We need to teach black history properly, and not just in October

The theme of this year’s Black History Month, which began last Friday, is ‘Proud to be’. The aim is to encourage all black and brown people, especially children, to share the things about which they are most proud, particularly in relation to their identity and heritage. A 2018 article, asking rhetorically whether a black history month was still required, argued that it needed to evolve, particularly in terms of looking at what children are taught: “What is needed,” wrote Joy White, “is a detailed understanding throughout the year and throughout the curriculum that black history is British history and vice versa.” We have argued on this website that “the study of history should give children a sense of what makes British society what it is today and their place in it.” It is through history that children develop an increased sense of belonging, an understanding that they are part of something that is bigger than their close circle of family and immediate neighbours. History is key to building the strong, vibrant and closely knit communities that benefit us all.

Having originated in the USA, Black History Month was first celebrated in the UK in 1987. This 2020 BBC article provides some useful background.

Catherine Ross, editor at Black History Month UK, explained the thinking behind this year’s campaign:

It’s been a challenging time for many black and brown people, with so much in the media about racism, inequality and injustice. We wanted the theme of Black History Month 2021 to focus on celebrating being black or brown, and to inspire and share the pride people have in their heritage and culture – in their own way, in their own words.

By asking people to share what they are Proud To Be we can share both individual stories and the vast richness of diversity that black and brown people bring to the UK.

Black Lives Matter means people being able to live life to the fullest without having to compromise who they are. Everyone deserves the right to be Proud To Be everything they are and want to be in life.

from the article PROUD TO BE: Black History Month UK launches theme for Black History Month 2021

Lavinya Stennett founded and is head of the Black Curriculum campaign. Central to its critique is that ignorance and a lack of education are often at the root of racist attitudes and behaviour in the UK, a consequence ultimately of a ‘whitewashed’ curriculum that fails to properly reflect the contributions of black people throughout British history. Black British history teaching rarely goes beyond teaching about the slave trade: only a fully diversified curriculum will properly present positive black role models to young people.

The aims of the Black Curriculum campaign, as stated on its website, are to promote black history teaching all year round and:

  • provide a sense of belonging and identity to young people across the UK.
  • teach an accessible educational black British history curriculum that raises attainment for young people
  • improve social cohesion between young people in the UK

We have also discussed the question of the right age to start teaching children about race and diversity. Wa’qaar A Mirza argues that it should be as soon as possible.

As soon as children start to become aware of cultural differences (and before they are exposed to negative stereotypes) we should be appropriately educating them on the importance of cultural diversity.

This will give them a well-rounded and balanced view on ethnicities, cultures, skin colours and more, meaning they’ll have counter-arguments against racism from the get-go.

Wa’qaar A Mirza, from Cultural diversity: Why primary schools need to be teaching diversity and tolerance as early as possible

He points out that, for one reason or another, many children will simply not have the opportunity to learn about cultural diversity at home; some, sadly, we know will grow up in an environment poisoned by racist language, stereotypes and attitudes.

There is an excellent collection of (free) teacher materials on the BBC website as well as an outstanding range of resources in support of Black History Month.

The Black Curriculum website also has a section devoted to learning resources — some free, some not. There is also a comprehensive (for key stage 3 upwards) Black History Month resource pack on the Black History Month website, though at £49.50 plus postage it isn’t cheap.

BBC Black History Month Resources

Black History Month Website

The Black Curriculum Website

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