Black History Month really felt special this year. I got to spend time with some of the UK’s most respected black activists, some of whom are well-known to the British public, others have been working tirelessly without the accolades or recognition that they deserve. It really has been refreshing, to say the least, to have the opportunity to learn more, discuss and celebrate the history of Caribbean and African people in the UK and the impact they’ve had on modern Britain.
This month it was also great to see so many organisations talking about Black History Month. Some went further than a few tweets on 1 October. Others worked in ways which suggested they felt obligated to do so. You could argue that in itself was progress. But I think it’s important we move away from asking the organisations we support for the bare minimum.
We are in a place where Black History Month is receiving some of the visibility it deserves. However, we can’t ignore the fact black people living in the UK are not always being given an opportunity to authentically represent themselves throughout the year. We’re even seeing companies and charities profiting and benefiting from the work of black activists but showing absolutely no signs of working beyond their urge to appear ‘woke’ in an era of cancel culture.
When we are in position where black people can be respected on any issue, not just their lived experiences of racism, then and only then can I say we have made some progress. At the moment we continue to see people talking about how we can and should diversify the workforce in some of Britain most prominent companies and yet these words are consistently ignored. We’ve even have clear evidence of the negative impact racism is having on the economy but that doesn’t appear to be enough.
Throughout October, we were served with heavy reminders of the issues Black British people still face in this country. The news cycle certainly served a firm reminder of the problematic experiences that plague people’s lives. We received news that the sharpest rises in hate were religiously motivated, but the overwhelming majority of the hate crimes were still motivated by race. Last month also saw a white women weaponise her womanhood in a train dispute, footage of an elderly black woman receiving racial abuse on her RyanAir flight and not long after the month ended it was revealed a white theatre director was taking advantage of funds meant for people of colour.
Not only that, but just as Black History month came to a close the public were made aware the Black Cultural Archives, the UK’s only national heritage centre dedicated to collecting, preserving and celebrating the histories of African and Caribbean people in Britain, was at risk of closure because of a looming funding crisis.
It’s safe to say, I’m really not interested in your suggestion ‘things have got better’ when issues we’ve been talking about for years continue to prevail.
Racism remains insidious in this country, despite people’s obsession with denying this blatantly obvious fact. We don’t need any further reports to tell us about the prejudice black people face in their professional life or in social settings. We do need people to be self-aware of their own privileges, self-scrutinise their actions and importantly disrupt spaces that continue to uphold racist practices. Not just in October but all year round. Because if people don’t remain conscious of these issues we’ll continue to repeat history.