What exactly is Black history?
That’s the question I find myself asking every October when Black History Month rolls back around.
To me, it encompasses entire continents, thousands of years and ancient civilisations that cannot be placed into a single bracket.
How could all of this be condensed down into just one month of the year? I believe we should teach Black history all year round – but let’s just call it history.
My mother is from Zimbabwe and my father is Nigerian. Those two countries alone are poles apart in so many aspects.
I’m lucky enough to have been taught by my dad and uncles about the revolutions in Nigeria, the many languages spoken, the rival tribes, numerous coups, the liberation from British colonialism, and our problematic treatment of Ghanaians living in Nigeria.
As for Zimbabwe, I went to primary school there for just over one year so – along with my mum’s oral history – I was taught about both Portuguese and British colonisation, our rich soil or copper reserves and the freedom fighter Robert Mugabe who eventually became a tyrannical ruler.
This enriched my understanding of both who I am and where I am from. The struggles of my forefathers and the current state of Nigeria and Zimbabwe is clearer to understand when you know the history of those countries.
Knowing the battles and obstacles of my elders also gave me a greater appreciation of the hardships endured by my grandparents to allow for more opportunities for their children, and in return my parents did the same for me and my siblings.
With both countries, I am barely even scratching the surface of their great histories. I can’t tell you everything that I have been taught in this column, and I certainly couldn’t do it in one month.
Black history can never be broken down into four weeks – it is too great and far reaching. Just because I am interested in the history of Nigeria, it doesn’t mean my Bajan friends are and vice versa. So what aspects of Black history will be handpicked and taught for the month?
Regarding Black history in the UK specifically, I think it should just be taught as British history.
It shouldn’t shy away from the tricky parts. Like the relationship between the Commonwealth and the millions of people around the world who were affected by it.
How the British Museum allegedly houses stolen artefacts from other countries. Or how Britain stole minerals and resources from other nations and still profits today from those actions.
How we only finished paying off the debt accrued by giving reparations to slavers in 2015, and those families that profited from slavery made millions of pounds, which is now passed down as generational wealth – but the descendants of slaves were passed nothing apart from their slave master’s surname.
But there are also plenty of Black British pioneers who should be taught about in schools.
Olaudah Equiano was a Nigerian born abolitionist. He bought his freedom and settled in Britain where he wrote and published one of the earliest arguments against slavery. The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano sold out and was incredibly popular in its day.
Many of us know the tragic end of Justin Fashanu but his life as a footballer was trailblazing. He was the first Black footballer to have a £1million transfer fee, and he was the first openly gay footballer in the top flight.
When children are taught about WW2 they should be told of the Black soldiers from all over the world who fought for our freedoms too. We cannot have women’s rights and the suffrage movement discussed without considering how Black and Asian women were treated.
Black History is too vast to be whittled down to one month with a few select bits of our lives and stories.
On top of that, Black history should be passed down from our parents. Thanks to my dad we can trace our family back to around 600 years ago, right to the spot on the Delta River where my family have their origins.
But it’s not just a personal history that needs to be passed on, it’s an oral history of the country that your parents are from too.
This is why I believe it’s so important for my son to attend Igbo lessons, where he learns the language and the culture. In his classes he is told stories of the old Nigeria, the reason that the flag is green and white, he’s taught why the land has lush green forests and what animals live there.
Eventually, as he grows up, he’ll be taught about the politics of the country and the issues and problems that have historically plagued the nation and what caused them. He’ll be told of Nigerian heroes, legends who fought for the country, Nigerians who were innovators, he’ll be taught about the Super Eagles and Jay-Jay Okocha.
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The UK is made up of such a rich and diverse Black population, including – according to England and Wales census data from 2021 – almost 1.5million Black Africans, over 600,000 Black Caribbeans and nearly 300,000 people in the Black (other) category.
For me, Black History Month will never be able to tell all aspects of our history, so rather than have 30 days dedicated to it, we should instead teach Black British history all year round as part of the national curriculum.
Don’t treat it as a separate entity that can be diluted to simply a monthly gesture.
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