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Black History Month: Do We Still Need It?

Published by Yvonne Hutchinson on Wednesday, October 31st, 2012 at 10:30 am

We’re at the end of Black History Month and I’ve had so little to say.  Perhaps it’s because so little seems to change!  In truth I’m always left wondering why it is that we still need Black History Month.

We need it because the history we all learn has whitewashed out the contribution of black figures from the history books leaving a colourless representation of the truth.  But a closer examination reveals a much more colourful past provoking further questions that need to be answered.

What happened to Mary Seacole, the black contemporary of Florence Nightingale who received four medals for her caring contribution during the Crimean War?  Why, having risen to great fame in England, did Seacole disappear from the history books while Nightingale was immortalised.

Where is the memory of Olaudah Equiano, one of a number of prominent freed slaves who were authors and tireless anti-slavery campaigners? Our history books recount only the contribution of William Wilberforce.  But without prominent black abolitionists the British public would have held to the deception that African’s were not quite human and abolition would have taken much longer.

Why have we forgotten George A.P. Bridgetower, private musician to King George IV and personal friend of Beethoven, whose compositions remain in the vaults of the British Museum? And while we are beginning to learn more of the influential black African kings of the Islamic world like Mansa Musa, why did black saints like St Maurice (AD 278) lose their place in Christian European history? The reason isn’t difficult to decipher.

The list of prominent figure of the African Diaspora who contributed to Western civilisation goes on and on but our school books are left only with images of the naked slave on bended knees and in chains.  While the horror of the slave trade mustn’t be forgotten, a healthy society needs the whole truth and not half-truths.

We all need to be taught to respect cultures that are different from our own but we also need to know that black people have been around sharing in and enriching British culture for a very long time.  Sadly though, while an airbrushed account of history holds sway we will continue to be robbed of the basis for a society built on mutual respect and the need for Black History Month will remain.

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