It's Black History Month- but from conversations with different people- it would appear that not many people know that it's BHM or even what BHM is. It's tragic that a month, which is designed to raise awareness about African and Afro-Caribbean history- seems to receive little attention and many of who, the month is targeted at aren't fully aware of it.
However, like a lot of history that is written about, the focus on Black History tends to be on men. When we think or talk about important leaders or historical figures, we tend to talk about Martin Luther King Jnr, Malcolm X or Nelson Mandela. The role that black women played does not receive as much attention and of the top of my own head, I can name very few historically important black females.
I was recently invited onto television to discuss whether or not Black History Month is relevant and what it means to me being a non-Black male. I argued quite forcefully, that Black History Month is important, because it reminds all of us that not all history is European. But more importantly, what is called Black History, is in-fact human history and is universal. Our ancestors were not from one place or another, they were from many different places and attempts to pigeonhole history into areas like African History, European History and others, ignores the universal components of human history and divides people.
But while arguing this, I began to think about the meaning of blackness and on the role of women. Recently, a new society called ain't I a woman was launched and they will be holding events on Black History Month. But their central platform is bringing together women of African and Afro-Caribbean heritage to tell their stories through art, articles and other mediums. Interestingly, they are also working alongside other Black and Women of Colour orgainsations, some of whom label themselves as 'Politically Black'.
Politically Black was a label that emerged in the 1970's and it denotes anyone who can nominally be classed as 'non-white', which includes South Asians, East Asians, Latin Americans and African/Afro-Caribbean heritage peoples. The usage of this label seems to be going against the trend of, area specific identity, I.E. Pakistani, German, Angolan and others. Intrigued I decided to meet the women behind the project and one affiliate of the project.
The founder of ain't I a woman, Ella Achola, studies at the University of London and we spoke about the meaning of Black History Month from the perspective of black and women of colour feminism. Ella being of mixed parentage and from Germany, saw the celebration of Black History Month as a wonderful thing. "I didn't know what Black History Month (BHM) was. We don't have BHM in Germany and it was only when I moved to the United States that I first encountered it and then to here (London). I think it's a unique opportunity to highlight how black people have been erased from history."
The theme of being written out of history and trying to re-discover it was a strong component for Ain't I a woman. "We have a bunch of workshops that are gonna' focus on Black Feminist perspective on reclaiming self-worth and re-claiming it on story and working together with the Body Narratives." What this interviewed revealed is that Black History Month did have relevance and it has provided an opportunity for other groups to tell their story. For Ain't I a woman, Black History Month needed to be expanded and include more celebrations of Black women.
But what was also interestingly, while most members of ain't I a woman understood the label politically black and were willing to work with other women of colour, they resisted the label citing the differences between different women of colour from culture to experiences. But for the Body Narratives founder, Hana Riaz, Black History Month had profound meaning. Hana who's parentage leads back to Pakistan, identifies the importance of remembering Black History, which she sees as part of her struggle.
Identifying as Politically Black and working closely with the ain't I a woman collective, Hana sees not only the struggle against White racism as important, but also against internal South Asian racism against blackness as equally important. "Through the Body Narratives, we've done a number of pieces on that (challenging racism within South Asian community), there are pieces we've actually launched when we launched the site. What got a lot of circulation was how anti-blackness operates and about having honest conversations about it."
When asked what anti-blackness actually entails, she responded, "It's the same way with how it is within white supremacy. So its discriminating and having prejudices against people of African descent. It goes beyond colonialism in the South Asian community, it has links to castism, complexionism and the history of India, particularly in its North-South divide, when I say India, I mean Indian subcontinent. The complexionism in operation within the South Asian community is the idea that if you are darker, you are less human. And that you should be discriminated against, in the South Asian community darker skin has an association with being poorer, being lower in terms of caste and castism doesn't just operate within Hinduism, it has shaped, framed and structured all South Asian communities."
Talking to them about race and anti-Black racism, it became clear that Black History Month needed to go well beyond its current debate. There are issues to do with gender and even with how non-White communities deal with race. A conversation is the most valuable thing that it should trigger, but just what constitutes black history and what relevance it has, largely depends on where you place the emphasis. The month has become an umbrella to discuss not only black history, but history of women and other people of colour who have been marginalised and written out of history.