It’s time to put the Black back into Black History Month

Scotland’s take on Black History Month this year could easily be described as a disaster of political blackness, anti blackness, and evidence of the general lack of education demonstrated regarding race in Scotland. Political Blackness; being a term that was popular to use in twentieth century Britain, which describes the use of ‘Black’ as a race identifier for anyone who is non-white.
In essence white people couldn’t be bothered to tell the difference if you were Asian or African, resulting in the n word and the p word among other racist slurs being interchangeable across the different non white races. This lazy approach to tackling race has meant that Black History month does not do what it is meant to, empowering Black people specifically.

If you didn’t already know – Black and Brown people, experience life very differently which is evidenced within our society. Yes, both experience forms of racism and have histories of western oppression, but that does not equate one experience with the other. Anti-black racism is very specific, to, Black people. Anti-black racism is present in non black POC communities so to lump our identities together makes no sense.

From my own experiences growing up, I have seen the conflation of our experiences through the use of the n word, as plenty of non black POC believe they have the right to the term, which is not true and is a form of anti-blackness. Knowing that these differences exist within the Scottish community of colour- I have to ask, when will the events of Black History Month reflect this?
The Coalition of Racial Rights and Equality, who have co-coordinated BHM since 2001, and who adhere to political blackness within their ethos, included an event celebrating Gandhi’s birth. They organised a talk centred around Ghandi, a brown man, in a month that is supposed to centre Black people. Gandhi, if you didn’t know, was anti-black. He held beliefs similar to South African’s during apartheid and sought for Indians to be separated from Blacks, who he described as ‘savages’, amongst many other comments.

This makes celebrating his birthday during Black History Month even more ridiculous, and only highlights the ways in which political blackness is a term that is used to violently erase the experiences of actual Black people, in this case, through the celebration of racist minorities.

Further to this, there were many events hosted by white people discussing slavery. I have to ask why white people are even included within a programme which is meant to celebrate the contributions of Black people, but also why the narratives of slavery are pushed so profoundly to the forefront of Black stories that it is hard to sometimes see anything other than trauma porn?

When these sorts of discussions are hosted by a non black person there is a level of academic discourse that pushes away from the actual atrocities of slavery. I have witnessed the lack of empathy in these sorts of events as white people have actually laughed through their discomfort. I am usually one of the very few, if not only Black people in the room at these events which has made feel even further distraught as vital histories of oppression are treated lightly and worse, as a joke. Who are these events really for, and what they do? They are clearly not aimed at black people, as demonstrated by the fact that I am a minority in events that are supposed to celebrate my heritage. The people who attend will likely continue their day as normal, detached, not realising that we live in the afterlife of slavery and that it still effects black people to this day.

I would like to see Black academics in Scotland being given the space and paid opportunities that are currently being given to white academics who are engaged in black history. It is weird and ironic that Black history has been somewhat colonised so that white academics can make their living off us, yet again. White people must also recognise their positions of privilege and step aside when these opportunities present themselves, and ask, am I really the right person to do this?

There were events that celebrated the talents of Black people in the programme, yet none, if hardly any Black contributors were featured who were not performing. This only perpetuates further the concept of Black people being entertainers above anything else, which alongside the heavy contribution of white academics, portrays a familiar and overused balance in power. I am tired of this as it only further adds to the conscious and unconscious bias we as Black people experience in our day to day lives regarding what we are expected to excel in. This is part of the danger of enlisting people who do not have the experience of living a Black life who are then put in charge of our narratives – they become distorted and only work to further oppress us.

I would like to suggest that:

Non-black people do not take part in Black History events, this includes people of colour and white people, its not for you.
Non-black poc should start their own history month.

Non-black poc and white people should enlist and PAY Black people to run BHM. A lot of this comes down to those in powerful positions who are unwilling to relinquish control, as well as not willing to accept their ignorance.

People should read more- steps must be taken to understand the specific problems experienced by Black people in racist societies.

I hope 2020 provides a new outlook for Black History Month and that Black people within Scotland can feel accurately seen and celebrated. Growing up as Black and Scottish I never saw myself represented, ever. This led to a lot of internalised confusion and frustration.

Through my own efforts I attempted to learn about the forgotten stories that school and the world had not taught me. I attended many events out of a desperate desire to find narratives like my own. This led to many misleading narratives being presented to me, which only worked to confuse me even further. When I began my journey, I did not see a problem with non black POC using the n word, or political blackness being used, or even white people making black histories their lives work. I am now very protective of my Blackness and well versed in recognising how other people will claim the stories of you and your ancestors for their own gain.

Black History Month has the potential to influence younger generations of Black Scottish people through seeing and hearing the lives of others whose paths they walk. The importance of accurate representation of marginalised groups has so much potential in changing the outlook of said person’s life, which I know firsthand.

As Marian Wright Edelman says, ‘you can’t be what you can’t see.’


Image:U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development via Flickr

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