Since 1987, the United Kingdom has celebrated Black History Month every year to acknowledge and celebrate the history of the African diaspora (the collectives of communities native to sub-Saharan Africa) who have often been overlooked in western teachings of history.
Whilst the roots of Black History Month date back nearly 100 years – with ‘Negro History Week’ being celebrated in 1926 America, an era where the Ku Klux Klan was at its peak – the month as we know it today was not formally recognised until 1970 in the United States, and a full 17 years later in the United Kingdom.
It was first proposed by Ghanaian analyst Akyaaba Addai-Sebo, who had worked at the Greater London Council – what is now known as the Greater London Authority (GLA) – to be celebrated within London but has slowly been recognised as a national celebration and observance of black history.
Throughout much of the mainstream western education of history, black people had been written as an afterthought and the history of the African diaspora only ever interacted within the terms of slavery and colonialism, creating a dehumanising reaction that resulted in black history being contrary to history as a wider subject. It was this that Black History Month intended to address, ensuring that black history was recognised in its own right, not simply as a passive afterthought to education around empire, colonialism and white history.
Since its inception, however – and particularly this year, following the Black Lives Matter protests – Black History Month has moved beyond the classroom and has aimed to raise greater awareness of the individual histories of black people and the legacies of how a westernised and whitewashed education system can still continue to contribute to the discrimination that exists today.
“2020 has held a mirror up to the world and forced many to see the reality of racism in all its guises. From Black people dying disproportionately in the pandemic, to the horrific murder of George Floyd and no justice for Breonna Taylor – the 26-year-old emergency medical worker killed by police in her own home” – Catherine Ross – Founder Director, Museumand – The National Caribbean Heritage Museum Editor of Black History Month 2020
Yet much more than this, it is a month to emphasise the histories of black people and a broader celebration of black culture in a world that often overlooks and constricts such history, both through its education curriculum, but within the arts, culture and in the workplace.
The month is an opportunity not just to teach more about black history, but shine a spotlight on some of the successful and influential black people from history and today, giving them recognition and attention and allowing their talents and influence to be recognised.
Over the coming weeks, The Speaker will feature content about a number of influential black Britons that have made a significant impact on British politics and should be recognised during this important month.