With the British curriculum unchanged, Black history in school was very basic: slaves, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and Rosa Parks. Yes, they were integral to the rights Black people now have today but for 12 years of my life, year after year, those four topics were the only ones we were taught about Black history. And the leading figures were all men (bar Rosa of course).
By Bukky Fadipe, BA Journalism, Film and Television Studies
I was one of the first to sign a petition calling for a change to the curriculum. With over 240,000 signatures signing a Change.org petition to urge the UK government to teach a more varied history of Black people in UK schools, it’s clear that this is an issue steadily gaining interest amongst the British public. Despite these signatures, the UK government responded with what I can politely put as a “No, thank you”.
I was horrified to read the latest update by the Department of Education. Alongside worrying instructions about non-binary and transgender studies, they also included guidelines that banned the use of materials with “extreme” positions. Sounds harmless – but when given examples of these “extreme positions” they include, but are not limited to:
- Promoting non-democratic political systems rather than those based on democracy, whether for political or religious reasons or otherwise
- Teaching that requirements of English civil or criminal law may be disregarded whether for political or religious reasons or otherwise.
Not so bad, right? But wait, they were coupled with:
- Promoting divisive or victim narratives that are harmful to British society
- Selecting and presenting information to make unsubstantiated accusations against state institutions
With everything going on with the Black Lives Matter movement and people becoming more vocal about their racist experiences at the hands of the NHS, educational institutions and in workplaces that include the House of Commons, this is worrying. They were short of just outright saying, ‘Nobody wants to hear your complaints, Black people’. Their insinuation that our cries are not valid is nothing short of disappointing, yet I’m far from surprised.
My daughter is seven years old and I guess I now have a different perspective than I did 10 years ago. With her school teaching her about the fire of London four years on the trot and her school turning Black History month to “Equality Week” [a week dedicated to learning about men and women of all colour who made great strides in medicine, voting and human rights] I begun taking it upon myself to teach my daughter a more in-depth look at Black History.
Black History should be taught alongside and with the same enthusiasm as Christopher Columbus and the Egyptians. Why must we be satisfied with a month when we, just like other moments in history, deserve our stories to be told in its entirety?
You may be asking yourself why I am attempting to teach my young child about such horrific scenes in history and I don’t blame you in thinking Black history is nothing but pain and suffering, but Black people are so much more than slavery. To start with, I got her a book by Vashti Harrison called Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History. That book taught me more than I ever learnt in school.
The book showed that Black women are evolutions in the medical field: Mary Seacole, a nurse who went behind enemy lines of her own accord after being rejected by the British War Office to serve as a nurse during the Crimean Peninsula war. We are geniuses that enabled the progression of NASA: Katherine Johnson calculated the flight path for the first mission to the moon and influenced every major space mission since. We are politicians: Diane Abbott is the first Black woman to be elected to Parliament and who continues to fight for the rights of all of us, not just Black people. We are singers: Adelaide Hall and Shirley Bassey, despite their harsh upbringing, were still able to sing songs of powerful joy. We are filmmakers and influencers: look at Julie Dash and Oprah Winfrey. We are so much more than trauma.
Despite the world seemingly engineered towards our failure, we have prevailed, and we will continue to do so. The list of Black people contributing to the development of society is never-ending, yet why are we taught only about slavery and the negative parts of our past? That I can’t answer but it is my mission to ensure my child sees her capabilities. To see that she is capable of so much more. In my household, just like the rest of the year, Black History Month is a time of celebration; a time to revel in dance from different cultures across Africa, to cook different foods and learn about cultures that are lesser known.
So if you’re reading this, whatever your heritage, I encourage you to learn beyond what you’ve been taught. I urge you to watch movies, read books and revel in the joy that is out there. Black people, we are more than trauma. We are more than slavery. We are more than what they made us believe; we are deserving of success and we are capable of accessing all of that. Look beyond the trauma, look beyond the curriculum and access that joy by being the best we can be.
Happy Black History Life – because we are so much more than just a month.