A call to change the way the UK commemorates black history month

Roundup
tags: Black History Month



David Olusoga is a British-Nigerian historian and broadcaster Thumbnail Image - "Martin Luther King Jr NYWTS" by Dick DeMarsico, World Telegram staff photographer. "Nelson Mandela-2008 (edit)" by South Africa The Good News / www.sagoodnews.co.za. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Commons.

Britain is a nation for which history is an obsession and a popular passion. Look at our top visitor attractions. Museums, stately homes and ancient cathedrals draw bigger crowds, year after year, than amusement parks or zoos. Our national fascination with the past supports a vast, cross-fertilising network of university departments, museums, historic buildings, magazines, publishers, festival organisers, TV and radio documentary makers and numerous heritage organisations.

But in this world of blue plaques and green National Trust badges, there’s a missing colour: black. Most of our heritage institutions – all of them full of well-meaning, highly educated and liberal people – struggle to bring black people through their doors, as either visitors or colleagues, despite the efforts of many committed people working in the field.

It’s the same at our universities: history is currently the third least popular subject among black undergraduates. Only veterinary science and agriculture manage to repel minority students more effectively. 

But here’s the irony. History is valued by black Britons in ways that are unique. No other people see history in quite the same way because no other people have had their history so comprehensively denied and disavowed. Among the many justifications for slavery, and later for the colonisation of Africa, was the assertion that Africans were a people without a history. The German philosopher Hegel, writing in the 1830s, claimed that: “Africa … is no historical part of the world.” Other peoples have seen their cultures dismissed as backward or barbarous, but the antiquity of those cultures has rarely been so repudiated.

When black people began to arrive in Britain in unprecedented numbers after the second world war, they discovered they were largely absent from mainstream history. This was to rub salt into that old wound. The insult was felt most acutely by Caribbean immigrants, people whose ancestors had been transported on British slave ships, to work British plantations in the British West Indies for the enrichment of British slave-owners, only for that whole tragic history to be reduced to footnotes and passing references in text books. ...




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