Why we celebrate Black History Month
By Tobi Enaigbe
08 October 2020
Black History Month has been observed in the UK since the 1980s, several decades after “Negro History Week”, the precursor to Black History Month, was launched in the US. Its purpose remains the same since its inception – to acknowledge Black stories and celebrate Black contributions in the hopes of eliminating bias and ultimately, building a society where Black people can be recognised as equal citizens.
Following the death of George Floyd at the hands of a white police officer in Minneapolis earlier this year, many people were unsure why the ‘Black Lives Matter’ protests had spread to the UK. This confusion can be attributed to the widely held belief that racism is solely an American issue, that racism does not exist here. But the truth of the matter is, Black British people are dissatisfied with the status quo, the outdated and often dangerous stereotypes and the general unwillingness of some to take our experiences seriously.
Black History Month is often commemorated with talks, workshops and exhibitions, making it the perfect time to expand one’s viewpoint and learn something new. The lack of Black British history taught in schools has been a point of contention for a while. However, during lockdown many people are choosing to take an active role in their learning - listening to podcasts, reading books by Black authors and watching films to develop their knowledge of Britain’s past to better understand the systems in the present. With the implications of race permeating all aspects of modern life, including education, health, and social mobility, we cannot afford to be ignorant on the topic. Confronting Britain’s imperialist past and its grim repercussions is uncomfortable, and I recognise this. But with the wealth of resources available to us today, it has never been easier to engage with and learn about Black experiences in British society. As a result, I am hopeful about the possibilities of what this time in history may yield.
So, while I recognise that confronting Britain’s imperialist past and its grim repercussions is uncomfortable, with the wealth of resources now available, I am glad that this can be done in the comfort of your own home, at the very least.
While it is important to pay tribute to prominent Black activists, artists and scientists, throughout the month, hearing stories of ordinary Black Britons living their lives is equally as valuable. Acknowledging the contributions of Black people in shaping the nation’s history and culture, allows us to challenge the perception that, in the UK, white is the default, making it easier to call into question phrases like 'you don't belong here', or 'go back to your country'.
I believe we celebrate Black History Month to better understand and relate with a historically overlooked and underserved community - your friends, colleagues and peers.