What is Black History Month & Its Meaning to You?

“Where are you really from?” is a question that most black Brits had to endure to the point where it became an in-joke in the black community. It’s a question that I haven’t been asked for a long time and I think Black History Month is partially to thank for that.

When British history is taught at school or covered in documentaries or fictional films/series, black people are usually absent. It gives the impression that we weren’t part of Britain but are just fairly recent immigrants whose contributions to British prosperity and culture are new. So, it was essential for the self esteem and identity of black Britons that our history was more commonly known. It was also important for all British people to understand that black people have been a part of British history for a long time. Black History Month was a great way to achieve that.

Both of my parents are from Jamaica and I lived there from the ages of 8–10, so I had the opportunity to learn about Jamaican history and national heroes while at school over there. It meant that as a child I had an awareness of my own background and had heroes like Nanny of the Maroons, a black female historical figure I could identify with and be proud of.

I learnt why the Jamaican motto “Out of many, one people” was true. It’s a motto that I felt also applied to my own country. British history acknowledges some of the many people but sadly used to omit any people of a non-European background. Black History Month has been a way to change that.

My parents were born and raised in a British colony and held British passports. Their culture was a mixture of the many (including British) people in Jamaica’s motto. However, their generation found that, when they came to England, they weren’t considered to be British. They had learnt about Britain but found that knowledge of them and other non-white British colonies was almost non-existent.

While it’s nice that a small amount of black history (mainly around the civil rights movement in America) is commonly known, I think it’s more relevant for British people to know about the history of black Britons. I also feel that it’s beneficial to include the history of Africa (beyond just Ancient Egypt), so that people understand African civilisation extends long before encounters with Europe and that African history has as big an influence on Africans & interactions between countries as European history has on our countries.

Black History Month is a chance for everyone to learn about & celebrate the contributions black people have made to our country and to learn about the history which shaped them. I always enjoy the various events held at museums & other venues and watching documentaries, films, etc. which are focused on African & Caribbean people. Over the years, I’ve learnt about black Brits like Olaudah Equiano, Mary Seacole and Walter Tull whose stories show character, resilience and pride; their contributions to our country were previously omitted or overlooked in history. My hope is that eventually stories like theirs and other non-white Brits will simply become part of British history so that, for example, a film about World War II would automatically include the many black and Asian soldiers who also fought and died for our country. It would allow everyone to understand that we’re an integral part of Britain.

To read more about the historical figures mentioned, see:

https://www.maryseacoletrust.org.uk/learn-about-mary/

https://waltertull.org/

https://equiano.uk/about-equiano/

https://jis.gov.jm/information/heroes/nanny-of-the-maroons/

by Samantha Falconer, Infrastructure Engineer at Fruugo

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