Saturday, 24 November 2012

Black History Month May Be Over For Another Year, But We Rewind To Some BHM Issues

Black History Month May Be Over For Another Year, But We Rewind To Some BHM Issues

TAOBQ co-ordinator

November 24 2012

This piece is from a comment to an article entitled 'Why Black History Month Is Damaging To Black Culture' by Chama Kapumpa, published by Sabotage Times.

Dear Charma,

I applaud you for writing this article, and I admire your desire for discourse on BHM, particularly as you're studying history within an academic environment which encourages discussion. Your wanting to have a focus on African British history is one I concur with.

As much as I am about global African history - by the way, I'm writing this from Accra, Ghana where I facilitated a workshop last week entitled 'What Does It Mean To Be A Global African?' Positive feedback's led to a followup workshop, ‘How To Regain Our African Identity And Self-Confidence’ on Oct.24 – however, I believe efforts must be made to tell African British histories – it does require some effort, unlike the more prevalent African American histories, particularly the Civil Rights movement, which is a history curriculum topic.

What do we know about our own African led civil rights movements in Britain? Next year, the focus will be on the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s ‘I Have A Dream’ speech – but how many of us know that the day that speech was made also marks an historic moment in British history? That and a few other not so well known incidents were some of the histories I presented last year in a series of NARM African British Civil Rights Histories presentations across London.

Anyway, back to your article – I think some of the points you raise are not failings of the Black History Month (BHM) concept, but rather a deficiency in the programmes that are delivered under the BHM banner. Firstly, the fact that BHM is wide ought to be an asset. 

The deficiency lies in the laziness of schools, councils, unions, and community organisation who deliver BHM events, in that they often pluck for the narrow, same-old, same old topics – enslavement, Mary Seacole, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, and lately, Obama. And those are the ones that are supposed to have a history focus.

The wideness of BHM allows us to connect in many beautiful ways, if only we can see the dots. For example, we’ll be showing ‘The First Grader’, but as heart-warming as it is in the main, it offers us an opportunity for a little discussion on the value of education within the African British communities, and to look at the dark side of British history from the context of what happened during British colonial rule in Kenya.

My view is that most of what passes as BHM tend to entertainment and cultural programmes, which I believe can be put on any other time of the year. It seems you’ve been lucky to have had quizzes, where some effort have been made to focus on history, even if the focus is seldom on African British history. That said, Charma, there are some creditable, accessible and engaging BHM programmes delivered using a range of techniques, from talks, Powerpoint presentations, films, to edu-tainment performances which focus on history, particularly those relating to Britain. African history is part of world history, and some are part of British history. But as you pointed out, history is selective.

If you think BHM gives African history an “otherness” – please note that not all histories can be mainstream. For example, are the histories of the Londoners who’ve lived in the east of London for centuries not worthy of being mainstream? But can’t their histories be just as easily described as the “other” in terms of mainstream British history? I have no issue with African history seen as the “other”, so long as when it’s delivered, be it under BHM or in history class, it’s presented by knowledgeable people and devoid of Eurocentric biases, which many of us unwittingly regurgitate! You also made the point that there is seldom the opportunity to engage in discussion.

As I’ve said, that’s not the fault of BHM, but the programme designers or organisers. Having said that, there’s a world of difference between what one expects to achieve in a 3 hour BHM event, and a 3 year undergraduate history course. On your course, as future historians, you are being taught to question, and time has been factored in to learn and appreciate that skill. The majority of those attending BHM events are not historians. They attend either to be entertained or to learn a bit more African history. I’d suggest the priority ought to be creating an accessible non-academic environment to learn some African history, rather than whether or not they can critique the information delivered. Critiquing is part of an academic discipline. BHM events ought to be a learning, but not necessarily an academic exercise.

That said, I’ve been delivering BHM events – soon to be simply called AHM (African History Month), which do not only provide information on some aspects of our wide history (or histories), but also allow some form of discussion. That’s simply because the knowledge base does not reside solely with facilitators and panellists, even if they’ve got a number of history degrees. I’ll throw a challenge for you to experience 25 Years On… on Oct. 30 @ Harrow Civic Centre. It’s the only BHM event marking the 25th anniversary of the introduction of Black History Month in Britain and the Labour Party’s Black Section’s success with the election of the 4 African and Asian MPs in 1987, and which brings in the behind the scenes stories of those that were there doing the works. Click for 25 Years On... event report.

Finally, I’ll like to point to the title of your article, which may not have been written by you – ‘Why Black History Month Is Damaging To Black Culture’. BHM is about history, but because of the prevalence of what passes for BHM, BHM is seen to be more about culture, rather than history of African people. I’m not sure how BHM is damaging “black” culture – whatever that means, when in the main, the only culture we see is singing and dancing. For example when was the last time you saw a BHM programme focused on the role of the griot or kora in west African societies, or the role of the pardner or susu culture within African Caribbean communities in Britain?

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this post. Personally I think Black Hostory Month will only strive if people make the effort to raise awareness and interact. This year, for me, it felt like Black History Month flew by without me noticing (besides the events you held. Apologies I wasn't able to make it to any). Unless people make can effort- myself included Black History Month may aswell be just a day people speak about Black History.

    I'm in Brazil for 3 months. 20th November is a day dedicated to 'Black Cociousness' in Brazil (Rio atleast). Just ONE DAY in a city/country where the vast majority has some obvious African ancestry.

    I speak for myself that I will most definately make more effort to be interactive during Black History Month. I understand that Black History shouldn't just be highlighted in just one month of the year, but atleast acknowlege the efforts people make to organise events by attending.