Black History Month 2019: Insights from the Past, Present and the Future

“I know it’s my purpose to just shine a light where I can, do something where I can, just whatever I can, in whatever way, shape or form” – Michael Omari (Stormzy)

This Black History Month, we the Melaninated live in a Brexit Britain. A Dis-United Kingdom. In the United Kingdom, we have roughly 66 million citizens tied together behind our shared cultures, histories and values. But we also have a country that has often been a nation to some and a place of second-class citizenship or worse yet, a prison for others.

Unlike the USA, where race relations have left lingering social divides and painful discourse that even President Obama couldn’t repair with his remarks on “America’s Original Sin” of slavery. The British, instead, celebrate their ‘post-racial’ culture and act socially awkward when talking about our own gaping schisms. 

Media and politicians, alike, talk positively about racial equality. They tweet in praise of Stormzy for his Glastonbury performance or blog ecstatically Meghan Markle’s wedding as the first bi-racial member of the Royal Family.

While these events are iconic and as a young black man, I feel proud to live in a nation where despite making up 3% of the population, Black people have made a lasting cultural impact. We can’t remove, however, our country’s colonial past and racist present. 

As a Bath student, I recently used my free entry to our local Holburne Museum, and came across a remarkable exhibition entitled ‘The Slave’s Lament’ by Graham Fagen. To my shock, I learnt how Bath’s Georgian architecture and style was financed by local plantation owners and slave-traders. 

Globally, it was the British administration of Jamaica that oversaw such brutality on its sugar plantations that infant mortality reached 50%, meaning it couldn’t even sustain a population without fresh West African slaves. The records of the extent of past atrocities under British colonialism – from Jamaica to Kenya to India –  may never be known; the so-called ‘Operation Legacy’ destroyed records so as not to embarrass ‘Her Majesty’s government.’ 

History is a canvas where the injustices of the past, flow like brush strokes into contemporary issues. For instance, the stigmatization, imprisonment, and murder of black youth is omnipresent in British history. The ‘sus’ laws of the 70s to 80s enabled racial profiling and unjust sentences and they mirror the heavy-handededness of ‘stop-and-search’ laws on Black men today. 

“History is a canvas where the injustices of the past, flow like brush strokes into contemporary issues.”

Racism against black women – Misogynoir – is, sadly, entrenched in Britain. Not only this, but acceptance of British black women is double-edged – lighter-skinned or racially ambiguous celebrities are accepted over their dark-skinned sisters. Prevalent colourism leads me to question whether, Prince Harry could have married a woman that looked like Ray BLK? Or would the deluge of criticism for Meghan Markle, look more like the sexual, violent threats against Diane Abbott?

Looking forward to a more positive future is tricky but necessary.  It’s hard to remain positive when thinking about the continued wrongs of the Windrush Scandal or the failings of state, business and society regarding Grenfell Tower. 

Instead, it requires both big dreams and hard work; from the University to its students to ask the big questions, say no to injustice and lead the change we want to see.  

“I know it’s my purpose to just shine a light where I can, do something where I can, just whatever I can, in whatever way, shape or form” – Michael Omari (Stormzy)

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