Black History Month – An Excuse for Whitewashing??

Every year October comes around and newspapers, academia and every other website starts declaring how important black history is and how diverse they are. Black history and diversity in academia are of course undeniably important topics, but does allocating Black history its own specific month merely excuse the fact that this crucial part of the past is overlooked the other 11 months of the year??

Black History Month was adopted by the UK in 1987, partially in reaction to the riots of the Thatcher era, as Black Britons struggled for acceptance in a largely white society.  As a history student I am highly aware of the dire need for an far reaching inclusion of all history’s, especially those which have been pushed out of the mainstream – whether that be black history, LGBT history or disabled history. And, as a white cis historian, I am very aware that sometimes mine is not the voice that needs to be heard. However, I do often wonder whether allocating specific months to such important topics merely allows mainstream academia and society to overlook oppressed voices throughout the rest of the year. Surely schools should be encouraged to put minority history onto the curriculum permanently, to teach about individuals such as Harriet Tubman or Sylvia Rivera all year round, not just for one month of the year? Assigning specific months to ‘types’ of history also overlooks the intersectionality that makes history the beautiful web that it is, people don’t exist in isolated communities.

We need to acknowledge black trans women, black disabled men, the Asian LGBT community etc, all of the time, not just box histories off into exclusive categories that overlook essential parts of people’s identity until the ‘relevant’ month occurs.

Bookshelf, Old, Library, Old Books, Vintage, Study

Having said that, before these months existed, crucial parts of history were being not only forgotten, but systematically overlooked by educational institutions. Black History Month is designed to prevent this oversight and force lesser heard histories onto our syllabus’s. Despite this however, how many universities can honestly say they focus equally on Black history, LGBT history, disabled history or women’s history outside of their allotted months? How many modules offer explicit focuses on these topics and how many minority individuals are celebrated on school curriculums? We need to look far beyond specific months if we want to encourage true inclusion, to stop reading exclusively white authors and to start ensuring black voices are being heard and celebrated, all year round, in every section of society. Black History Month needs to become more than just a month and more than just a departmental focus, it needs to be spread to black authors on our English curriculums in schools, to learning about people like James West who coinvented the microphone in our science lessons. Black History Month should not merely be confined to the past. Black History deserves so so much more attention than just this annual fuss by institutions who want to appear inclusive for advertising purposes.

Until mainstream history successfully and consistently acknowledges Black history, we do indeed need a month dedicated to this topic to remind everyone that history can be incredible, empowering and relatable, but let us not use it as an excuse to forget Black history the rest of the year.

Rosie Plummer