“Why is there not black history in the black curriculum?!”
A difficult question to answer without context, right? For example, why is there little to no:
- Native American history
- Mongolian history
- Indian history
I could go on. But we then must ask why is Black history so important? You could argue that black people represent 2.5% of the population. But over 5% of the population are from India, Bangladesh and Pakistan (ref). Their presence in the British History Curriculum is also pretty limited. Maybe more under-represented than our own black history. And many people have argued that Indian history, like Black history, should be shoved into the British curriculum.
However, if I am frank, the reason why us of the West Indian, West African or Indian diaspora would like to see our history in the British curriculum is because our history is British history. In fact it is the history which gives the last 500 years in Britain and the Americas, the most accurate context. African souls funded the rise of Empire (mostly involuntarily) with labour and taxes. To speak about the industrial revolution or America’s rise from independence without mentioning African slave labour is like your boss taking all the glory at a business awards. “What a prick…” you might say.
Yes, “what a prick!” we say.
So no wonder there is this want to be represented. But also a need to acknowledge what has been lost.
Representing Black History replaces some heritage which was taken
Africa was underdeveloped due to slavery and colonisation. It’s hard to build cities and innovate when you’re running from slave catchers.
The West Indian slaves were emancipated with no support. Imagine 300,000 people who weren’t allowed to read or write for 400 years now facing the task of setting up a democracy it place of a slave state. In fact, this is actually what happened in Haiti and it’s the first time in written history that a democratic nation was born from slavery. There’s a reason why it’s the only case. It’s incredibly hard to do.
African Americans lived in an apartheid state for over 130 years after emancipation. The only people who didn’t immigrate to America out of choice, were then forced to sit out for the next 130 years of economic development.
And not only this, thousands of colonial documents were burnt by the British to hide than any of this underdevelopment even took place.
Yet history is important. Like any story, it provides meaning. So let’s analyse the current national history curriculum in the UK and ask ourselves what meaning is being projected onto British students
UK History Curriculum
The British history curriculum aims to put Britain into an international context. But the world is a big place and written history has been around for a long time. So let’s see what they chose to include and the meaning this content portrays
“Pupils should be taught about the lives of significant individuals in the past who have contributed to national and international achievements…”
Statutory Guidance for the National Curriculum
So which significant individuals are selected?
Fantastic choice. She successfully fought off the Spanish Armada and watched typically bad English weather finish them off. But what about her majesty founding the beginning of Empire by funding the likes of John Hawkinsin his “legalised” piracy. Investing in Pirates came to be known as Privateering which led to joint enterprises between the Monarch and the Privateers to rob Spanish Gold, buy land in the Americas and import African slaves to work the land.
But the latter isn’t mentioned, so why? I would argue that the militarily sophisticated image of British order is favoured over pirates and slave traders. Mighty-blighty and all that.
He “discovered” a land where people already lived. Imagine that. Someone discovering the house you live in and being very proud for doing so. His “discovery” is celebrated. But his rape and forced transportation of the natives? Not so much so. Not at all in fact.
So once again, let’s extract the meaning.
Considering Christopher Columbus isn’t English, the meaning could be that Western Europe as a whole, in this era was aspirational and innovative. It certainly was. But to leave out the greed, rape and pillage that followed is surely a useful lesson left untaught.
Rosa Parks & Mary Seacole
The British curriculum does advocate including the likes of Rosa Parks and Mary Seacole. A passive resister and a nurse. Both fantastic women but in my opinion they didn’t change the western world as we know it as much as Cecile Fatiman, Queen Nanny or Toussaint Louverture. So why them?
Maybe that change comes from soft, passive, patience. It certainly doesn’t. It isn’t a coincidence that the death of Stephen Lawrence led to a string of events which institutionally changed the police. Or that slavery was abolished in Jamaica, a year after Samuel Sharpe led a revolt of 60,000 Africans against the British. But at least the image of the passive, patient African seems to be the message which is promoted.
The Meaning of the British History Curriculum
The meaning of the British History Curriculum, I would argue, is to instil pride. Military, political, financial, intellectual pride. Every curriculum should do this. National pride is important. Most Jamaicans would agree. But to leave black history or at least the history of Empire out of the British History Curriculum, is absent of critical thought and is purely fairytale.
Britain didn’t reside over 413 million people in 1919 for fun. It did it for money. 413million people paid tax and worked for Britain whilst 10% of them lived in the British Isles themselves.
To leave the history of 380+million people who made Great Britain isn’t just ignorant, it is irresponsible.
Akala said something which tickled me. He said if you go to an elderly Jamaican’s house you will see a picture of the Queen and another of white Jesus. They believed in the motherland when they came here for the motherland to trample on them even before Jamaican immigrants docked at Tilbury.
So why no black history?
There isn’t any black history in the national curriculum because the question lies in a pandoras box which is too shameful to open. It would be the equivalent of asking why is America white? Why did 6 million Jews disappear during Nazi Germany?
But just as there are lessons to learn from Nazi Germany, there are lessons to learn from Empire which have been left untaught.
Black history should be in the national curriculum because you can’t tell the story of 10% of the population and expect the descendants of the 90% who were asked to come here, to shut up and accept their lot.
We’re here to stay and the truth should be told. For our sake and there’s.
Subscribe to my newsletter to get a notification every time I post
I am currently working on a new project which I think you will love