Do you ever feel outnumbered? Have you been the only person under 18 at a political party meeting? Or the only student over 25 in a lecture of about 80 people? That’s what it’s like being black in the western world: you’re in the minority and it can be hard to make your voice heard. Black History Month, however, offers the black community the opportunity to use their voice to great effect.
Young people can be inspired by the success of others who have faced the same challenges. I for one love events that celebrate talent in the entertainment industry, for example. Projecting a brighter future for young people is one of the most important roles these events play. Black students face many different challenges, and the lack of representation in most industries can be discouraging until you have an event celebrating black entrepreneurs or politicians.
Celebrations of our ancestral history give us a chance to be ourselves in the western world. It’s a time where we can be comfortable in our own skin, and feel accepted and celebrated for who we are. This showcase of culture and heritage can help alleviate ignorance about the black community.
In terms of education, I don’t believe we are doing enough to even out the playing field and diversify the history curriculum in schools. Within the study of British social history, black history is very marginalised, and so this month forces, at the very least, some acknowledgement of it. Ultimately there is a restriction on black history in the western world and being a minority ethnic group means that our history will always be marginalised against the majority. Indeed, until black history is seamlessly written into British history there will always be a need for a dedicated month, as it is essential that the black community are given a chance in the spotlight for their achievements.
However, I don’t think the events go far enough to reach outside of the black community and to create a relationship with other ethnic groups or to include them in the celebrations of black people and their history. Yes, the celebrations are important but to some extent the events can feel empty in their attempt to equalise the playing field. On the one hand, it’s providing an alternative look at history, and yet it can also give an excuse to exclude black history from view for the other 11 months of the year.
To describe Black History Month as empty would be unfair; everyone can get something out of it, no matter how small. But to be regarded as truly successful, it needs to do more – perhaps to be so unifying that eventually black history is seen and acknowledged as often as ‘white history’; to be so successful that one day a Black History Month will no longer be needed at all.
Image: Abernathy Family via National Park Service