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