reverence to Black History month, mention the Civil Rights movement and move on. With that, the complex and profound black narrative is forgotten again until next October. In fact, The Guardian uncovered ‘only a fifth of UK universities have committed to reforming their curriculum to confront the harmful legacy of colonialism’. How is our society expected to embrace multiculturalism if we are only taught about ‘white’ history? To progress, we must recognise our past and present differences and similarities to truly unite.

The demand for Black History Month is built on overlooked struggles, losses, and victories. The significant sacrifices made, and profound civil rights achievements deserve a raised platform to fuel awareness and appreciation. Such as those made by heroic figure Harriet Tubman, who selflessly risked her life to rescue enslaved people through the Underground Railroad and dedicated her later years to women’s suffrage. Of course, there have been heroes who are not people of colour, but the difference lies in the fact their work has not been omitted from well-known history. Thus, the importance of Black History Month is ever-present in our society as it strives to encourage the conscious recognition of the past.

A quote which circulated online reveals a candid insight into the division between pro and anti-black movements. It argued that many people ‘think pro-black movements are anti-white because pro-white movements have always been anti-black’. This quote screams why Black History Month is especially important this year. Misconceptions and ignorance fuel polarisation where there should be understanding and alliance. This is not a month which divides us, but unites us through increased knowledge, understanding and hope.

Five things you can do now to incorporate Black History Month all year round:

1. Avoid being a ‘performative ally’ and visit this site: https://mashable.com/article/how-to-be-antiracist/?europe=true
2. Get involved with diversifying education by visiting:https://www.theredcard.org/education
3. Read:  Why i’m no longer talking to white people about race, by Reni Eddo-Lodge
4. Sign impactful petitions such as: https://www.change.org/p/gmc-medical-schools-must-include-bame-representation-in-clinical-teaching
5. Ask! Don’t be afraid to talk! Just be respectful about approaching any topic you’re unsure of. Sometimes a quick google search can help too.

Words By Naomi Akintola

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