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Black History Month – Why we still need it

by P Gregory: Owner Editor of the Black Presence Website.

So, Black History Month 2010 is upon us, and as I sit here and take a breather after working hard to get the website to a state of readiness, I wonder how long it will be before the mud starts flying?

Black History Month, is at best controversial in Britain for a number of reasons. There are those on the right of the political spectrum, who believe that it is “Racist and Divisive” .   They say that Black History Month smacks of hypocrisy, when white organisations are not afforded the same courtesy.

They believe, that to celebrate Black History exclusively, is to separate black people from the rest of the population, and that ultimately leads to deeper division.

Then,  we have those on the left of politics, who believe that Black History Month is absolutely essential. That Black people have been oppressed for far too long and that the creation of a dedicated month, of events and seminars, creation of websites, informative newsletters and media programming, empowers black people to re-connect with their lost and hidden heritage. They believe that the removal or cessation of such an event would be racist in the extreme, and an attack on the civil liberties of black people.

So where is the middle ground?

Before we get into the rights and wrongs of whether Black History Month should even exist, allow me to make some observations.

I approach the whole subject with the observation that Black History Month EXISTS.   It existed in America first, and it exists now in Britain and has since the mid Eighties, although few people would really know it. The very fact that it exists, suggests to me that any person of African/Caribbean origin, who has any depth of character, will have been involved in some way.

  • If there are seminars, information or exhibitions available to you, that will help you increase knowledge of self and national identity, then why not go along?
  • Why not increase your knowledge about history?
  • Why not contextualise your own life in the history of not just your own ethnic group, but in the world community?

Anyone who rejects this idea, simply because they feel uninterested, is in my opinion, cutting their nose to spite their face. Refusing to learn because you don’t like the subject matter is the tactic of a child.

For those who exhibit at, and organise events during Black History Month, not only is it a perfect time, to reach out to your own demographic and beyond, offering  information about your services and products, it is also a fantastic networking opportunity.

Businesses who ignore Black History Month, are simply sleeping. Regardless of your ethnicity, this is a time of economic hardship, and events that bring people together en-masse bring with them an opportunity for businesses to sell, make money and to form strong community links.

My feelings regarding the morality of Black History Month are that the idea behind Black History Month is not racist.

Sure,  mostly Black people tend to be featured, but one has to ask oneself, ” why this is”?

It is simply because many of the personalities highlighted during Black History Month are conspicuous by their absence in mainstream accepted history.

A good example is the wholesale exclusion of Black contribution to the defence of the realm during Two World Wars.

When learning about WW1, Individual stories are rarely focused on.   Figures like Walter Tull go un-noticed. What was special about him, critics would say. Well, he was special.   He was the only Black Commissioned Officer in the British Army at that time. This was due to a rule forbidding non whites from leading White troops. Nevertheless he managed to rise from the rank of Private soldier to Lieutenant in just 2 years.

French Colonial Troops
French Colonial Troops

During and after the First World War the use by France of African Troops to occupy the German Rhineland is rarely mentioned, even though there is a lot of documentary evidence.

Little is made of their contribution, or the treatment they faced by the Germans if they were captured. Even less is told of the racist propaganda they had to endure whilst they were doing their duty overseas. Even the British Press printed stories of the “Black Horror on the Rhine“, siding with the very people who had recently been Britain’s enemy, making accusations based on hearsay and racial prejudice.

Jonny Smythe
Jonny Smythe

During World War 2, The Royal Airforce is widely credited with saving Britain from invasion by thwarting the Luftwaffe’s attempts to crush British spirit and achieve total air superiority.

It is often mentioned that Polish, and Canadians served in the Royal Airforce during WW2, but the Indians and Caribbean Airmen and Women hardly ever get a mention.  In fact, recently I saw a glossy magazine commemorating, the Battle of Britain, not one Black or Asian Airman was featured or even mentioned.

Perhaps the publishers didn’t know of their involvement? Perhaps they did, but chose to omit them, if so why?
Surely if Black and Asian shoppers felt more of a connection with the events of WW2,  then they might spend their hard earned cash on that product?

Until as recently as 1997,  Caribbean Troops who served in both Wars weren’t even invited to the Cenotaph to commemorate the War Dead. All this amounts to a white washing of history, and one could be forgiven for thinking that black people, simply didn’t participate in either world War. Today there are so few old comrades left, that without a concerted effort to insert their efforts into the public consciousness, who would ever know of their efforts?

Of course, there are countless examples of Black Britons I could use to illustrate this point but the loss of Black history and Black contribution to British History in general is lamentable indeed. Not just for Black people, but for all Britons regardless of colour . It is important that as British citizens we have a detailed historical record of our past. The Internet now provides new ways to locate, present and access that information, not just to each other, but to the whole world.

Until the above examples and countless others find their way into the majority of history reports, the school curriculum and publications, then Black History Month will always be needed, because without it, we simple aren’t getting the full picture.

Related Links

Walter Tull

Caribbean Aircrew in WW2

Memorial Gates- We Also Served

Senegalese Tirailleurs

BBC Radi4 – Black History month the Usual Suspects

3 thoughts on “Black History Month – Why we still need it

  • 10th October 2010 at 6:14 am
    Permalink

    You black brits really make me laugh.

    as a Black Chicagoan living in Greenwich SE10, I see your plight (if it’s called as such) as emblematic of confused victimhood. On the one hand, you want to have your Heritage acknowledged in the country upon which you hail and have allegiances to. On the other (and, one would argue, the more IMPORTANT) hand, your people CHOSE to reside in Britain. Okay, yes, your people were enslaved, hence most UK blacks coming from the Commonwealth/Caribbean. But hey: Windrush Much??? At that point – as far as I’m concerned – AfroCaribbeans became immigrants, meaning that they had a background that wasn’t as directive as we (black Americans) received. So, please.

    Reply
  • 18th January 2011 at 3:56 am
    Permalink

    Black History Month in the UK seems like an excuse to for Britain to copy America. America has BHM for a reason, because of slavery and the brutal killings that went on for 100-200 years. Most of this didn’t happen in Britain. I’m not saying that black people in the UK shouldn’t have their own cultural occasion but it screams desperate imitation when it falls during the exact same time as the American event.

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