Black History Month - Continuing the conversation
Black History Month (UK)
What is BHM and why do we celebrate it?
Black History Month (BHM) is a national celebration which aims to promote and celebrate the contributions of those with African and Caribbean heritage to British society, and to foster an understanding of Black history in general.
UK Black History Month was at least partially inspired by US Black History Month (also known as African American History Month), which is “an annual celebration of achievements by African Americans and a time for recognizing their central role in US history.” US Black History Month is celebrated annually every February.
Despite their similar mission statements, these two months aren’t the same, and shouldn’t be treated that way. The experiences and perspectives of Black people born and raised in Britain are very different from the experiences of those in the United States.
People from African and Caribbean backgrounds have been a fundamental part of British history for centuries. However, campaigners believe their value and contribution to society is often overlooked, ignored or distorted. Most schools still teach a history curriculum which focuses on traditional events and the achievements of white figures.
Black History Month gives everyone the opportunity to share, celebrate and understand the impact of black heritage and culture.
More recently, greater attention has been paid to the importance of the Windrush generation and the Black Lives Matter movement, especially since the death of George Floyd in May 2020.
Black History Month 2022
This years theme for Black History Month is “Time for Change – Action not words”
It focuses on the double-burden Black people carry – Experiencing racism and discrimination, and then also being expected to fix the problem themselves.
To get to a better tomorrow, we can’t just focus on the past. We can acknowledge and learn from it, but to improve the future, we need action, not just words. We need to come together around a shared common goal to achieve a better world for everyone.
What does it mean to be an ally?
To be an ally is to stand with a community and take action to support that group. To be an ally to the Black community is also recognising where privilege has played a part in upholding certain institutional and systemic inequalities, and doing your bit, however small, to fight against it.
Being an ally means moving beyond short-term or performative gestures and taking real, long-term action. In the workplace, in places of education, in the public sphere, and as an individual, it means actually practising what you preach.
What can I do?
If you’ve thought about racial equity, you’ve probably asked this question.
One way to honor Black History Month is by becoming a better ally and educating yourself. This means learning about the breadth of Black experience throughout history, and also looking within yourself; challenging assumptions, attitudes, and beliefs, and bringing unconscious biases to light.
As memoirist Anaïs Nin said, “We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.”
In this ongoing journey of fighting racial inequality, here are some things you can actively do to be an ally to the Black community, during BHM and beyond:
1. Amplify Black voices
An abundance of resources and art have been produced by the Black community, so share and engage with these where you can. Support does not go unnoticed and it helps to create a genuine and positive sense of community.
2. Every little helps
Charitable organisations, funds, and petitions all need support, and contributions (however small) will have an impact. For example, The Black Curriculum is an initiative that campaigns for the teaching of Black history in schools, not just in Black History Month, but throughout the year. Organisations such as this are vital for instilling education surrounding Black history in young people.
3. Speak up
Calling out offensive or inappropriate behaviour is paramount, and it really does make a difference when such behaviour is called out from people outside the community. It is particularly important that this is done in areas where the Black community is underrepresented.
If you have witnessed or experienced any incident regarding discrimination at Guildhall, please report it here. Without action, there is no change.
What events celebrating BHM are going on this month?
Blackhistorymonth.org is a very informative website, and has lots more information about BHM and it’s history and meaning, resources and lots of events that are happening to celebrate BHM across the UK. You can also find tickets to a variety of activities on Eventbrite.
There are also many exhibitions throughout London and beyond, including many free or very cheap exhibits at the Museum of London , the London Transport Museum, and the Tate Modern.
Black History Month might be drawing to a close, but that does not mean the conversation stops here.
Below are a list of resource recommendations to begin educating yourself with. This page will be updated throughout the year so be sure to check back for more recommendations, but also don’t be afraid to do your own research!
- So you want to talk about race? – Ijeoma Oluo
Ijeoma Oluo guides readers of all races through subjects ranging from intersectionality and affirmative action to “model minorities” in an attempt to make the seemingly impossible possible: honest conversations about race and racism.
- Making the Revolution Global – by Theo Williams.
Making the Revolution Global shows how Black radicals transformed socialist politics in Britain in the years before decolonisation.
- The Heart of the Race – by Beverley Bryan, Stella Dadzie, and Suzanne Scafe (Foreword by Lola Okolosie)
The Heart of the Race is a powerful corrective to a version of Britain’s history from which Black women have long been excluded. It reclaims and records Black women’s place in that history, documenting their day-to-day struggles, their experiences of education, work and health care, and the personal and political struggles they have waged to preserve a sense of identity and community.
- How Europe Underdeveloped Africa – by Walter Rodney
This is an ambitious masterwork of political economy, detailing the impact of slavery and colonialism on the history of international capitalism.
