The celebration of Black History Month is contested with some arguing that it relegates Black History to just one month of the year. However, Sherelle Davids, LSESU Anti-Racism Officer, argues that Black History Month is not the cause but the effect of sidelining of Black History in our education system.
October in the UK marks the month of Black History – a month which is supposed to be a time when we emphasise the importance of black participation and experience throughout history.
Ever since I can remember, Black History Month has been a time when we discuss the lives of Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Nelson Mandela, Rosa Parks and other famous black icons throughout history.
While there is much that can be criticised, it was the one and only time I got to learn about history that was remotely relevant to me, in school. While history taught in the British education system is Eurocentric, Black History Month is a time when the system is pressured to step outside of that small box.
Figures such as Morgan Freeman have criticised Black History Month in the past as it is seen as relegating fundamental parts of history to one month and therefore making it subservient to the history of the dominant culture, White History. I too believe that Black History is considered and treated as inferior to White History. Where I disagree is the idea that Black History Month is the cause of that. The reason why Black History is pushed aside in our society and in our education system is rooted in racism.
Criticising people who make an effort within the Month is not helpful and more importantly inaccurate. A month dedicated to Black History, if done correctly, can counteract the neglect it faces within education system. It’s a time when contribution of black people in our society is emphasised and held up on a platform as something that should not just be taught but celebrated.
Although I am an advocate of the Month, I do not think it is perfect in its current form. The Month often focuses on men and has a habit of modifying radicals, for example Nelson Mandela, and focusing on black people post slavery. These are all things that need to change in order to stop Black History Month from being repetitive and irrelevant.
If Black History was to fade away what opportunity would black people in the UK have to learn about their past? Black History Month came out of a necessity; there was no space for it in the curriculum, so until that issue is addressed it must always remain.
Black History Month should not be used as an excuse to forget about Black History for the other 11 months of the year. It should act as an opportunity to fight for having Black History incorporated into our education system. There is no reason we should not politicise Black History Month and use it to campaign to get Black History into the curriculum and regarded just as important as European history.
The fact that we still need a month where we highlight Black History is symbolic and not the cause of its inferiority. We have a responsibility to our black children to keep Black History Month going. It’s currently taking the place of something our education system is not providing and needs to continue filling that gap until the racism that is entrenched in our education system is abolished.
Sherelle Davids is a 19 year old from South London, studying Sociology at the LSE. She is currently in the role of Anti-Racism Officer of the LSE Students’ Union. She is working on bringing Black History Month back to the union with renewed vigour.