This month is Black History Month, an important time to reflect on black history. We began our activities with a reflective Chapel Service and a speech written and read by Gracia in Lower 6, regarding Black History Month. Below is Gracia’s speech, which highlights the importance of celebration as well as acknowledging that whilst we cannot improve history, we are able to learn from it.
“It’s Black History Month and many of you will already be aware of this. It is a national celebration aimed to promote and celebrate black contributions to British society, and to foster an understanding of black history. However, this year I hope to approach things a bit differently.
I could stand up here and tell you all about the influential Evelyn Dove, who was the first black singer on BBC Radio, breaking cultural barriers and opening doors for her future successors in the entertainment industry or even Diane Abbot, Britain’s first black female MP who currently is still serving today. However, as I stand here in a predominantly white school, I want to speak about things that bring modern day context to the celebrations, as well as acknowledging that whilst we cannot improve history, we are able to learn from it.
I believe that part of the problem is that for the many non-black people, there is too often a sense of being a passive celebrator. A passive celebrator is a person who is celebrating however, their way of celebrating is just by accepting or allowing what happens or what others do, without active response or resistance. Yet, in this current climate there is huge opportunity for us to move out of the passive celebrator phase and into actively engaging in black history. To do so we must push past our fears of getting it wrong and fears of messing up, to be able to understand why we celebrate, and the importance of black history. We need the celebration to be a journey and not just a destination.
One of the problems can be not talking about race; usually down to feeling it’s more polite to just not talk about it. The result is ongoing ignorance with a soul-crushing demand on people of colour to go along with the silence, and to just not talk about it. The more non-black people don’t know, the scarier it can be to actually get to know about black history and culture. Breaking this cycle is one of the most important things people can do, and Black History Month gives you an excuse to do so.
Create a ‘new normal’ in your life, that race is something you want and need to think and talk about in order to better understand it. Deepen your experience by asking yourself what you do and don’t know about black history. Sit on Google and type in those questions you are probably afraid to ask. Take note of your internal reactions before, during and after you learn something new. Ask yourself ‘why didn’t I know this?’ or ‘why was I uncomfortable when he said that?’ or ‘I want to learn more about so and so’. Good questions lead to both answers and more questions, which push you along a strong and healthy racial awareness journey.
Learning about black history is more than being able to name Martin Luther King’s famous speech, or reading on the news somewhere about the killing of George Floyd. It includes all humankind celebrating not just the overcoming of difficult and unpleasant situations that have occurred and still occur till this day, but celebrating the joys, the passion and our willingness to learn. The number-one rule when talking about race is to bring the most humble version of yourself.
I look forward to the day when the need for a Black History Month melts away, and the fully integrated, truthful stories are told. Until then, let’s use the month to educate ourselves and inspire others. I repeat, let the celebration be a journey and not a destination, but what we can improve is the future.”