“The cost of liberty is less than the price of repression.” – W.E.B. Du Bois
Black History month is sadly coming to an end, but I really wanted to blog about it as it is not known to many people and unfortunately not everyone agrees with this celebration. I grew up in the Netherlands, where Black History Month is not celebrated; it is very uncommon in many other European countries. So this month at University has been very educational as well as inspirational to me.
Black History Month is a yearly celebration which is mainly prominent in the UK, America and Canada, to celebrate the achievements of influential black people and events in the history of the African diaspora. I personally think this is still very significant today, because despite what people think and expect, this month is not just about the history of slavery. In the Netherlands, the only Black History I was taught was mainly about the AIDS/HIV disease in Africa, the lack of safe drinking water in underdeveloped countries, the importance of fair trade, a brief introduction to who Martin Luther King was and, of course, a little about slavery. To me, it felt like black history was always presented in a negative way and not educational to me. They never taught us about our rich history, that the first light bulb was created by a black man named Lewis Latimer, or that Alexander Miles designed the modern day elevator, or that Sarah Goode (an entrepreneur and inventor) was the first African-American woman to invent a folding cabinet bed which provided people who lived in small spaces to utilize their space efficiently.
I already knew some things about my culture because my Ghanaian parents wanted us to know about our roots. They taught us about the food, the language, and that we export our natural resources such as gold, oil, timber and cocoa to European countries, but that was about it. When my family and I went to visit Ghana in 2007/8 I learned how bad slavery actually was when we visited the Elmina Castle situated in Cape Coast, where our tour guide explained about the history of the castle and slave trade. Many tears were shed on that day, as you could still feel the pain the people went through during that time. If you are thinking about going to Ghana, I really do recommend you to visit ‘Cape Coast Castle.’
I joined my secondary school in the UK roughly during the same time that Black History Month was being celebrated. As this school was predominantly black, they took Black History Month very seriously and organised many things such as plays and assemblies to reflect on the heroes who fought for black rights. We sang songs and donated to black charities and so forth. Compared to the other students there, I felt quite embarrassed about the lack of knowledge I had about black history. During class discussions, many people would voice their opinion and share their knowledge and I remember sitting in the classroom quietly, as I didn’t know that much. But through Black History Month at this new school in the UK, I learned that there was far more than one black hero to look up to and to be proud of, I also became more aware of sickle cell, a condition found mainly in people whose families come from Africa, the Caribbean, the Eastern Mediterranean, and Asia. In Britain sickle cell is most common in people of African and Caribbean descent. This is why celebrating Black History Month is important, because it made me realise that there is so much more to our history and culture. I only wish that the celebration lasted for longer than a month because there is still so much to learn and so much to embrace.
Not only did I learn a lot about black history in my secondary school, but my interest and knowledge blossomed when I attended to events put together by the Sabbatical Team of the university. Zoe, our SU President, has made this month very special and valuable. I would like to say thank you to Zoe and her team for putting together many activities and events this month. I really hope that the university can help us celebrate not only for a month but throughout the whole year.
This celebration has encouraged me and others to become vocal and aware of oppression, the excellence of black men and women, refugees, supporting black businesses, and how to face race-related challenges when we face them. Black history month brings back rich black culture that was once lost and forgotten about.There is certainly more room for improvement for Black History Month and I know that this will increase over time if we continue to stay positive, patient, creative and motivated. In using our history, we can find a way to provide solutions to existing problems happening in the modern day. Black history month is necessary.
I took the opportunity to ask a few students at the university Why black history month is important to them.
Zoe, SU President
” In life, you go to training, boot camps , conferences to help inspire you and to prepare you for the year ahead. I think that black history month is like a month long conference that inspires us for the year ahead. I use this month as a time to learn something new about our history, celebrate the accomplishments of our history and get excited about the future.
Black history month is important to me because it gives me the boost needed to make sure that black history is celebrated throughout the year. I feel like we need to take responsibility and make sure this month is recognised and is celebrated. But, also use the month to ensure that black history month is embedded into our lifestyle. ”
Nikki – 3rd year, Politics with Human Rights
”Honestly, Black History Month reminds me of my inferiority as an individual on a global scale. In my primary and secondary education, I remember BHM consisted mainly of stories about the slave trade, MLK, Rosa Parks and Malcolm X. It really felt like black people had no identity, history or activity before the colonisation and scramble of Africa. The history books which I digested in my youth told only a single narrative and depicted black people in a way I can only describe as secondary to other cultures around the world. Black History Month is not important but fundamental to me because I am black every single day – being black is part of my identity. I was born black and will have black children and carry on my family’s legacy. Black History Month is more important for the public as people need to recognise us as human beings who are far from the image that is replayed every October through the broken education system which insists on teaching children that black people are slaves.
The public needs an awakening about the stereotype of being black and I hope that in the future Black History Month is a celebration of black excellence and provides a solid historical overview of black history which hasn’t been ‘whitewashed’ or tainted by the hands or minds of colonisers. ”
Emmanuel, 3rd year – Economics and Politics ( Spoken word artist, twitter – @EmmanuelSpeaks_)
”Black History Month is important because it allows us as a generation to look back at what the leaders and role models before us achieved and use it as fuel to achieve bigger and better things for yourself and the future generation.”
Sarah 2nd year, Psychology
“Black History Month is important to me because it is a time that we celebrate our culture and achievements. It is time to understand how powerful and amazing black people are. “
Akwasi, 3rd-year Politics ( President of Black Social and Political Society ) ” Black History Month important to me, as it talks about the need to understand our history, achievements and to focus and improve what our role models has done. I will be explaining what Being Black means to me which will hopefully show why Black History Month should be celebrated.
What does it mean to be Black? James Baldwin quoted that “To be black and conscious in America is to be in a constant state of rage.” This quote is important to me as I see that racism and oppression have affected people of class; colour and gender for many centuries. Black History Month also highlights why we should embrace and love being black, it reminds us that we are strong, have a rich and diverse culture, have unique and meaningful names like Babe Tunde and Kwame, that we are powerful and so on. Black History Month inspires and empowers me. “