Black History Month: A compromise or an insulting cover-up

Do we really live in a post-racial world where we are immune to the dangerous discriminatory rhetoric that has been rampant in previous history? I would argue that we do not. October brings us Black history month in the UK which is celebrated in a number of different ways during the thirty-one days; but is that enough?

Black History Month is a month that is dedicated to the celebration of and engagement with African history. Huzzah! In the UK, this embrace occurs during the month of October and encourages people to take a more active interest in learning about various parts of African history. At least, in theory.

You would think that the month would be full of a variety of cultural elements and would expose you to a plethora of powerful African leaders, and that you would be educated on the various skilful abilities that Africans possessed. You would think that everybody would be able to name at least five African countries by now and would at least know that Africa is a continent and that “African”, is not a language. Instead of learning about how impressive African history is, we are taught that all Africans were slaves. I don’t know about you, but these are the conclusions that I walked away with from almost every Black History Month and any history lesson.

Black people are often portrayed as if they fell out of the sky with shackles and chains on their hands and feet into slavery, implying that there is no African history before slavery. We are indirectly taught there is almost nothing to be proud about as an African because Africa was portrayed as a place full of primitive, uncivilised people who didn’t wear clothes.

On paper, Black history month teaches us about the nature of African existence and you would expect the fact that the Ancient Egyptians; one of the most advanced civilizations in human history, were Africans. But then again, we have been made to believe that the Ancient Egyptians were white. Cheers Hollywood we owe you one- but not really. Why is it not mentioned that the oldest human skeleton remains ever unearthed (estimated to be roughly 4 million years old) belonged to an African woman in the North-eastern regions of Africa? Meaning that the origin of human life began in Africa.

This kind of information is not mentioned in the programme during Black history month lessons in secondary schools but they never forget to remind us that Africans were enslaved. This begs the question, Is Black history month a gesture month? Is it enough to only learn about Africans in one month? There is no white history month in the UK because there doesn’t need to be: the entire educational curriculum is focused on white contributions to the world.

In my opinion, Black History Month is a month that is deep-rooted in guilt and tokenism. It is a, “here you go, one month to feel included but enjoy it whilst it lasts” gesture. Black History Month is on the edge of a double-edged sword of ignorance; not only is not enough, but it is also not needed. Whilst it is nice to see African culture on public display and to be taught about the history that involves black people, Black History Month does so in a way that makes black cultures seem not normal. To the people to whom these cultures belong, it is normal and does not need a month to be put on a pedestal. In an attempt to ‘embrace’ African culture as warranted by this 31 days, African cultures often get appropriated whilst they continue to be suffocated for the rest of the year.

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