October welcomes Black History Month and with it the opportunity to recognise and celebrate the many neglected accomplishments and cultures of Black people across the world.
Black History Month started in the UK in 1987 when Akyaaba Addai-Sebo, a Ghanaian who worked as a special projects coordinator for the Greater London Council, created a collaboration. The aim was to educate others on the African and Caribbean heritage of those living in the country. He chose October as it was the month where African chiefs were known to come together and settle their differences.
In the US however, Black History Month is celebrated in February to mark the birthdays of former President Abraham Lincoln and abolitionist Frederick Douglass. Both well celebrated figures in the Black community, Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing slaves of the Confederate States, and Frederick Douglass became a public speaker and author after escaping slavery himself. Frederick Douglass was a very prominent activist for the end of slavery, Black people’s rights and later in life women’s rights. After all we know it wasn’t one White man who ended slavery; and we also know that Black hostages didn't remain docile and submissive. It’s important to remember that Lincoln’s proclamation only called for a gradual end to slavery and not freedom for all slaves. He exempted certain states in order to gain their loyalty and protect the Union of the northern States of America. Lincoln had also previously voiced his views opposing Black people having the rights to vote, serve on juries and interracial marriage.
Black history shouldn’t have to be labelled as 'Black', it’s just history. History that has affected everybody, shaping the world and country that we live in today. After all, the rest of history isn’t known as ‘White’ history and that’s because sadly, White is seen as the default.
Education and the media have been White washed for a long time, with the very few Black representatives often only shown in stereotypical ways. We’ve been conditioned to believe that all Black people in history were less intelligent and poor, with those that did achieve something ‘doing so against all odds’. It’s almost seen as out of character, or a miracle for a Black person to have accomplishments.
When we take the time to look back through true history and see the amazing minds, innovation and inventions that were contributed by Black people, many are surprised. Amazing people have been missed and their stories forgotten.
It’s not only important that we look back, but that we applaud those who are doing the work today, continuing to pave the way for those to come. We all hold the responsibility to cement those people in the history that will be taught tomorrow. We can no longer allow history to be White washed, or Black people’s achievements honoured for only one month - people aren’t Black for only four weeks of the year. Hopefully the events that have taken place in 2020 can be the impetus for change so that achievements made by Black people are honoured in the ways they should be.
Despite the ridiculous Pure Gym ‘slave’ workout and UberEats’ ‘Black woman eating chicken’ advert, the amount of organisations that are showing their support and genuine desire to change is already an achievement. The representation and amount of best sellers written by Black authors we are starting to see this year is a promising start.
Usually conferences, exhibitions and food festivals spring up across the country, however in the current climate, many celebrations will have to take place virtually. Let’s unite in celebrating the joyous cultures that make our world what it is today.
Watch and share the documentaries airing by Black people in the media that we love, support black business, attend those webinars and enrich yourself with glorious food, music and books. Most importantly, don’t stop when October does.
Written by Simone Robinson
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