In the only lesson I ever had about black history in primary school, I was taught that black people first came to Britain in 1948 from Jamaica via the Empire Windrush. I was not told that on that ship there were Guyanese, Trinidadian and St Lucian migrants, not just Jamaican citizens, and I was not told that the British government wanted them to fill a labour shortage after the war, and I was not told of the discrimination and prejudice black people faced when they came to Britain. In fact, I was only taught what discrimination and prejudice was in school in year 7. And the second time I ever looked at black history ever again was in secondary school for one lesson, where we were taught how and why the transatlantic slave trade started. Black history in Britain did not start with Windrush, and black history in the Western world overall did not start with the transatlantic slave trade.
Black people have been in Britain from the time of the Romans, this is evident in archaeological findings, perhaps they have been here even longer. Henry the seventh, Henry the eighth and Queen Elizabeth the first had North African moors and West African musicians in their courts as entertainers. This shows how notable and powerful black arts, specifically music has been in Britain from five hundred years ago, to the present day where we see black Afro-Caribbean underground rappers and now mainstream grime artists having a huge impact on the youth of today as well as society. It is fair to say, black people have integrated into Britain and contributed significantly to ‘Britishness’. This contribution can be seen through not only music, but media as an industry, food, as well as politics.
In school we are taught women got the right to vote in America in 1920, however we are not told that Black women were marginalised by not only white males but also fellow white suffragettes. We are not told that in some Southern states of America, Black women were only given the right to vote until the 1960’s.
Time and time again, we see this same narrative of Black historical figures as either slaves, colonial subjects or activists. We do not study the complexities of black historical figures the way we do white historical figures. Everyone knows the story of Henry VIII and his wives but not a lot of people know that in Britain, we had the British Black Panthers.
It is important to recognise the achievements and successes of black individuals. In school we learn about Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela and Rosa Parks, however we never look at Marcus Garvey, Toussaint Louverture, Mansa Musa or King Taharqa of Egypt. If we do study something, it’s always plastered against a Eurocentric background. Black history is not given its own platform, it’s not respected in its own distinct way.
Morgan Freeman famously said “I don’t want a Black history month. Black history is American history.” Black people have integrated to society and contributed significantly to both Britain and America for hundreds of years, why is it then that we have only one month dedicated to Black history? Why is Black history not part of the school curriculum?