This post is a copy of an article that I wrote for National Museums in 2020 about whether it is time to move on from Black History Month.
Keen to know your thoughts…
2020 has been a crazy year. For so many reasons. This year has forced us, as a society, to face some demons – the reality of racism and inequality. Whether that’s the undeniable fact that black people are disproportionately dying in the pandemic, to the realisation that black people are at higher risk of being killed by people who are meant to protect us (George Floyd is just one example).
Add this to the passionate #BlackLivesMatter protests that have happened all around the world, and the proliferation of dynamic organisations and initiatives to bring justice and social change, and you can really feel a wave of change and pride that hasn’t been as overtly evident in my lifetime.
We, as black people, are re-evaluating our place in society, and while Black History Month is a great starting point for exploring, discovering and celebrating Black heritage and culture – both past and contemporary – it also feels limiting.
The UK’s first Black History Month was celebrated in October 1987, but I wasn’t even aware of it until around the early noughties. I was either just oblivious to this really big thing, or it just really wasn’t that big. I only really became savvy to it because of my work; my company at the time, ‘URBEATZ’ would suddenly start receiving more enquiries for our services in October and we were a lot more likely to be written about in the press.
But Black History Month has always been problematic. When it was first established, those who believed Black History Month was just some sort of ‘education thing’ questioned whether it was appropriate to restrict the celebration of Black history to just one month, as opposed to integrating it into mainstream education throughout the year.
Another concern was that despite the original inspiration for the month – to address the way Black people and Black culture was being represented in society – Black History Month has often reduced a complex culture into overly-simplified objects and subjects. I can’t deny the intention was, and is, undeniably pure. I have often enjoyed Black History Month events and have had lots of work during the period.
But recently, I’ve felt a little different about this 31-day period, where we are ‘flavour of the month’.
Already, in the first few days of this month, I’ve noticed the usual surge of interest, a few more sprinkles of opportunity, a few more ‘black-focused’ features on platforms and one or two diversity-related announcements.
I want it to last.
October has been the only time of year where we are acknowledged for our achievements, and by segregating and limiting the celebration of black culture into a separate month, we are basically accepting and implying that it’s okay to segregate and separate; that one month is for us and the 11 others are for everyone else.
We are here and our culture permeates through mainstream culture and society: to treat it as anything separate is reductive and, as far as I feel, racist.
But I am hoping that 2020 will be a catalyst for black culture and history to be shared much more widely and consistently throughout the year.
Let 2020 be the start of real change.