In Britain, October has been dedicated to commemorating Black history since 1987. The month helps broaden narratives about the contributions of black individuals in Western history. Generally, Black History Month has been celebrated by recognising the achievements of black Americans rather than Britons. Often the same names and stories are regurgitated each year, leading some to question the genuineness of the annual tradition.
Black History Month has played a part in creating narrow impressions of black progress, typically diminished into the disempowerment of black people in the West. Celebrating Black History Month has also been used as a token by schools and businesses when challenged about the inclusivity in their curriculums and work environment. This is why a growing number of critics have abandoned the tradition and have questioned its relevance in society today.
With teachers claiming black history as being “whitewashed” from the curriculum, Black History Month seems to still be more relevant than ever in Britain. For example, the curriculum still does not mention the thousands of soldiers from the Caribbean and West Africa who fought for this country in the World Wars. This month serves as a way to acknowledge and honour the contributions of black individuals that the curriculum has blotted out and ignored.
Most importantly, Black History Month raises the awareness that Black history is still understudied in the UK. This stimulates political discourse and in turn, increases the possibilities for funding and support into vital but currently under-researched projects on Black history. This process will make Black history more established and accessible to people in the long run.
In an ideal world, we wouldn’t need a Black History month, but unfortunately, we don’t live in one. History is distorted and the limelight is often only shed on those who privileged historians’ thought was important.
Black History Month is crucial as it offers the opportunity for history to be reclaimed by those who live it. Since there isn’t a legitimate way for Black people to learn and know their history, Black History Month cannot be abandoned yet. Though in the past it may have overrepresented a certain aspect of Black histories, today, Black History Month can be adapted to inspire people and institutions to seek to learn more about black accomplishments and not to just lament over black suffering.
Black History Month undoubtedly plays a huge role in highlighting racial prejudice throughout history. In that sense, the existence of Black History Month is essential in fostering an inclusive and self-aware nation.
However, when analysing how effectively Black History Month commemorates Black history and the achievements of key historical figures, we could argue that one month of the year is not enough to effectively draw attention to the racial struggle of the Black community in America and the UK. In order to generate real awareness, a far more long-term curriculum of information needs to be woven into British schools, colleges and universities.
Dedicating one month to this cause in some ways detracts from how vast Black history is in reality. Instead of using Black History Month to compensate for a ‘whitewashed’ historical curriculum, incorporating compulsory modules regarding key topics such as the ‘scramble for Africa’, ‘the slave trade’ and ‘Black history and English heritage’ would effectively plug these holes and solve the root of the issue.
Further, many argue that much like Pride Month Black History Month is not necessarily taken seriously due to how it has been commercialised and utilised by retailers and organisations to attract customers and build themselves a diverse image. Making Black history a permanent fixture in British education would add more weight to Black political discourse and whilst preventing businesses from capitalising off of this. In many ways, this could be more effective than Black History Month itself.