This Black History Month, in the wake of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, Bath and North East Somerset (BANES) Council hosted a webinar for young Black people in Bath to express their thoughts about the current climate, and what the local council could do to make lasting changes. Among the panellists was University of Bath student Rachelle Wabissa, and the webinar also featured a video from Boys in Mind, Girls Mind Too (BiM), an initiative bringing local professionals and young people together to discuss and tackle issues for young people in the BANES area.
The discussion centred around suggestions for improving education on Black history, and how to ensure better provision for the practical and emotional needs of young Black people in Bath.
One of the key points raised was the importance of a rich and diverse school curriculum featuring Black History, which too often starts and end with the slave trade. There was a general consensus among Black students that the experience of being taught about atrocities that may well have been perpetrated against your ancestors is demoralising at best, especially when the subject is taught by teachers oblivious to the potential emotional toll it can take.
Only learning about Black history insofar as it relates to the Slave Trade also risks omitting some of the most interesting Black historical figures from our collective knowledge. For example, one of the participants relayed a little-known piece of Bath history featuring Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie I, who lived in Newbridge House in Bath during a 5-year exile. Selassie introduced the first written constitution into Ethiopia and made the nation a chartered member of the United Nations. He later donated Newbridge House back to the City of Bath, where it was used as a nursing home for many years. The local council discussed how they could better integrate this story into the local history.
One topic that came up time and time again was that of tiredness; there is a real sense of collective fatigue among young Black people that comes with having to constantly self-advocate without the proper support. Even something as seemingly simple as getting a haircut can be fraught with difficulty in a small, majority white city such as Bath. Not all hairdressers are trained to work with Afro hair. Even those who are trained often only offer relaxing treatments, where hair is chemically straightened, which can cause damage and discomfort. This feeds into the idea that Afro hair is somehow unprofessional or undesirable, a perception which can lead to conflicted feelings and self-esteem issues among young girls, as discussed in this blog by Lucia, one of the panellists.
The discussion also highlighted the need for culturally sensitive support in the mental health provision given to BAME students. Rachelle explained that diversity among counsellors is vital, as it is far less daunting to share experiences of racial abuse and microaggressions with someone else who has lived experience and therefore an implicit understanding.
If you’re interested and didn’t get to watch the webinar, it is now available on the council’s YouTube Page. If you do nothing else this Black History Month, take an hour out of your day listening to the experiences of your peers.