In the UK, history textbooks often reflect a deep unwillingness to acknowledge the full story of our blood-soaked colonial past. Consequently, very little is said to challenge the racism and injustice which forms the backdrop to our present day…
Questions Without Answers
Each month, Olivia Scher chooses a personal question to ask herself, discussing her ideas, thoughts and feelings about life and the world around us. In exploring a range of topics she dares herself to be brutally honest in the pursuit of insight acquired through questions without answers.
In the UK, history textbooks often reflect a deep unwillingness to acknowledge the full story of our blood-soaked colonial past. Consequently, very little is said to challenge the racism and injustice which forms the backdrop to our present day. And this silence is both deafening and palpable. Instead of providing our young people with a balanced, inclusive, and honest education, the current system has made a tradition of romanticising our imperial past, by celebrating and perpetuating white colonial narratives.
These folk tales are repeated ad nauseum through the saturation of Eurocentric thought and have resulted in the exclusion and rejection of Black histories. The absence in our curriculums of Black literature, philosophy, science, arts and culture – let alone the history of Africa and her peoples – delivers the message that Black people are neither the creators of, nor the participants in, world history. To say that this powerful absence is untrue almost gives legitimacy to the argument it opposes; untrue is just the beginning. The culture of omitting Black people from virtually every subject in our curriculum suggests that they weren’t there making history too. And this omission affects how people of colour contextualise their identities; our reference points are scarce, and our confidence is impacted.
When we are ‘taught’ Black history, usually we only cover the transatlantic slave trade, and a heavily edited, highly sanitised version at that. This tradition of acknowledging Black people almost exclusively in relation to slavery simply perpetuates one idea: the story of white domination and Black subjugation. And the retelling, and retelling, and retelling of only that story is not a coincidence.
Colonialism is a process which relies on a conscious and proactive commitment to racialisation; the ascription of ‘racial’ meaning to particular groups of people, based on perceived biological differences and similarities. This categorisation has sought to justify the legal subjugation and exploitation of people, based on their physical appearance. Racialisation has bled into every corner of society, such that presently, we are living in a time where a continuing form of anti-Black discrimination is the systemic exclusion of (Black) history from our national curriculum.
What they don’t want us to know is that Black people – like all people – are and always have been creators and innovators, writers and philosophers, scientists and mathematicians, artists and architects. Black history is world history, it is all of our histories, it is the history of the human race and the history of our origins as a species.
But the idea that Black history exists solely in relation to slavery – or to European history – is woven into the fabric of society and it takes an enormous amount of advocacy and activism to meaningfully challenge it. But every year, throughout the year, people from all over society are confronting this discredited myth in order to decolonise the curriculum. And the month of October in particular, is a great time for raising awareness and demanding continuous progressive change.
I didn’t always feel this way about Black History Month. I often wondered if the existence of Black History Month makes permissible the cultural norm that throughout the rest of the year Black history doesn’t get a look-in. But I’ve changed my view and what is most important is that Black History Month is not the final destination. It is a necessary step towards establishing a solution to the problem. And therefore, the promotion and celebration of Black history as expressed in the active and joyous participation in Black History Month is a powerful progressive act.
To teach the histories of Black people is to recognise and celebrate our diversity, our interconnectedness, our own Black stories – our Blackness, our truth, the whole truth. And while the absence of Black history is one legacy of a discredited and racialised colonial mindset;
to celebrate being Black is essential,
to be informed on Black history is essential,
and to participate in Black History Month is essential.
Today, Black History Month exists because it’s necessary. Tomorrow that can change.