In all honesty, whenever I think of Black History Month, I always reflect on the history of America such as the Civil rights movement with Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Rosa Parks and of course the slave trade. It’s all history but let’s be honest it’s American history, and though there are similarities in the culture; we have a history of our own in the UK.
I feel that must be what Ghanaian born Akyaaba Addai-Sebo thought when she introduced the UK’s own Black History Month back in 1987. As an activist, she wanted to highlight the very valid and very real challenges black people face in the UK. Since I’ve known myself the ever-present snide comments about my hair, lips, complexion, and shape have existed. Outside of myself, the apparent difference in the way people who look like me are treated in the education system, workplace and even the streets have existed, and sadly show no signs of becoming obsolete.
I could go on about systematic racism, cultural appropriation, and negative stereotypes; but I want to take this opportunity to focus on the beautiful black British culture, which I love and appreciate so much.
The Black British culture is made up of the Caribbean, Africa, America with sprinkles of British culture intertwined within it. You cannot define what we are in one word, best that a comprehensive list is given. If you’re unsure what that is, think vibrance, music, Notting Hill carnival, independence days. Don’t stop there, think cornrows, soul food, long acrylic nails beaming with colour, swopping edges, loud, love and power. Despite the recent disgrace around the Windrush; there is a lot of pride to behold by our brave elders who travelled from their homeland to help rebuild another country. The Sir Trevor McDonald’s, Ian Wright’s, Diane Abbott’s, Dr Paul Stephenson and Lenny Henry’s of the country have provided such consistent images of inspiration, and well needed representation.
Growing up I witnessed the change of the music industry. It was largely dominated by pop music, boy bands with token black people and the overwhelming influence of America. When along came the likes of the garage, grime, the British Hip Hop scene and ceremonies such as the Mobo Awards which celebrated our Art. I did not know it at the time, but they were the pioneers of what they were doing, paving a way for their own success, taking control of their art and presenting it in a way that resonated with others who probably did not think it was possible. We pay homage to all they have done because they created a way for all those making moves today.
Those ‘moves’ are being made by activists such as Rhammel Afflick best known for his campaigning on race, knife crime and LGBT+ rights. British anti-racist activist Jean Ambrose, politician John Archer and the late great Jamal Edwards who created a platform for the likes of Ed Sheeran, Stormzy and Lady Leshurr.
In recent years I have heard so many people in the black community say ‘why do we have a black history month, we shouldn’t need one and I mean, they’re right to an extent but I can’t help but feel surprised that they don’t see its importance. The need stems from the lack of representation that the masses have become so used to. History is told without real inclusion of the black souls who have been ever present, supporting, rebuilding, and investing in the country we have grown to love and call our home.
In life, everyone searches for a place they can call their home; it is no different in the work we do in fostering. In some ways, the children in care’s journey is not too dissimilar to that of black history. Through no fault of their own they are taken away from everything they know, and subsequently spend some much time figuring out their identity, culture and where they belong. Foster carers are an elite selection of humans who offer their home, love, nurture and guidance to these children.
As of March 2021, National Statistics report that non-black people make up only 18% of foster carers in the UK. This is already low in comparison with their white counterparts however, the demand of foster carers overall is not keeping up with the demand of families for children. This means that a black child is more likely to be placed in a white family because representation is limited. To be clear, I believe the main thing that makes a home is inclusion, love and nurture; but in the case of black children, it is vital that their cultural needs are met effectively.
If you are one of those carers who are providing a cross cultural placement ….or know a friend of a friend who is. This can be achieved by simply acknowledging October as Black History Month. But don’t stop there, talk to them about what they know about their culture, give them books with children of colour painted on the front page, watch programmes like The Proud Family, Gracie’s Corner and Jools TV, purchase dolls that reflect their skin tone, learn to cook dishes associated with their culture; sure it’s a lot of seasoning but it will be fun to do it together and mean even more to them that you are trying. Develop their self-esteem by letting them know that their tightly coiled hair is beautiful, their facial features stunning and their melanin is a blessing.
On the days that you are feeling adventurous, visit the Maritime Museum, Black Cultural Archives in Brixton or the Museum of London; all are educational and a great day out. But if this is too far afield, there is always something happening in your area; take the time to see if there is a play or exhibit that will promote the history of black people.
Black History Month, to me, does not take away anything from other ethnicities and it definitely does not take away from history. It should not be feared, minimised, diluted or forgotten. The presence of Black History Month simply ensures that our story is told.
By Tanneisha Lewis, Supervising Social Worker
For further learning and activities please see the list below:
Movies: both inspiring and informative
- The Colour Purple
- The Woman King (currently in the cinema)
- Black Panther; Wakanda forever
- 12 Years A Slave
- Hair Love (YouTube shorts)
Documentaries and Podcast
- Witness History
- Redemption; My story by Troy Deeney
- Untold Legends
- BBC Windrush documentary
- BBC Who do you think you are?
- Let the world see
- Hidden figures
- Red Tails
- The Fire Next Time
- The Hate You Give
- The New Jim Crow
- Malcom X
- Steven Laurence Inquiry