Black History Month & The Importance of Teaching Black British History

It's October so that means it's Black History Month, an annual event to promote and celebrate Black history. The origins of Black History Month lay in the development of 'Negro History Week' in 1926 in the United States, created by Carter G Woodson and the Association for the Study of African American Life and History in 1926. By the 1970s this later evolved into what we now know as Black History Month and was celebrated in the US every February. By the 1980s, as a result of campaigning by activists who wanted to challenge racism and the teaching of a Eurocentric version of history in schools, Black History Month was exported to the UK, starting mainly in London. 

Black History Month's founder Woodson said, 

“If a race has no history, it has no worthwhile tradition, it becomes a negligible factor in the thought of the world, and it stands in danger of being exterminated,” - Via Time

When I first saw this quote it really hit a chord with me and echoed some of the thoughts I've been having this month. So far this month I have been spending a lot of thinking about why black history is celebrated in October only. Whilst I still believe that Black History Month is incredibly important, we do have to ask ourselves why we only learn about Black history beyond slavery for just one month a year. For the other 11 months of the year Black history is largely ignored and definitely not taught in schools which fails to go beyond teaching about slavery. Whilst the slave trade is a very important topic and should definitely be taught in schools, the education systems needs to understand that Black British history goes far beyond this. 

Black British history is not currently a mandatory aspect of the national curriculum. This year also saw a setback in what can be taught, with schools no longer being able to teach "victim narratives" that might be "harmful to British society" which many have interpreted as potentially being able to block anti-racism and general social justice teaching. In David Olusoga's recent article for the Guardian, he suggested that topics such as slavery, racism and the violent nature of the British Empire may not be taught. However, if we want to gain an accurate understanding of British history we need to be taught the full history.

This is something that the Black Curriculum is seeking to change by working with the Department of Education and delivering workshops in schools. Founded in 2019 by Lavinya Stennett, the team at the Black Curriculum recognise the impacts of not teaching young people about their history in an accurate way. They state that by only teaching a Eurocentric version of history it can impact the sense of identity and belonging of young people in Britain and therefore aim to make history lessons in school relevant to all pupils. By teaching British history that includes Black history, it will provide young people with a better understanding of the communities they are part of and provide a better sense of belonging whereas the current system simply provides a distorted view of history. 

Earlier this year, we saw the Black Lives Matter movement gain more momentum than ever before with people actively starting their anti-racism journey. As a result Black History Month feels somewhat different too, with it being more widely supported by big businesses, political leaders and even the Royal Family. For me this Black History Month is about educating myself more about Black British History and ensuring that my learning continues for the rest of year also. Black British History is British History.

If you want to do the same here is a list of educators and resources that are dedicated to Black history and anti-racism all year round. If you can afford to make a donation to those that you use and find helpful please do!  

Black Cultural Archives (@bcaheritage) - the only heritage centre dedicated to black British history

Runnymede Trust 

Black Curriculum  (@theblackcurriculum) - You can show your support by donating to the Black Curriculum and by using the hashtag, #TBH365.

Black British History on Record at The National Archives

Black British History (@blackbritishhistory) - These guys have just released a brand new book looking at the Black influence on British culture (1948-2016).

History Corridor (@thehistorycorridor)  - Run by history teachers in NW London, The History Corridor provides amazing instagram content on historical figures/events that are often left out of history.

The Black Project (@theblack.project) - Celebrating, protecting, defending and educating on Black life, art and culture. They have a great brief history timeline of Black British History. 

UK Black History (@uk_black_history) - Educating about Black history 365 days a year. A great starting point for learning about inspirational Black figures from history.

Black History Lessons (@black_history_lesson) - Dedicated to sharing the lessons they forgot to teach you at school.

Goode Activism (@goodeactivism) - Dedicated to collating information about anti-racism, Black history and the black experience in an accessible format. 

All Black Lives UK (@allblacklivesuk) - A youth-led movement fighting for racial equality and justice for all Black people in the UK. They also have regional accounts for their local movements in Bristol, Birmingham and Manchester.

Everyday Racism (@everydayracism_)

Akala, Natives: Race and Class in Ruins of Empire

Reni Eddo-Lodge, Why I'm No Longer Talking to White People About Race

Afua Hirsch, Brit(ish): On Race, Identity and Belonging

David Olusoga, Black and British: a short essential history - This book is a short introduction to Black British history for readers aged 12+. Macmillan Children's Books will also be donating 50p for every copy sold to the Black Curriculum.

David Olusoga, "Black History Month is Now an Established Part of the Year. Let's Celebrate its Success" The Guardian 

"This is How February Became Black History Month" Time 

Camille London-Miyo, "I didn’t become a teacher to ban independent thought. Anti-racist education should not be up for debate" The Independent

Birmingham University, "About Black History Month"  

This is a non-exhaustive list and comprises mainly of Instagram accounts, organisations and books that I have personally read and used and can therefore recommend. If you have any further resources that you have found helpful in learning about Black British history or in your anti-racism work then please leave them in the comments below. 


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