Updated: Dec 10, 2021
It's that time of year again. It's Black History Month. A time where we celebrate important black historical figures like Martin Luther King Jr, Malcolm X, Mary Seacole, Marcus Garvey, etc. A time wherein schools we dedicate a few lessons to Black History, By the 1st of November, it's done. We wait another 11 months to celebrate black history again.
In 1926, 'Negro History Week' was created in the United States. While it only got support from states like North Carolina, Delaware, and West Virginia when it first started, it grew in popularity in the following decades until the Black History Month we know today was first celebrated in the United States in February 1970. It was first celebrated in the UK in October 1987, 13 years later. It was organised through Akyaaba Addai-Sebo, a Ghanaian analyst, journalist, and pan-African activist.
And since then, we've been celebrating nearly the same thing every October. This endless cycle needs to stop. Celebrating black history is great by itself but relegating all of it to one month is the problem.
One reason it should not be just a month is because of what we learn for much of the year. For most of the year, we learn about events that mainly happened in Europe and the United States. And even if these countries are culturally diverse, we consciously or unconsciously choose to focus on only White Americans, White Britons, etc. Black people make up a large number of these countries' populations (46.9 million in the United States or 14.2% in 2021 and 1.8 million in England or 3.5% in 2011) and are intertwined in the countries' histories. If we only focused on the groups that made up most of the population then as we have seen throughout history, groups get ignored and become invisible. Black History Month was created to celebrate not only black peoples' but other ethnic/racial groups' contributions to British life. So why don't we celebrate that? Also putting away black and other non-white ethnic groups' roles in European and American history for a second, Africa itself has a rich history. Sure, much of its recorded history was destroyed in or originated from European colonialism in Africa but much of its history has lived on through the culture and oral traditions. Why don't we learn about the Songhai Empire, the Ashanti empire, etc, or the kings and queens that ruled these empires and regions? Let's not forget the rich diversity of Caribbean culture and their immense influence on British customs, speech, and traditions like the use of MLE (which has its roots in Jamaican Patois and various South Asian languages) or genres like calypso and reggae which have made their way into mainstream British culture. Even food like jerk chicken, rice and peas, and fried dumplings have been heavily popularised. Or Northern, Eastern, Central, and Southern African cultures. They all have large populations in the UK. It's not to say that celebrating the groundbreaking accomplishments of African American civil rights activists in the early to mid-20th century is not important or relevant, but rather I am saying is that can't be all. It's just can't. Black British history and culture (and their origins) should be incorporated as history in general.
I will use a quote I used in my article entitled 'Why Cultural Pride and Internalised Racism Cannot Co-Exist'. "I may have been born and raised in London, but I know West African culture is a lot more than chicken and jollof rice." In the same fashion today I say, I may be 4300 miles away from my ancestral homeland, but I know Black culture is a lot more than a month's worth.