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Questioning Black History Month’s validity confirms its necessity

31 Oct 2016

So, really recently my university allowed for a super uninformed and hateful article to be published in the newspaper about why black history in the words of the author “should be scrapped”. The article was angry and entitled. Not only that, but the writer then went on to accuse Black History Month, a month which has the sole aims of celebrating and including those so often excluded, as alienating. What is even worse is that the article gained a lot of positive attention and many were in agreement. I was once again reminded of the kind of spaces I am in and why what I’m about to say needs to be written and is weirdly still news to people. I’m treating this piece as a direct letter to the author, as I would like to have a discussion about why she thinks this way.

If you would like to see the original nonsense here’s the link.

Black History Month is not trying to make black people’s achievements seem more worthy – they are trying to make people see that they deserve some recognition.

My issue with this article is the desire to stimulate hate.

We live in a system that revels in inequality. Being a mixed race female, I have been subject to some of the ludicrous social boundaries that have been put in place in order to maintain our archaic status quo. When people of colour are able to overcome the barriers that are placed in front of us daily, this should be recognised and deemed worthy of an accolade.

My blackness is a huge part of me, I am proud of it and it makes me great. For someone to argue that neither my gender nor race should be appreciated when discussing achievements, I believe that this person’s privilege has secured their blinkers on too tightly and has made them blind to the oppressions of marginalised groups.

Black History Month is not trying to make black people’s achievements seem more worthy – they are trying to make people see that they deserve some recognition. For so long now as a people we have been told we are not good enough, we are not smart, we are not beautiful, at one point we weren’t even considered human beings. So do excuse us for trying to make a small space for ourselves that more often then not has actively been closed up.

The article questioned why there isn’t a white history month? My dear, every month is white history month. The fact that children in primary schools are taught solely about the Tudors, and how Egyptian history is whitewashed with Cleopatra portrayed as a white lady, shows how narrow this society’s worldview is.

Of course let us not forget the exploration of Martin Luther King. However we were only exposed to him because he was a ‘good black’ and an ‘agreeable black’ one that was not resistant, unlike the Malcolm X who was often represented as villainous and antagonistic. Malcolm X himself said “whenever a black man cares for his people, empowering them and preaching truth, they will always focus on his mistakes, his flaws and his contradictions. They want to illegitimise his message.”

The only time you are taught at mainstream schooling about black people is the transatlantic slave trade. It is very important that we learn about this atrocity, but why can we not educate the masses about the greatness of our people? And most of all why does that upset you so much?

We should celebrate when people overcome the hurdles that society has consciously placed in front of us. Rather than believe that “We should not judge on people’s race or skin colour, yet Black History Month makes a big deal out of people because of these factors”.

I question how you can believe that a country hostile to refugees, Islam, and European relations is that of a tolerant one. I question how you can believe that in a city where I have been told to “go back to where you came from, my people brought you over here” is that of a tolerant one. I question how you can believe that a country, whose hate crime figures have soured by 41% after its departure from a union, is that of a tolerant one.

I guess we will have to agree to disagree that the United Kingdom “could not be more tolerant”. You may profess your intolerant views and yours only. You cannot speak for the United Kingdom. The effects of slavery, apartheid and segregation are still very prominent within the black community today. A systematic mission to categorise, divide and weaken a whole group of people has affected the psychology of a race. Racism is very much alive, and to deny it encourages the idea that you perpetuate it.

What needs to be scrapped is hostility.

My main questions for you are if a male supremacist on International Women’s Day spouted that this day of celebration was alienating, hypocritical and unfair, would you agree?

If on breast cancer awareness day, someone from the heart disease foundation came barging in saying that the attention was being unfairly directed towards one cause, would you agree?

If you identify as a feminist, identity politics aids you. I see that you study physics and I know many women are praised for studying this, as it is a heavily male orientated sphere. Should I undermine your achievement, or just not make ‘a big deal out of it’?

So I have to say I disagree that this month does more harm than good. I am all for giving a space and a voice to those that have often not been allowed to vocalise their opinions. Black history month does not need to be ‘scrapped’.

What needs to be scrapped is hostility. What needs to be scrapped is allowing those to undermine a suffering that they have never experienced and apparently do not wish to understand on a propitious platform. What needs to be scrapped is this dichotomous hierarchy that assumes there is only room for one race to explore their greatness.