Folks living in most African or Caribbean countries might be curious about the reasons for having a Black History Month in the UK, or in other nations where those of us with melanin in our skin tones are regarded as ethnic minority communities. I would like to suggest that the African countries could actually learn something from this cultural practice, since it is a positive step in the process of acknowledging the presence of diverse heritages within societies. There are bound to be some people who feel uncomfortable with the focus on painful moments in our collective memories, but it is important that we have a space for reflection about who we are and our contributions to the ongoing journey of our species.
Back in the day, I felt there was a lack of connection between Britain’s ethnic majority communities and those us who were directly linked to BHM narratives. The month’s events had a whiff that seemed to evoke images of being brought up in care homes and all the unfortunate things that used to happen to many Black British people of my generation, especially in relation to policing, mental health and the criminal justice system. Nowadays, the month’s themes have been absorbed into the deeper ethos of British cities (I’m not sure if this is the case in areas that don’t have much of a presence of folks of diverse heritages).
I was intrigued to read on an African American social media news website that there were moves in the UK to change BHM into a month that would include all ethnic minority communities, including those of European heritages. Close scrutiny revealed to me that this was happening in a few local authority areas that are governed by the Conservative Party. I wonder why I wasn’t surprised to discover this (!)
My personal journey in working on BHM projects has gone way beyond the obvious tropes that are usually remembered at this time. Last year, I led a creative learning project that celebrated the life of Abram Petrovich Gannibal – an African who was abducted and taken to Russia, where he rose to be a leading military engineer, the governor of a region of the country and the great grandfather of Russia’s arguably most influential author – Alexander Pushkin.
This year, I’m leading a project about Taharqa – a celebrated Nubian Pharaoh, who ruled Ancient Egypt and Nubia for twenty six years. Young people from a wide range of backgrounds will eventually learn about this monarch and the times he lived in. BHM has evolved through the decades and is hopefully with us to stay.