Black History Month (BHM)
What does BHM mean to me? For me, BHM means that for 31 days out of 365 days of the year there is an opportunity for focussing on Black historical input and achievement, in the United Kingdom. Paradoxically, it is also a period tinged with disappointment, when I reflect upon the limited time given over to this, and the extent of the whitewashing and omissions; for example, in the recent scandal surrounding the Windrush, polls have shown that the majority of the population were partially or wholly ignorant of that aspect of British history. I am fortunate enough to be sufficiently informed in these matters, enabling me to teach my children (and grandchild) what the state has failed to do, saving them from such ignorance and instilling them with a sense of pride along the way.
Why is it important? This is important because it allows the non-black communities to learn or, at least, become aware of what essentially is part of their own history that they have been denied, given its absence from schools curricula. The consequence of which is that history is being taught in a sanitised and exclusionary fashion.
What do I do? Until 18 months ago, I worked full time, as a subject matter expert in diversity and inclusion for six years; however, I have been involved in this sphere for most of my adult life – from equal opportunity to diversity – through various voluntary (external) and corporate activities within the civil service, for example, setting up and running BAME staff networks. This owes much to my cultural and familial inheritance. My maternal grandmother was a founding member of Marcus Garvey’s organisation, the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) that was first formed in Jamaica and she served as secretary for a regional branch in her parish. Garvey, of course, was the father of pan-Africanism and part of the UNIA’s philosophy was that black people should never forget that Africans had a history before slavery and that’s the message that has been passed on to my grandmother’s descendants as part of our socialisation.
What do I wish to see going forward? I would like to see plans to mainstream black history in history curricula, presented in historical and cultural contexts without attempting to dilute or rebrand BHM as “Diversity Month”. Racism and xenophobia are born of ignorance; therefore, if history is imparted at an early stage in the education sector, then people will understand, for example, why the Empire Windrush brought Caribbean immigrants to this country and there would be no need for them to question what they see. And, more importantly, the dissemination of outrageous stereotypes against a section of society would cease.
Vivienne Connell-Hall (PhD)