How to continue celebrating Black history beyond October
LJMU School of Education lecturer, dad of three and Black History Month advocate, Adam Vasco is giving his thoughts on five ways you can get involved in celebrating and commemorating Black history and culture this month, and going forwards throughout the year..
Black History Month presents us all with the opportunity to work towards a common goal of eradicating racial inequality. This comes with a health warning. It is not easy, nor should we expect it to be. It is not comfortable, nor should we expect it to be. If we are committed to change, we must be prepared for the uncomfortable and hard work that is ahead. After all, we are fighting against a social construct that is hundreds of years in the making.
I became a School of Education Lecturer at LJMU in 2019. Prior to this I worked as an early years practitioner, primary teacher and Deputy Headteacher for over 20 years.
Having previously worked closely with LJMU as a school partner, I was aware that we faced a recruitment issue in terms of representation on our teacher education programmes. This was a problem that is replicated nationally and certainly locally in the teaching profession.
Upon joining the team, Jan Rowe, Head of Initial Teacher Education, encouraged me to follow up on this personal area of research. It is her encouragement, along with that of Dr Graham Downes which has led me to further my own learning as we look to work as a team to address the recruitment crisis of Black and Brown educators in Liverpool.
We must break the cycle, working to the mantra of ‘you have to see it, to be it.’ Thankfully, through the encouragement and support of my colleagues, particularly those in leadership, collaborators across the faculty and those in outreach, I am being afforded the opportunities to take steps towards making a change. That is in addition to the anti-racism work that has become embedded as part of our ambitious curriculum offer to students, something the team have long committed to.
I am sure that we can all agree that racism is bad and that we want a more equal society. In fact, those who commit overt acts of racism are in a minority. Yet, racial inequality still exists. The kind of systemic racism and inequality that results in it taking 19 years to convict Stephen Lawrence’s murderers. The kind of systemic racism that means you are 40 times more likely to be stopped and searched by the police as a Black or Brown person (Townsend, 2019). The kind of systemic racism that means you are four to five times more likely to die in childbirth as a Black or Brown mother (Freedman and Lucas, 2015). The kind of systemic racism that means sending 80-90 per cent more job applications to get a positive response from an employer because of your ethnic background (Siddique, 2019). Race is a social construct, it is not real, but the impact of racism is very real.
So, October may be Black History Month, but is important that this month amplifies the key messages while we commit to celebrating and commemorating Black history and culture throughout the year.
Black History Month has three component parts:
- Celebrating Black Culture(s)
- Recognising Marginalised Narratives
- Addressing Oppression and Resistance
All three are needed for real impact. (Boakye, 2021)
Here we share some suggestions for how to mark Black History this month and perhaps most importantly, beyond.
1. Black History Month 2021: Proud To Be
The theme for this year's Black History Month is ‘Proud To Be’. There is a dedicated resource pack (available here) which can support you in recognising the vast and varied accomplishments of the Black British community. Liverpool is home to the oldest Black community in Britain, with records dating back to the early 1700’s. Why not visit the Museum of Liverpool and learn more about the community (it’s not all slave trade and riots!)
2. Musical Truth
Obviously, there is much to celebrate about Black History, but like many of us, music plays an important and integral role in my life. From forcing my Dad to take me to Electric Avenue, to my previous life as a DJ, to one my proudest moments as a parent; my eldest son taking me with him to a rap gig - who said teachers were boring! Jeffrey Boakye is another music loving teacher, not to mention writer, and new presenter on BBC Radio 4! His book ‘Musical Truth: A Musical History of Modern Black Britain in 28 Songs’ is not only a brilliant book, there is also an accompanying playlist on Spotify. There is something for everyone as you take a journey through some of the songs that have and continue to redefine British music.
Other streaming services such as Apple Music also have dedicated Black History Month playlists and special features.
3. From Single Story to ‘Usualisation’
In a world where people still mistake Africa as a country and not a diverse continent there should be no surprise that the impacts of ‘single stories’ are still felt in all our lives. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie warns us that our cultures and lives are made of many overlapping, interconnected stories. The danger of a single story risks us having a critical misunderstanding of one another.
Instead ‘usualisation’ must be the goal. (Kara, 2020) This is the aim of our team in our teaching within the School of Education. I am in awe of how the team skilfully embed this in all aspects of our curricula. There is significant power in ‘usualising’ diversity. We can ‘usualise’ in our everyday lives, beyond the context of education.