- The Making of the Black Working Class in Britain – by Ron Ramdin
In this pioneering history, Ron Ramdin traces the roots of Britain’s disadvantaged black working class. From the development of a small black presence in the sixteenth century, through the colonial labour institutions of slavery, indentureship, and trade unionism, Ramdin expertly guides us through the stages of creation for a UK minority whose origins are often overlooked.
- Imperial Intimacies – by Hazel V. Carby
Moving between Jamaican plantations, the hills of Devon, the port cities of Bristol, Cardiff, and Kingston, and the working-class estates of South London, Carby’s family story is at once an intimate personal history and a sweeping summation of the violent entanglement of two islands. Born to a Jamaican father and Welsh mother, Carby’s place in her home, her neighbourhood, and her country of birth was always in doubt.
- The Diversity Gap – Bethaney Wilkinson
Combining real-world research with honest first-person experiences, racial justice facilitator Bethaney Wilkinson provides leaders a replicable structure to foster a diverse culture of belonging within your organization.
- Offerings from blackhistorymonth.org, covering a wide range of topics.
- The Radio Times also has many recommendations
- Fresh Cuts – ITV Series
A new five-part series produced by Black filmmakers, each episode covers a different topic, including the Queen’s Jubilee, life as a Black tattoo artist, plastic surgery, the importance of rap music, and basketball.
- X/Onerated – Watch on Disney+
Produced by Soul of a Nation and ABC News, X/Onerated is a documentary about Muhammad Abdul Aziz, a man wrongfully convicted of assassinating Malcolm X. This is the first time Aziz has spoken out since his exoneration in November. 2021. The Netflix series, Who Killed Malcolm X?, which talks about his case is also worth a watch.
- Let The World See – Watch on Disney+
This is a three-part series that focuses on the murder of Emmett Till, a 14-year-old who was abducted, tortured, and lynched in Mississippi in 1955. His mother, Mamie Carthan, insisted on an open-casket funeral so the world could see what had been done to her son. Till’s murder was a turning point for civil rights in America, with Martin Luther King Jr. calling it “one of the most brutal and inhuman crimes of the 20th century.”
- Screen Queens Rising – Coming soon to Disney+
Exploring the history and legacy of Black actors in Hollywood, Screen Queens charts how stars like Halle Berry, Whoopi Goldberg, Regina Hall, and Tessa Thompson have ascended “to the top echelons of entertainment and American culture” over the last three decades.
- Enslaved, With Samuel L. Jackson – Watch on BBC IPlayer
Originally debuted in 2020, Hollywood legend Samuel L. Jackson tracks the journeys of slave trade ships from Africa to the United States, Brazil, and the Caribbean in this four-part documentary series. Jackson also uncovers personal truths in his family history, tracing his ancestral tree back to the coastal region of Gabon in Central Africa.
- Summer Of Soul – Watch on Disney+
This Oscar-winning documentary is about the 1969 Harlem Festival. Directed by Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson, viewers can experience performances from Stevie Wonder, Nina Simone, Sly and the Family Stone, and The 5th Dimension, in addition to commentary about the historical and social context of the event.
- Out of Darkness – available on multiple platforms
Out of Darkness, a three-part documentary, examines the untold history of African people and the African cultural contribution to the nations of the world.
Podcasts (available on most major streaming platforms and online) and talks:
- Intersectionality Matters!
Hosted by Kimberlé Crenshaw, an American civil rights advocate and a leading scholar of critical race theory, Intersectionality Matters! unpacks political and racial topics through conversations with activists, journalists, politicians, and historians.
- The Diversity Gap
Hosted by Bethaney Wilkinson, this addresses the gap between good intentions and good impact regarding diversity, inclusion, culture, and belonging. She has additional resources on her website, including a book.
The voices of change makers, content creators, activists, and leaders driving a movement for accurate representations of Black people.
- Code Switch
Hosted by journalists of color, NPR’s Code Switch podcast tackles the subject of race head-on.
- The danger of a single story – Ted Talk from Chimamanda Adichie
Novelist Chimamanda Adichie tells the story of how she found her authentic cultural voice—and warns that if we hear only a single story about another person or country, we risk a critical misunderstanding.
- The urgency of intersectionality – Ted Talk from Kimberlé Crenshaw
Legal scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw coined the term intersectionality in 1989 to describe how race, class, gender, and other individual characteristics overlap. In this moving talk, she calls on us to bear witness to this reality.
- Color blind or color brave? – Ted Talk from Mellody Hobson
Finance executive Mellody Hobson makes the case that speaking openly about race—and particularly about diversity in hiring—makes for better businesses and a better society.
- “What if Instead of Calling People Out, We Called Them In?” – New York Times story featuring Smith College professor Loretta J. Ross.