Teach Black History every day

When I started teaching, I taught in a vibrant, multi-cultural school with teachers from all ethnic backgrounds. An Irish head, a Pakistani deputy and leading black senior staff, all women. I never thought about it then, but it made a difference on how the curriculum was taught in that school – so much so, that we probably taught “Black History” a lot of the year. I don’t recall it being called “Black History” but we did teach it. This was over 20 years ago. Things have changed since. I didn’t realise how lucky I was to have had that start in my career. The curriculum now has become less flexible, the pressure to meet targets has grown and Black History Month became a tick box in many schools. 

However, this year it’s been different. After the tragic death of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter campaign, there’s been a genuine attempt in the media in particular to highlight British Black historical figures. My daughter has come home talking about Benjamin Zephaniah and reading his poetry. I’ve seen Google animating headings with Dr Harold Moody who established the League of Coloured People in Britain.  It’s been wonderful to see this year, the first Black British female headteacher, Yvonne Connoly being honoured with a CBE. 

In Sutton I have been joining the amazing local group Residents Against Racism. We meet on the streets in a small gathering holding placards but most importantly we talk about what we need to do to bring change. I am proud that the Community Action Sutton Group holds regular Fairness Commission Race Equality meetings who are making real strides in making affective change. Recently the discussion led to a determined goal that we improve the training of staff on Black History. 

We have seen wonderful examples of schools like Glenthorne High School running a social experiment to see if they could end racism – a fascinating series on Channel 4. But we have also seen how students felt the need to protest and have their voices heard in another Sutton school. In addition, Sutton Police Commander Stringer said at a recent event for National Hate Crime Awareness week, there’s still a low number of cases being reported. Sutton, like other parts of London can not shy away from racism in its community and education is the key to make sure we can eradicate racial prejudice for good.  

Which is why I fully support the initiatives such as the Black Curriculum. Their campaign to teach Black History 365 days of the year, #TBH365, started by Lavinya Stennett, is about making history more inclusive all year round. British History is Black History. British history is my history, my Pakistani parents, my Indian grandparents and my white English in-laws all included. Black children should not feel like their identity is not integral to British society. They should not feel other. Let’s celebrate the black identity but don’t tokenise it and put the posters away till next year. It’s the duty of educators and parents to teach truth – all year round. 

* Hina Bokhari is a Liberal Democrat member of the London Assembly.

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  • jane mansfield 31st Oct '20 - 10:44am

    @ Hina Bokhari,
    Best wishes with your endeavour. I am one of those who has always questioned why black history was restricted to a month when I cannot see how the history of black people can be disentangled from that of white history. Perhaps it has been a necessary phase in the slow progress of human consciousness, a primer to further action which will redress social injustices suffered by lack of insight and awareness.

    The horrific murder of Georg Floyd has stimulated a wave of consciousness that hopefully lead to sustained change for people of colour. We are all works in progress. Even in my eighth decade, there are insights that bring me up short. In another thread, Katerina Porter mentions the achievements of amongst others musicians who were on a par with Mozart and Beethoven. To my shame, I have until very recently referred to tone such musician by the name, the Black Mozart rather than the man. He has name Joseph Boulogne. Whilst thinking the name Black Mozart complimentary, I now accept that by so doing so I was subordinating his monumental achievements to some random white standard.

    There are those who object to a new black consciousness because it is leading to more than theorising but to action that addresses and seeks to change institutional and systemic disadvantage. It is challenging and sometimes deeply uncomfortable, but I welcome it.

    As I say. good luck.

  • Sue Sutherland 1st Nov '20 - 3:32pm

    One of the issues with racism is the assumption made about black people that the jobs they do and the talents they have are limited to certain roles. This happens here as well as in America when black athletes are assumed to be up to no good when they drive an expensive car, or a barrister when walking about a law court building is assumed to be a cleaner.
    One of the exciting things about Black Lives Matter is that our history is being re-examined and shows that black people in the past did have influence and were talented and did not all live an inferior life to white people. Joseph Boulogne lived in France, the son of a slave and a prosperous slave owner. He wrote beautiful classical music and was an expert swordsman as a quick Google shows. Black people aren’t just jazz or soul musicians and shouldn’t only be recognised for their talents in that field, relegated to an area that white people feel comfortable with.
    The truth that is being disregarded is that black people have proved themselves to be equal with white people in the past and the present and we are losing a lot of talent if we don’t acknowledge this, just as we did when working class people weren’t given opportunities and when women were kept in their place.

  • jayne Mansfield 1st Nov '20 - 5:42pm

    @ Sue Sutherland,
    I fully agree.

    @ Chris Cory,
    I can celebrate the accomplishments of Miles Davis, ( It is Davis by the way not Davies), and still be firm in my beliefs that the important thing about his life was the level of racism he endured despite them.

    There are those who admired black musicians or black sportsmen, but ignore their relative lack of visibility in other area. The fundamental issue as far as I am concerned, is that in a socially just democratic society there should be equality of treatment, opportunity and access to positions of power, and despite many well meaning people, we don’t have that.

    I think it is great that children are introduced to music from different cultures , books that have illustrations of children with darker complexions within them etc., but it doesn’t alter the fact that too many black children will in this country grow up to face the same experiences of colour prejudice that Miles Davis experienced .

    It is not just individual prejudice which has to be worked on at an individual level, but the institutions and systems that work against the fair treatment of black people that are in need of change.

    I think we need to spend more time listening to the experiences of people of colour which includes those in BLM. There can be no solution until we first accept there is a problem.

  • Gerald Stewart 1st Nov '20 - 10:59pm

    I wonder how well known the views and ambitions of Black Lives Matter are.
    When asked ‘ do you agree that black lives matter?’ hopefully most people in the U.K. would say yes.
    If asked ‘ do you agree with Black Lives Matter ? ‘ I think most people in the U.K. would have to pause and say that they actually don’t know what the movements key goals and aspirations are. People might be surprised to leatn that Black Lives Matter are not a liberal organisation, most of their goals are not in line with Liberal thinking.

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