Culture3 min read

This Got Us Thinking: How do we confront the gaps in our Black history education?

In June this year, writer and broadcaster Afua Hirsch wrote a thought-provoking article in Vogue magazine about the gaps in our education when it comes to learning about Black history.

This got us thinking.

Why do societies struggle when confronting certain parts of their history? And what vital Black histories are we missing out on when we ignore the harder elements of our past?

One passage in Hirsh’s article really stood out for us. She points out that it’s difficult for any nation to confront the atrocities of its past. Even countries that have attempted an honest reflection about their dark acts can’t seem to do the same when it comes to examining their Black history:

“Germans are taught to examine how so many could have been complicit in antisemitism and the systematic murder of Jews. Yet, it’s only in recent months that German politicians have begun to address the nation’s history of anti-Black racism. Many Germans are simply unaware that the nation’s slaughter of 65,000 Herero and 10,000 Nama people in Namibia, between 1904 to 1908, is regarded by the United Nations as the first genocide of the 20th century.” – Afua Hirsch, Vogue

Why is it so hard for societies to address historic racism, and does this make it harder to recognize racism today? Who and what do we learn about during Black History Month? Do we stick to well known figures like Martin Luther King Jr or Rosa Parks, because it’s easier? What lessons are we missing out on if we sanitize Black History Month?

Civil rights Alabama by @time.

Only by examining our collective, and sometimes dark past, can we all appreciate the lessons that Black history has to tell us.

Black History Month is a great chance to celebrate the achievements of Black folks. It’s also an opportunity for a country to reflect on its worst deeds and realize how far it still has to go in tackling racism. We’re not experts when it comes to the education of Black history. But we have been pondering on some fascinating resources and would love to share them with you to spark your thinking.

🗣️ Psychological safety helps us talk about Black history

It’s not easy to talk about the history of racism. Partly because some are afraid of saying the wrong thing or causing offence. People who have never experienced racism, or are unfamiliar with certain historical events may favor staying silent over asking questions and getting curious about Black History Month, especially when confronting harder subjects or the gaps in their knowledge. But we need to create a space to have these uncomfortable conversations. Silence is worse than saying the wrong thing.

By encouraging a culture of psychological safety, a vulnerability-based trust, we can help empower people to talk about Black History, since they won’t feel judged or afraid to make a mistake. No one is expected to give a perfect answer. We’re all still learning and there’s lots still to discover during this year’s Black History Month. None of us is the finished article. When we celebrate Black History Month, and recognize our each others’ different racial and cultural backgrounds, we can help to build psychological safety.

Are you curious about how psychologically safe the people you work with feel? Ask how strongly they agree or disagree with these 7 statements.

🤝🏿 History creates a sense of belonging

Learning our collective history isn’t just about memorising dates, or kings and queens. It also helps to create a sense of belonging. When we learn about Black history, it shows us that Black folks played a vital role in the building of Britain, long before the slave trade or Windrush. Writing in the Guardian teacher Emily Folorunsho says:

“For Black students, learning Black history creates a sense of belonging. It makes them feel seen. For white students, it eradicates that misconception that Britain belonged to white people and Black people came here – when in fact, Black people have been here since the Roman period.”

When we leave out parts of our Black history, or stick to only learning about a few well-known figures, we miss out on creating that sense of belonging. Black history is for all of us. Black history is British history. It’s American history. It’s our history.

Pensive black and white by @ethor.

There are many examples of Black history that don’t get the prominence they deserve in our schools. The Bristol bus boycott might be hard for some to look back on, since it shows the racist behavior of a British company towards Black and Asian people in a time that’s still in living memory. But it also marked a significant step towards the UK’s first racial discrimination laws. And what about The Beachy Head Woman? Proof that Black people lived and belonged in Britain more than 1,800 years ago.

Take a look at these top 10 Black history events that are often missed by schools. Are there any that are new to you?

📚 Whitewashing Black history

Our history lessons are full of moral and military victories. They make us feel good and appeal to our sense of patriotism. But the contributions of people of color are often ignored. This short video takes a look at the WW1 Black soldiers that have been whitewashed from the history books.

History classes are full of the sacrifices of those who fought in WW1. But the contributions of non-European soldiers just don’t get the same recognition as their white peers. The feel-good factor from a military victory is dulled when we consider how these serving people of color were treated. They were even excluded from the victory parades after the war, for fear of upsetting the racial hierarchy and white supremacy.

✅ A challenge for your week ahead

If you want to help diversify education take a look at The Black Curriculum, founded in 2019 with the aim of addressing the lack of Black British history in the UK curriculum.
You don’t have to have kids in school to get involved, addressing the gaps in our Black history knowledge benefits us all.

Even when history is difficult to confront, or hidden from view, it’s vital that we all address the gaps in our knowledge when it comes to Black history. By being open and talking about our shared history (all of it, not just the feel-good parts) we can help to create a sense of belonging and identity and promote a more honest reflection of our past. When we know where we’ve come from, and address our sometimes racist history, we can better tackle the racial injustices we still see today.

Subscribe to our newsletter

Get the latest posts in your email