‘Diversity isn’t something you stick a label on and make room for on special occasions: here comes a dose of diversity…. now, back to normal. No. Instead, you usualise it. It’s always there, woven into the fabric. In so-doing, we educate about people who are different to them; we tackle ignorance, break down barriers and prejudices. Embedded, everyday, usual.’ (Kara, 2020)
4. Education, education, education.
Nova Reid (2021), suggests there are four stages to anti-racism work.
- Responsive Action
To be part of the change we must move beyond performative allyship. We have all been accustomed to seeing the world through the prism of whiteness (Eddo-Lodge, 2019) One of the most recent and shocking parts of my own journey has been the realisation that I have internalised racism. As someone of mixed heritage (Nigerian and British) this has been hard to accept, yet it is true. In the 1940’s psychologists Kenneth and Clarke, designed a series of experiments know as ‘the doll test’. Identical dolls, except for colour, were used to test African American children’s racial perceptions. The children were asked to identify the race and indicate which doll they preferred. Most children showed a preference for the white doll. This test has since been recreated many times over recent years. The children may be different, but the results are the same. (Click the link to see an example)
This highlights the impact that racism has upon all of us. No one is immune from internalising racism. Thankfully there are several wonderful works to choose from when embarking on this important learning journey. Akala’s ‘Natives’, Dr Adam Rutherford’s ‘How to Argue with a Racist’, Afua Hirsch’s ‘Brit (ish)’ and Reni Eddo-Lodge’s ‘Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race’ to name but a few. From a personal perspective, the most transformational of books for me is Nova Reid’s
‘The Good Ally: A guided anti-racism journey from by stander to changemaker’.
5. Recognise our microaggressions, we are ALL guilty of them!
It is safe to say that we are making progress (most of the time) in terms of those with overtly racist views. Yet here we are in 2021 still talking about it. One of the most powerful ways to truly commemorate Black History Month is to address why this remains a problem. The uncomfortable truth is racial microaggressions are one of the main reasons racism still exists.
‘People who want to intentionally cause harm are in the minority. Well intentioned, kind hearted, well-meaning people are in the powerful majority. People like you.’ (Reid, 2021)
Why not begin to reflect on what we can all do to address the issue of microaggressions by watching this Ted Talk: ‘Not all superheroes wear capes – how you have the power to change the world.’
It is not possible to discuss Black history, this month or indeed any other, without mentioning the brilliant David Olusoga. His written works and those that have graced our screens on the BBC have given Black history a mainstream audience. In doing so he has cemented himself IN history. His seminal work ‘Black and British: A Forgotten History’ shows us how our stories as Brits, Black or otherwise are as one. As an educator I wholeheartedly believe his recently published ‘Black and British: A short essential history’, written with young people in mind should form an integral part of all school curricula.
However you choose to commemorate Black History Month, the important thing is to acknowledge that Black history IS British history.
As referenced in the blog here are some more reading resources and references on this topic:
Boakye, J. (2021). Musical Truth: A musical history of modern Black Britain in 28 songs. London: Faber & Faber.
Reni Eddo-Lodge. (2019). Why I’m no longer talking to white people about race. New York: Bloomsbury Publishing.
Kara, B. (2021). Diversity in schools. Los Angeles ; London: Corwin, A Sage Company.
Reid, N. (2021). Good Ally. Harper Collins Uk.
Saving Lives, Improving Mothers’ Care Rapid report 2021: Learning from SARS-CoV-2-related and associated maternal deaths in the UK Maternal, Newborn and Infant Clinical Outcome Review Programme. (2020). [online] Available at: https://www.npeu.ox.ac.uk/assets/downloads/mbrrace-uk/reports/MBRRACE-UK_Maternal_Report_June_2021_-_FINAL_v10.pdf.
Siddique, H. (2019). Minority ethnic Britons face “shocking” job discrimination. [online] the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/jan/17/minority-ethnic-britons-face-shocking-job-discrimination.
Mark Townsend, ‘Black People “40 Times More Likely” To Be Stopped and Searched in UK, May 2019 https://www.theguardian.com/law/2019/may/04/stop-and-search-new-row-racial-bias