October is Black History Month in the UK, and the urge to uplift and preserve Black History is louder than ever. But why are voices on the matter so much fainter than they were last year, can we take this as evidence that celebrating Black history in white spaces is only important when it’s trend-worthy?
The sentiment that Black history should be celebrated everyday is overarching – there’s endless richness to be found in the culture, heritage and perspectives of Black communities that have shaped the UK. But year round, our schools, media and history books reflect white narratives of past and present day. This month is therefore dedicated to platforming the Black stories and events that have shaped the UK but remain neglected in mainstream representation.
Following on from last year’s global chatter around perceptions of Blackness, and calls to challenge the anti-blackness and whitewashing that runs through the fibres of British history, this Black History Month holds more historical significance than ever. In fact, after the government’s official report denouncing the existence of racism in the UK, demand for widespread attention to Black achievement this October in itself confronts the UK’s historical ignorance to Black systemic adversity.
“History has a way of scrubbing out the achievements of people that the Establishment doesn’t want to recognise. History defines what we are today… Black people have not just been slaves, but many, many other things. That’s why Black History Month is so valuable. Those contributions have to be recognised.”
Black History in 2021
A year beyond 2020’s worldwide Black Lives Matter protests, accessing educational resources on Black history from Black voices has never been easier. In the age of social media and digital demand, Black history sits at your fingertips in easy-to-digest Instagram infographics and 60 second TikTok tidbits. So with an endless plethora of online information, why have last year’s calls to action faded in place of other trending topics?
As the lines between the online world and real life blur, we’ve become adapted to consuming information in short, streamlined packages. Social media has been a groundbreaking tool in the movement of social justice and platforming Black voices across the globe – with Instagram becoming an invaluable asset to political organisations during Summer 2020’s protests. Platforming the voices we want to hear has been taken into our own hands – we can share educational resources, inspire change at our workplaces, and demand more from the brands we buy from. However, leaving education solely in the hands of social media algorithms forces the extensive wealth and depth of Black history and culture to keep up with everything else that’s on your newsfeed. And yes, the power of social media and the useful jump-off points it creates for those willing to do their own research is nothing to be sniffed at – but committing to anti-racism requires viewing Black British history with a careful, well-considered and comprehensive lens that is difficult for a viewer to apply in-between the memes and mirror selfies.
’Performative activism’ describes the public support of a cause in order to garner positive attention from the public, rather than doing so to provide tangible support to the core of the issue. Performative trends – like 2020’s black squares and hashtags followed by silence – mirror the commodification of Black History Month, with companies only having to acknowledge the event via themed logos or a one-off diversity celebration post to reap the benefits of appearing supportive to their Black consumers and allies.
The performance value seen in the Black experience by brands, figures and institutions is an unsustainable model for prolonged education. Movements, historical events and the legacies of Black historical figures are too great to be summarised into bullet-points, or represented by a performative showcase of allyship on an otherwise silent brand’s newsfeed. What we choose to preserve in the history we retell shapes the culture and society that we live in. Broadening knowledge of Black history allows us to support Black communities in real time, challenge ignorance that lies in our circles and institutions, and – as should be the focus this October – pay respect to Black legacies that make up the country we live in today.
To Follow (instagram):
@blackhistory, @theblackhistorylesson & @blackarchives.co
It’s important for true allies to listen, learn, repeat. Above are some resources that might help you get started.