We Need To Start Being Honest About British History

October 1st marks the beginning of Black History Month – a month where the Black British community celebrates its triumphs and rich history within the allotted time of 30 days. Companies and schools may feign solidarity and interest and just like Pride Month, as soon as a new moon rises, away go the rainbows and Pro-Black literature – we get shoved back and become an afterthought, again.

Giving us a month is a way to pander us and give us the perception of visibility and acceptance so they can pat themselves on the back and claim to support the Black community when in reality they don’t want our stories to be told. I have been thinking back to when I was at school and the subjects we covered in history and I realised that the only Black history we learned was that of the American and South African people – the British were always the saviours never the enemy.

Black History Month was created as a way to celebrate the contributions that have been made in the UK by people of African and Caribbean backgrounds, later evolving to include the history of all Black people throughout history.

We have been celebrating Black History Month in the UK for over 30 years but has anything really changed since then? Since its conception, we are still being left out of the history books even though we have been present in Britain for centuries. We have a collective history that is so interwoven with the UK that it should be treated as such – Black history is British history and I believe it should be included in the curriculum.

Do they teach us history this way to ensure we maintain the mindset of the oppressed? 

I am Black British and my history should matter. I need to learn something outside of the oppression my race faced, we need to learn about our triumphs also. By having a separate month for Black History it turns the subject into a chore, something to just check off a to-do list and children do not engage with the subject but if we were to make it part of the curriculum it would become the norm.

My school never did Black History Month and they’re not doing anything for it this year. There are still people who make comments like: “Well, there’s no White History Month”, and some of the teachers don’t even know Black History Month is in October. I wasn’t even allowed to put up a board about black history. – Lexia Richardson, 16, Abergavenny (2020) The Guardian 

The western world continues to benefit from the foundations that slavery laid and the truth is if we continue to ignore the contributions Black people have made then our history will continue to be lost and we will continue to not be seen as valid citizens and contributors to the UK.  

In 2013 Michael Gove attempted to reform our History curriculum in the UK to encourage a focus on Black History but unfortunately, it only worsened the curriculum because his focus was more about reforming and re-inspiring pride in Britain’s History by ensuring we share our history without trashing it. Gove focussed more on creating a revisionist history that focussed more on inspiring children through an interconnected narrative of our history rather than telling the whole story, we have put Britain on a pedestal for far too long and the anglo-centric history we have been peddling to our children is only inspiring a sense of entitlement and right-wing propaganda. We must change the narrative and tell the truth, we can no longer be Great Britain, conquerors of the world, we must celebrate our diversity and tell all of our stories honestly.

Flash forward to 2020 and the world is revolting. 

The Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement was reignited and with that came the need for reform. In the UK we have been asking our government to make changes to our history curriculum and we have been met with a definitive no. The former Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell said that any reference to key events in our history that promoted authoritarianism will be banned – they have told us that schools are required to promote British values and schools have been told that any teachings from anti-capitalist groups like BLM will not be tolerated. Our government is afraid to have a free-thinking population and are dictating the information our children are allowed to learn. We cannot continue to whitewash our history books and skim over subjects we deem unsightly, we must face our history head-on and be honest about it.

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