Guest blog by Doyin Ogunmilua (RUSU Part-Time BME Students’ Officer)
[Please join us (and hear more from Doyin Ogunmilua) for a Black History Month Moment of Silence, Monday 2nd October at 1pm, by the flagpole between Whiteknights House and the Library. For other events planned during October see www.reading.ac.uk/diversity/diversity-events-news.aspx]
[Update added 2 October 2017. Please see the end of this blog for the text of the poem Free at Last, a Slavery Remembrance Day poem, which was written and read by Doyin Ogunmilua at today’s Black History Month Moment of Silence ceremony, at 1pm at the University flagpole.]
Introduction: Black History Month in a Summary
Black History Month is a month dedicated to those of black, Caribbean and Asian descent. During the month there is typically a uniting from those of minority backgrounds to celebrate shared histories, differences, traditions and to raise awareness of pressing racial issues. Black History Month is a specific period where people of similar backgrounds can hold events which highlight their talents and achievements while simultaneously pushing political, social and academic agendas. This is often done through a variety of different mediums such as art, film, dance, theatre, radio and social media.
Black History Month is vital in the further learning and education of a new generation of ethnic minorities in Britain. This education acts as a beacon of light on the past, present and future struggles of minorities in the fight for equality and justice.
The History of Black History Month
The event was created in the United States by historian Carter G. Woodson in 1926 in the hopes of acknowledging black achievements, which is still a priority to this day. It was initially a weekly campaign; “Negro History Week.” While Black History Month is celebrated in the US in February to acknowledge historical figures such as Abraham Lincoln, the UK typically marks the event in October in correspondence to the start of a new academic year.
Inevitable questions in the run-up
As Black History Month approaches there are inevitable questions that will be raised such as why it is only celebrated in a month and not a year and why there is no white history month. I have been asked this question in the past and it still intrigues me as to why this is such an issue for some. In response I say, why should there be a celebration of a race and a culture which has been so overly idolised and praised for as long as I can remember? In my mind, there has been a white-washing when it comes to African history, grounded in a deception which runs deep and spans centuries. Black History Month was created specifically for the minority and not for the past-times of those who have never been and so cannot begin to relate.
So, as UK Black History Month celebrates 30 years in existence, the question some may ask is if it is still relevant and if it should continue. Black History Walks in an organisation directed by Tony Walker. It provides monthly films and educational walking tours on London’s 2000-year African history. Walker explains that Black History Month was created to “correct the deliberate destruction done to African memories by European misrepresentation.” It is an important month as it prioritises re-informing and re-focusing minds on the true story of minority peoples. It teaches, in particular young people, that we must at times step away from what we are taught on a daily basis and start to question and challenge a status quo which aims to oppress and divide the marginalised.
Amid the increased racial attacks in the wake of Brexit and the ever-present figure of white supremacy in politics, academia and beyond, it is very much a justified campaign of strength and unity which must continue if we are to see further progress.
In conclusion, Black History Month is a great opportunity to celebrate each other as well as acknowledging what divides us. This year’s Black History Month, as well as the ones to come, should not falter in promoting equality and justice and the fight against the deprivation and appropriation of an identity which is rightfully ours.
Postscript: a Slavery Remembrance Day Poem
As read by Doyin at 1pm, today, 2/10/2017, at the Black History Month Moment of Silence event at the University flagpole.
Free at last
by Doyin Ogunmilua
Hands and feet once bound by heavy chains
Black bodies once a white man’s claim
Now-a-days it’s minds in shackles
No rest for the wicked in this superiority game
My enslaved ancestors long dead and gone
Yet their cries still go on
Wringing in my ears, I see their tears
How can I play a game that’s already been won?
I sense their expectation
To fulfil a dream they could not touch
To see a promise come to pass
I admit the weight of expectation is much
And so, the victimisation of minds and bodies prevail
When will they stop killing our young black males?
Herded up like sheep and shot
When once herded up on a ship to rot
Haunted by the blood and tears of my ancestors
They stain the back pages of history
A dirty secret in which they are ashamed
Ashamed of my erased family tree
We were supposed to be strong and free
According to that particular act in 1833
Yet bound and gagged we still stand
Appropriated bodies in high demand
Untold stories hidden in the depths of a cotton field
In the depths of the soul of a young man killed
When will I see that promise come to pass?
So I can finally say I am free at last.