Friday, 18 January 2013

A Lot Of Noise About "Black History" But How Serious Are We Really About African History?

A Lot Of Noise About "Black History", But How Serious Are We Really About African British History?

By Kwaku
TAOBQ co-ordinator

Jan. 11 2013 Update:
Mary Seacole and Olaudah Equa
ino are included in the recently published draft National Curriculum (NC), but for those calling this a victory, please read history teacher Dan Lyndon's 'A Pyrrhic Victory' (also copied at bottom of this page), which points out the other African history elements that have been removed. Incidentally, four days after the Jan. 2 publication of OBV's 'Michael Gove dumps Mary Seacole', there were 43 comments. Within the same period since the triumphant piece 'We’ve won ! - Mary Seacole, Olaudah Equiano' was published, there's been only 3 comments. It makes me wonder if we really cared that much, except for the maintenance of the status quo i.e. have Seacole in the NC. As in my piece below, I think I'm right to say Gove really had people dancing on a pin - he's certainly played most of us!

Incidentally, the African experience is dealt with in the draft NC under: "The slave trade and the abolition of slavery, the role of Olaudah Equiano and free slaves". Hopefully you'd have noticed the oxymoronic expression "free slaves"!

It may be cold in January, but Education Secretary Michael Gove has got many people hot and bothered - Africans, non-Africans, historians, politicians, community leaders, unionists, left-wingers, multi-culturalists, feminists, race and diversity experts, and a number of other groupings that don't immediately spring to mind, are in a tizzle as he has them dancing on the head of a pin.

Why the fuss? Because a leaked document alleges that among the historic personalities being dropped from a Gove-ordered revision of the schools' history curriculum, are the only two African British personalities - the 19th century Jamaican-born nurse and entrepreneur Mary Seacole and the 18th century African born (in present day Nigeria) abolitionist and entrepreneur Olaudah Equiano. 

Not surprisingly, there were emails flying about regarding the matter, some pointing to the OBV (Operation Black Vote) led petition to oppose the removal of Seacole from the national curriculum.

My online search for the petition initially brought me to an OBV blog entitled 'Michael Gove Dumps Mary Seacole'. It was a piece that excellently made the case for Seacole's place in the curriculum. 

So even though I was later to sign the petition, I thought the issues were wider than Seacole or indeed Equiano, who I was the first to introduce into the discussions in my comments entitled Also Expunged Is Olaudah Equiano. Way Forward (also copied below). Thankfully whilst the petition is focused on Seacole, Equiano was added in an open letter by the petition organisers and their supporters. 

Then on the BASA (Black and Asian Studies Association)  e-ring for historians and teachers, I suggested instead of just focusing on the national curriculum, and who’s in or out, that the network could set up a complementary African history curriculum, which would provide a wider list and sources for anyone interested in African history. A meeting has been called to move this forward.

So TAOBQ has done its bit cutting through the noise and offering some useful suggestions. All that’s left to say is that how many of the people making noise, signing petitions and feverishly forwarding emails on the matter, really care about African history – be it what’s taught in the schools, or during Black History Month (BHM)?

Indeed, some people are not particularly interested. They just want things to be there. I'm reminded  of the time London Mayor Boris Johnson slashed the mayoralty's Black History Month budget. There was the expected hue and cry. Though I believe the majority of those making the noise had not even attended one of the Mayor's BHM events.

Over in Harrow, I know that the year the Council "forgot" to mark BHM, a number of individuals made enquiries and noise. However, when BHM was belatedly re-introduced, did these supposedly interested fans of BHM turn up? Nope.

If you’re interested in African history, then look beyond what’s on the national curriculum. Simply because it can not offer anything near passable or adequate coverage of our history. There are a whole range of resources and programmes that cover the breadth of our history. That’s something Gove can not control!

Throughout 2013, TAOBQ, BTWSC and African Histories Revisted will be delivering a number of African British history programmes highlighting NARM role models John Archer and Paul Stephenson. It will be 100 years since Archer became London's first mayor, and 50 years since Stephenson successfully led the Bristol Bus Boycott. For more information regarding creating or delivering an African British civil rights history programme around these 2 NARM role models: email:

Also Expunged Is Olaudah Equiano. Way Forward
Submitted by Kwaku (not verified) on Thu, 03/01/2013 - 21:59.

I came by this excellent article because I heard OBV has a campaign to pressure Education Minister Michael Gove from going ahead with his plans to remove Mary Seacole from the new History curriculum.

Whilst I am not against such a campaign, I would like to highlight the fact that the African abolitionist Olaudah Equiano has also been moved out, or should I say, expunged, from the new curriculum. So my question is that would a joint petition for the two African British historic personalities be better than two separate petitions?

As it is, we are responding to a leaked draft, so there may a small window for the likes of Seacole and Equiano to be "re-instated" in the new history curriculum.

Abolition of chattel enslavement and immigration are said to be left in the new curriculum - not sure what's happened to American civil rights. The old curriculum allows for topics such as resistance against enslavement, but how many teachers would know, let alone teach about about Nzinga, Sharpe, Bussa, Kofi, L’Ouverture, Nana (Nanny) etc?

Immigration, for example, should not just be about "new" or "different" peoples coming to Britain, or the change of the cultural landscape. What about the impact on the social and political landscape, as a consequence of activism which brought in race relations laws, which begat the other equality laws.

The way forward? I don't think the school history curriculum can satisfy everyone. So I've suggested to BASA (Black And Asian Studies Association) historians and history teachers that politicians will always play yo-yo with the history curriculum, and that the way forward ought to include producing a complementary curriculum which those who are interested in African British history can refer to.

If people are interested in African British history, then as much as they should fight for maintaining or re-instating Seacole and Equiano, they should also look at the complementary curriculum from which they can improve theirs and their children's knowledge of African history whether through self-study, Saturday schools, community projects, or other informal learning routes.

Some of us are not waiting on the schools to do it all for us. I run African history projects through TAOBQ (The African Or Black Questions), Akoben Awards and BTWSC. Other community organisations doing the same include the likes of Black History Walks, Nu Beyond, Ligali, etc.

A Pyrrhic victory

Although the inclusion of Seacole and Equiano is welcomed, the new NC proposals are a disgrace. They represent the complete reversal of all the progress that has been made over the last decade in ensuring Britain's diverse history is recognised and taught in schools. The tokenistic reference to Seacole and Equiano ignores the significant contributions that have been made to this country by people of Black and Asian heritage and wipes out a presence that has been recorded since Roman times. The first time any student will even know of this presence, under the new proposals, will be after studying history for 7 years! and the first thing they will be taught is that Black people were slaves. Gone is the awareness of African civilizations, the Blackmoors in Tudor Britain, radicals such as Cuffay, Davidson and Wedderburn. Where will students learn of the writings of Ignatius Sancho, the performances of Ira Aldridge or Samuel Coleridge Taylor? How can they be inspired by the pioneering efforts of Walter Tull or Claudia Jones? This misguided, amateurish attempt to impose a narrow, Little Englander interpretation of history must be challenged with the same vigour and passion as the campaign to support Seacole.


  1. This is a very interesting article which puts forward some good debatable points, but where is the proposed meeting to discuss this. Date and time please !!

    Errol Patterson
    British alliance of African and African Caribbean People (BAACP)

    1. Dear Errol, date's Feb 1, 5-7pm in South London. Please email me at jointheaobq @ for details, K