The UK is a country built on the achievements of black people. This fact is something that even our leaders are quick to brush over. Recent and historical scandals such as Windrush have only served to highlight the severity of racism in the UK. With current contributions of black people scarcely acknowledged, it’s clear to see that there is much progress to be made before black history can be integrated into existing curriculums without being unjustly affected by institutional racism.
Separating and celebrating the history of a race within a single month is something that does, at least in the first instance, sound ideal. It’s true that social and political divides by race are highlighted by the existence of annual celebrations such as Black History Month (BHM). It could be suggested, however, that they only work in an attempt to categorise ‘black history’ as a single thing, to be celebrated in an allotted time, as opposed to treating it with the nuance that we expect of historical studies. Despite these concerns, it would not be appropriate to remove BHM now, or for so long as there’s no framework for rebalancing institutional inequalities and ensuring that education successfully highlights black historical figures and events alongside lessons of their white counterparts.
Perhaps more importantly is that arguments based on not separating race are effectively a practical application of ‘not seeing race’. This perspective has been heavily criticised. ‘Colour blindness’ with regard to race is detrimental, in that it wilfully ignores the inequalities faced by ethnic minorities and assumes that they and white people are treated equally. This is not the case. Black contributions to history have been systematically ignored for decades and this is not something that’s likely to change, especially if culturally noteworthy events such as BHM are dismissed.
Black history month is massively important. In a country that’s incredibly and increasingly diverse, black history month provides an opportunity to teach pupils of their own and their peer’s heritage, something that has previously been overlooked. With such a heavy focus on the concept of ’British values’ in schools, specifically regarding tolerance, it’s important that schools themselves impose measures which demonstrate a top-down approach to inclusivity and anti-racist movements. Responsibility to acquire and practise this knowledge should not be placed entirely on students themselves.
Black history month is an effective avenue through which these measures can be achieved, through providing a starting point for schools and other institutions to discuss black history before being able to apply it to a wider curriculum. Further to this, with GCSE and A Level courses seldom focusing on anything outside of white British history and texts, written by white British authors, there are currently few opportunities for educators to actively intergrade black history and contributions into their teaching. Black history month supplies the opportunity for whole-school events to be structured and delivered to a mass student audience where national curriculums may not allow for further exploration.
This is of course not to say that there isn’t still much progress to be made. It’s true that black history month can inadvertently be reductive, in that many educators and institutions neglect black history throughout the year due to the misinformed understanding that it will be made up for in the October. Black history month serves the purpose of emphasising the importance of black history in a society that continues to be institutionally and systematically racist. It’s naïve and perhaps ignorant to believe that without the existence of black history month that black history would be consistently taught and spoken about in this country’s schools. If systemic issues continue to be ignored, it’s vital that black history is given space within the UK’s whitewashed and euro-centric curriculums, that turn a blind eye to our country’s history. Whilst it should certainly be an aim for BHM to one day no longer be necessary, for now it is crucially important and is something that should receive more attention.