25/10/2020 06:00 GMT

Black History Doesn't Have To Just Be About Black Trauma

It feels odd to be celebrating and championing Black strength when it feels like there’s nothing to celebrate – that's why I'm focusing on Black joy, writes Habiba Katsha.

Matthew Horwood via Getty Images
Four post boxes have been painted black to honour black Britons as part of Black History Month in October. 

I’ve always been proud of my Blackness and keen to learn about it, but every year I’m left feeling unsettled when Black History Month comes around.

Undoubtedly the month is important – it’s an opportunity to learn about our past triumphs, but I always find it odd that we’re expected to only champion Black achievement for one month of the year.

It always feels like after the month passes, people forget about our existence. And this is something I’ve learnt from a young age. Growing up, I didn’t feel that there was that much importance placed on Black History Month and you’d be lucky if your school did anything to mark the occasion. 

When they did, the events were usually focused on African-American history, with a spotlight on figures such as Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King and Malcolm X. 

I didn’t learn much about Black British history until I started to seek out that knowledge for myself. Learning about Black British figures such as Mary Seacole, Professor Stuart Hall and Olaudah Equiano made me realise not only how rich our identity is here but also the role Black Britons have played in British culture. 

Our history doesn’t have to be all about trauma so I’m choosing to focus on Black joy. Part of this means avoiding watching or reading anything that might trigger me, and remind me of what we’ve encountered this year.

Now that I’m older and more aware, I try to make a conscious effort to learn about Black history all throughout the year.

Fast forward to the events of 2020, racial issues have been at the forefront of our conversations. The death of Ahmad Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd were catalysts for these conversations, and contributed to the need for the world to pause and  think about the structural inequalities that Black people face.

Witnessing the growing momentum and global support for the Black Lives Matter movement was bittersweet for me. As a Black person, it was gratifying seeing non-Black people speaking up for us but at the same time, I felt that it shouldn’t have taken the murder of a Black man for people to start valuing us. 

The aftermath of George Floyd left me feeling mentally numb. I couldn’t turn on my TV or go on social media without seeing his name everywhere. I did my best to learn more about his case but ultimately, I felt too drained and overwhelmed.

If that wasn’t enough, during the same time as this was going on, Black people were dying at alarmingly high rates due to Covid-19. In short, the last couple of months have felt like a never ending episode of Black trauma.

I spoke with a few Black people that wanted to seek therapy due to their mental health being affected so much as a result of all this and honestly speaking, part of me feels likeI’m still in recovery.  

Another result of the murder of George Floyd was the desire for people to learn more about racism. People have become inundated with suggestions of resources to use to learn more about the Black experience.

These resources vary from books to TV shows and even documentaries, so the last couple of months have felt like an extended Black history Month, which is why I am struggling to find the strength to celebrate Black History Month this year. For once, I’d just like to mentally switch off and forget about my Blackness.  

A big part of Black history is looking back at the heroes who have stood and fought against racial injustices. But looking back at those stories during a time like this is depressing because it’s a stark reminder that we’re still fighting the same fight. It feels odd to be celebrating and championing Black strength when it feels like there’s nothing to celebrate.

It also was frustrating seeing and hearing so many conversations on race without any tangible suggestions for change. I remember a time when TV shows and movies were removed from streaming services because they reinforced racial stereotypes. Though the intent behind these actions is good, the changes aren’t tangible because they are short term.

And this is still happening. For example, post boxes in some areas of England have been painted black to honour Black Britons, but in the grand scheme of things, what will that do? Black people don’t want surface level change, we want and need systematic change.

Though this Black History Month feels a bit odd I’m still trying to celebrate it. Our history doesn’t have to be all about trauma so I’m choosing to focus on Black joy.

Part of this means avoiding watching or reading anything that might trigger me and remind me of what we’ve encountered this year.  Instead, I’ll be investing my time in Black things that give me joy. Such as Love In Colour by Bolu Babalola, which focuses on love stories of people of colour. Or re-watching old Black TV shows such as Girlfriends or Fresh Prince of Bel Air.

I love being Black but this month, I need to protect my peace.

Habiba Katsha is a freelance journalist.

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