Posted on Mon 15 Oct 2018 at 13:20 by Ikenna Offor
It’s common knowledge that, in order to both understand the present and shape the future, you have to reflect on the past.
For more than 30 years, Black History Month has been a permanent fixture on Britain’s cultural calendar for more than 30 years, and celebrated every October in schools, universities, and at a vast array of events across the UK.
It all began with Akyaaba Addai-Sebo and Linda Bellos in 1987, and has since become not just a beacon of hope in the on-going fight against bigotry and racism, but also a staunch reaffirmation of Black pride in OUR rich heritage and many contributions to Britain.
So, why exactly does Black History Month matter? It matters because, although Black people have been born, lived and died in Britain since time immemorial, OUR innumerable written, aural and visual contributions to British history have been downplayed, ignored and marginalised for far too long.
I mean, isn’t it crazy that we all know what a randy old bugger Henry VIII was, but seldom often hear about Olaudah Equiano (a former slave turned writer and abolitionist, whose heart-wrenching accounts of Georgian era slavery influenced the passing of the Slave Trade Act of 1807)?; or Ignatius Sancho (who was both the first African prose writer published in England, and first known Black British voter)?; or Margaret Busby (Britain’s first and youngest-ever Black female book publisher), for that matter? – not to mention the ceiling-shattering artistic accomplishments of Joan Armatrading (the first-ever female UK artist to win a Grammy in the Blues category), Dizzee Rascal (the youngest-ever Mercury Prize winner) and Sonia Boyce (the first Black female Royal Academician).
Why do these stories matter? They matter because the unprejudiced acknowledgement of these not-inconsiderable achievements would not only leave an inspirational record to spur bright and talented Black youth to greater heights, but also afford them invaluable insight into just how far we have come as a people.
The Akan tribe of Ghana have a word for this – Sankofa, which literally translates to “it is not taboo to fetch what is at risk of getting left behind”; a notion also echoed by Bob Marley who sang “… in this great future, you can’t forget your past”.
OUR histories are glorious, painful and surprising – now more than ever, we need to understand them all.