The events of 2020 have provoked a global awakening to fundamental issues surrounding race and identity that have been neglected for far too long. In Britain, the Black Lives Matter movement has finally forced us to reflect upon the colonial history of our country, and the systemic racism and inequality entrenched within our society.
For many people of colour, it has been a period of struggle and frustration, hopefulness yet fatigue, as the momentous push for change is countered by continued injustices and tragic losses within the black global community.
Therefore Black History Month 2020 holds special significance: it serves as a chance for black communities to heal, reconnect with each other, and celebrate African and Caribbean cultures and heritage in their full glory, recognising how much has been achieved. It has become increasingly evident just how much is left out of our history textbooks, and Black History Month provides yet another opportunity to revitalise discussion and exploration of a side of British history that is so often repressed.
Founded in the United States in 1926 by historian Carter G. Woodson, it started out as a week dedicated to challenging the preconceived notion that, ‘the negro has no history’. A few years later, amid the civil rights movement and Black Power movement, it was decided that Negro History Week was simply not long enough. In February 1969, Black History Month was born.
In Britain, the first Black History Month event was not held until October 1987. The concept was put forward by Akyaaba Addai-Sebo, coordinator of special projects for the Greater London Council. After visiting the US in the 1970s and lecturing about Africa and its contribution to world civilisation, she saw the need for something similar to be done here in the UK to permanently celebrate the diverse histories and identities of black British people.
In an interview for New African magazine, Addai-Sebo talks about how the month of October is consecrated as the harvest and Yam Festival period, and was traditionally known as a time of tolerance and reconciliation in Africa; when chiefs and leaders came together to settle differences. In the modern day, Black History Month is a reconnection with our roots, a harvesting of black growth, excellence and power.
In a perfect world, a month to amplify stories of black resilience and achievement would not be necessary. They would be recognised and appreciated in the everyday, from the content of our national curriculum to the figures portrayed on British currency. Yet 2020 has highlighted that this is clearly not the case, and a dedicated month to celebrate the contributions of African people to the story of our country is still very much required.
Last week saw Instagram relaunching their #ShareTheMicUK campaign, where a group of inspirational black women took over the accounts of prominent non- black women with large social media followings for a day. A number of online Q&As, book talks and informative courses will be running throughout Black History Month, found via https://www.blackhistorymonth.org.uk.
This year in Edinburgh, it was kickstarted with the BlackEdMovement’s online event Black Excellence 2.0, celebrating 10 years of Black History Month at the University of Edinburgh after its launch by the first black president of the Students’ Association, Brianna Pegado.
Instagram accounts to follow to find out more about events, exhibitions and black-owned businesses to support throughout the year include the BlackEd Movement (@blcked_movement), UoE African Caribbean Society (@eu_acs) and African Caribbean Society Scotland (@acsscotland).
Image: Irina Kuzmina via Pixabay