Today, Labour has secured a debate on Black History Month for the first time in five years. Unfortunately I am unable to speak in this momentous debate due to restrictions on virtual participation, so I wanted to share some of my thoughts here.
Black History Month has been celebrated every year in the UK since October 1987 and aims to recognise the contribution Black Britons have made over many generations. This recognition has never been more important than it is now.
As events unfolded over the summer and the Black Lives Matter protests spread from America across the globe, here in the UK it became an important moment of self-reflection. It is all too easy to assume Britain is immune from insidious, institutional racism – we dismiss it as an ‘American problem’. But, to do so is wilfully ignorant. The British history of anti-blackness has a different story, tied up in the history of empire and racism and it is no less lethal or corrosive.
Juxtaposed with the growing success of the Black Lives Matter movement and the awakening of an anti-racist public consciousness has been the disproportionate impact of coronavirus on black communities in the UK. The virus has ripped through Black and Asian communities at an alarming rate, leaving families shattered by grief. Until we tackle the structural and racist inequalities, public health crises like coronavirus will always hit the poorest communities hardest.
Racism in the UK is a systemic problem that requires systemic solutions. That is why Labour is calling for a Race Equality Strategy that sets out a vision for a thriving multi-cultural Britain. This will seek to reduce structural inequalities faced by Black people in Britain and fundamentally change the systems and institutions where racial disparities exist.
We will never succeed in eradicating racism until our children learn the full breadth of British history including that of Black Britons. After all, Black history is British history.
I passionately believe in the value of education in tackling racism. Black history and experience must be taught to the next generation all year round, not just in October. Learning Black histories is a vital part of ensuring young people have a balanced understanding of Britain’s past, and how it has shaped society today. By diversifying our curriculum, we can give young people the tools to challenge present-day racism and discrimination.
As Marcus Garvey said, “A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.”