This week, Wandsworth Council came under fire as they opted to rename Black History Month, making it Diversity Month. And so they should be. Whilst this at first glance to many sounds like a wonderful opportunity to celebrate all ethnicities, it continues to feed into the erasure that black communities constantly face. This renaming is not a ‘rebrand’, but an opportunity to dilute black culture and whitewash history by removing black figures who have made incredible contributions to the UK in the past.
Looking on social media, some have said that they support the change top open the month up to celebrate all minority groups, but very few of these voices have come from the black community itself. The problem with this, however, is that despite the UK’s Black History Month being founded back in the late ‘80s, there is still nowhere near enough recognition or acknowledgment of black people in British history. So whilst to some, celebrating ‘everyone’ sounds lovely, it’s important to understand that there is still a lot more work to do in order to ensure that black contributions are not forgotten or ignored.
Whilst I recognised racial discrimination and the systems that enforce it, and the struggle that black people (and other people of colour) have faced and continue to face, I will admit that, until an embarrassingly far-too-old-to-not-know age, I thought that slavery was something that only happened in America. I was truly mortified when I first became aware of the truth behind Britain’s colonial past. Where was this mentioned in my history class? Oh wait, it wasn’t. The education system is entirely to blame, as black history is near non-existent in curriculum, which does far more damage than merely misinform students. For young black students, their own history is removed from the books, leaving them to have to discover it for themselves outside of class, and left with the impression that whitewashed history is a) the only truth, and b) the only history worth learning about. By taking black British history out of the equation, it invalidates the existence of black people, adding to the dangerous narratives and racist attitudes that we find in our mainstream.
The reason behind the council rebranding Black History Month came from a conversation that believed it to be a form of discrimination, when in reality, given the current socio-political climate and the Windrush scandal, it’s never been more necessary. Black History Month is a time for celebration and education of blackness and black history, and recognition of the positive participations of black people in shaping Britain into the country that it is today. By attempting to label Black History Month as a discriminatory event, it perpetuates the stereotypical narratives around black people. The message that something like this sends is detrimental, especially to young black people who feel like they’re not worthy of their own existence.
So if you still can’t see what’s wrong with Diversity Month over Black History Month, have a long, hard think about what kind of anti-black rhetoric it pushes. Educate yourself over the UK’s past and the struggle that black communities have experienced for centuries. Read a book. Celebrate the incredible achievements of black people. Recognise and address the racist systems that continually try to wipe out black identity and history. Then, you’ll see — I hope — why Black History Month is so crucially needed.
To find out more about Black History Month, click here.