Why are we still ignorant about Black History?
During our event, The Recharge, we hosted a pass-the-mic showcase sharing insight on critical yet overlooked aspects in ED&I. Below is the full speech from Chynna Rhooms on the importance of Black history.
Hi, my name is Chynna. Today, I’d like to shed light on the importance of Black History, I’m a black woman of Jamaican descent with grandparents who were part of the Windrush generation and I studied history as a degree. I often was the only person who looked like me in rooms where we’d be dissecting how black people were sold as slaves and questioned by members of my community ‘Why history? That’s too much reading’. To that question, I’d always answer - because I love it.
Given that we’re currently in Black History Month, I’d first like to emphasise the importance of why this month holds such a vital place in our calendar. It serves as a symbol of black excellence, highlighting the countless contributions that black individuals have made throughout history. While it shines a light on the many stories of black people, it’s not reflected in our school curriculum. If it is, it often depicts black people as subhuman with little to no equity or agency, which is damaging to young minds.
The focus on the trajectory from the Transatlantic slave trade to Martin Luther King’s I Have a Dream speech also overshadows the rich history of Black Britons. History is a subjective discipline meaning who tells the history holds the power. For a long time, our voices have often been either silenced or forgotten.
Therefore, Black History Month is not merely a token event commemorated once a year; it's a moment for collective recognition and celebration. It should serve as a year-round commitment to collaboration, bridging gaps in understanding, and most importantly, lessening the burden on Black people to constantly explain our experiences and traumas.
Historical context is the foundation upon which our society is built. Everything, from the clothes we wear to the streets that we walk on, everything has a history. Black history is no different; it is not confined to a single month, nor is it defined solely by tragedies like the murder of George Floyd. Black history is an ongoing, continuous narrative, an indispensable part of the human experience.
Yet, what I've observed in my interactions with clients is a glaring lack of awareness regarding the history behind stereotypes, offensive words, and perspectives related to black people. What I want to emphasise is that this lack of knowledge is not indicative of someone’s character nor does it make someone a ‘bad person’.
If you’ve encountered these sorts of feelings, here are three things I’ll recommend:
Acknowledge your privilege where possible
Hold yourself accountable
Be proactive in your quest to understand the black experience. Ask questions!
It's crucial to recognise that history shapes our present. For instance, understanding the dark history of blackface and minstrel shows from the 1800s will set the context as to why blackfishing is offensive today. I don't expect everyone to become historians overnight, but I do encourage you to engage in conversations, conduct basic research, and be aware of the history that informs our society. This knowledge is the key difference between cultural appropriation and cultural appreciation, between offending someone and fostering genuine inclusivity.
History is not static; it's constantly being made. Every day, every event, every choice contributes to our collective history. So, the next time you hear a statement, a song, or see a product, consider who is telling the story and what historical narratives are being perpetuated. By actively seeking out and acknowledging this history, we can create more culturally sensitive content.
In conclusion, Black History Month is a time for us to recognise and celebrate black excellence and contributions throughout history. More broadly, it’s important to recognise Black History as blackness has become synonymous with Black culture.
Black people are not a monolith, there are so many intersections to us and therefore loads of hidden stories that we must uncover. History is not just a record of the past; it is a continuous thread that weaves through our past, present and future. To participate and interact with Black culture requires a foundational knowledge of the past.
Chynna Rhooms is an Associate at The Unmistakables. For the full recap of The Recharge including takeaways and other speeches, click here. If you are interested in attending our next Recharge event register your interest here.