Black History Month (BHM) was initially a US initiative aimed at raising awareness of Black and Minority Ethnic (BAME) histories and cultures which spread to the UK in the 1980s and is now an established part of the school calendar. High-profile figures, including the Prime Minister, endorse the scheme while dedicated websites support teachers organising BHM programmes each October.
We support the spirit and aims of BHM; but question the approach adopted in British schools towards the teaching of black history, as reflected in the BHM resources available. Of the 80+ resources shared ahead of BHM 2012 on the TES website, most were concerned either with slavery or with a specifically North American black experience. Fewer than 10% of the resources explored the British BAME experience, a fact which did not pass unremarked in the review section: "Good resource, but a lack of British black people on it … It is important for young black people growing up in the UK to be aware of role models in the UK."
UK-focussed resources shared on the TES website looked at racism or immigration or used a BAME British figure to provide inspiring classroom learning during BHM. All too often the role-models are from the fields of sport or entertainment, for example actor and director Noel Clarke (a Londoner of Trinidadian heritage) and Olympic athlete Mo Farah (a Somali-born Londoner) are the subjects of two TES resources. But where are the British BAME activists and politicians? As a recent Teaching History article pointed out, there is ‘a rich history of grassroots activism in the field of rights and relations within Britain’s Black communities, akin to the history of the African-American Civil Rights movement.’ (1)
The career of Labour MP Bernie Grant (1944–2000) provides a fine example of this activism. Bernie Grant was the first black leader of a local authority in Europe (Haringey, 1985-1987) and one of the first black MPs in Britain, elected to represent Tottenham in 1987. The Schools & Community Learning Department is now using Bernie Grant’s archive (owned by the Bernie Grant Trust and deposited at Bishopsgate Institute) to develop an engaging classroom learning resource ahead of BHM 2013.
In the meantime, we are undertaking consultations with teachers to help develop the resource content and activities. To have your say, join us on Thursday 22 November from 4.30pm-6.30pm for a Teacher Twilight Session as part of Parliament Week. If you’re unable to attend you can email us your thoughts and questions.
Parliament Week (19 – 25 November 2012) is a national initiative to build greater awareness of, and engagement with, parliamentary democracy in the UK.
1. Robin Whitburn and Sharon Yemoh, ‘"My people struggled too": hidden histories and heroism’. Teaching History Issue 147, June 2012, pp.16-25, on p.18
Photo credit: Bernie Grant Trust/Sharron Wallace