June 24, 2020

Black History 101

By now, you’ll have seen what is happening across the world, triggered by the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd. You will have also seen our newsletter on Black Lives Matter (BLM) and read Simeon’s blog. If not – where have you been? I mean that sincerely. I mean that seriously. Because any progression in the fight for our rights – and our lives – is dependent on every single person educating themselves. Trust me, our society is not set up to do it for you. 

As many of us know, and will have experienced, to get the bigger picture and the full story on things, we have to do some digging on the innanets, and this could not ring truer than with BLM, racism and the history that has brought us here today. As a Black Muslim Woman, navigating duality in nationality and conflicting crossovers in cultures, I was, unfortunately, spoilt for choice in what to write about. But taking the theme of digging on the innanets, let’s take a look at education and how that has come into play recently with the removal of historic statues, worldwide.  

Our Education System


As the saying goes, history is written by the victors. Writing this now, I’m realising how triggering that saying can be. History is actually written by those in power, and when it comes to black history it has, for so long, been written by the oppressors. 

Having grown up in London, on a British curriculum, I was taught exactly two things about black and African history – Ancient Egypt and slavery. This is a combination that serves to enforce the idea that greatness existed firmly in the past and a large part of traceable black history began with enslavement. It’s also important to note when we are taught these things. Ancient Egypt was taught to us as primary school children under what I’m sure must have been the ‘mystical and mysterious’ portion of the lesson plan, whereas slavery was one of our Year 9 subjects (actually, it was just watching the box set of Roots).  

I did however learn of the intrepid “explorers” like Columbus, the fearless leaders who marched into battle and fought for human rights and the inventors whose innovations are all around us. But of course, our curriculum never delved too deep into what these people did to earn such a prominent place in our textbooks, nor did we go into the motivations behind their actions, or learn of the numerous inventions by black people and non-black POC. Almost as if it was purposely redacted from the record. As I said, history is often written by the oppressors. So it is not only triggering, but painful, to see the very same figures of oppression celebrated in 18ft bronze in the centre of the cities we inhabit. 

Go, go, go, who’s next?


That’s right – time to talk about the statues. 

Thanks to Hip Hop Harry and the infinite wonders of social media, Who’s Next? went viral, with people posting the video when cancelling someone (after exposing their own racism/foolishness), clapping back at trolls and, how I discovered it, when the statue of Edward Colston in Bristol was torn down and rolled into the river Avon. This was quickly followed by the removal of statues of Columbus, King Leopold II of Belgium and Robert Milligan, amongst others, as well as other statues, like Churchill’s, being covered in graffiti. 

This has been one of the first hurdles for white people and non-black POC, following their pledge of support for the movement. It’s been one of the first hurdles for those who think they’re not racist and are allies but realise they’re either doing the minimum, that they have deep seated prejudices, learned in our society, that they need to challenge and that they are not, in fact, anti-racist. Opening your mind to understanding why these statues cause so much pain, before opening your mouth to condemn their removal, is the necessary step forward to progress. Not everyone advocating their removal is supporting their destruction and demise in the nearest river. How about we put them in museums as an education piece on who these men really were and what they really did? “Where will we find the space?” you ask. Well, how about we also actively work towards returning some of the ancient wonders that belong to other countries and peoples – not us – and voila. But that’s a whole other blog in itself. 

Education is key, and unlearning what we’ve absorbed from society is a difficult road, but a necessary one and an essential part of working towards anti-racism. Eventually, we may even reverse the saying on who history is written by. At the very least, we can try. 

My recommended reading list by black writers can be found here.