Black people have had a presence in Britain from as early as the Roman occupation. As well as this, black people across the diaspora have suffered greatly under the British Empire. Despite the hardship, they have made vital contributions to the structures that keep the country running everyday. Under the rule of the British Empire, black Africans fought in both the First and Second World War, the Windrush Generation left the comfort of their homes in the Caribbean to rebuild the country after the devastation of the Second World War and to this day, continue to contribute in high numbers to our public services. It is a fact that without the contributions of black people, the Britain we know and live in would not be what it is now.
But with all our contributions, we have experienced abhorrent racism that persists to this day. We all know the infamous ‘no dogs, no blacks, no Irish’ signs outside pubs, segregation of the Windrush generation, colonialism all the way to the Windrush scandal, the tragedy at Grenfell Tower and the disproportionate COVID-19 deaths of Black and Asian people. Yet, that doesn’t take away from our contributions.
For me, Black History Month is not just about celebrating figures such as Nelson Mandela, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr and Mary Seacole. Whilst their contributions to Civil Rights should always be acknowledged, I would say that Black History Month should be used to celebrate the average black person. We should celebrate the Windrush Generation who helped to rebuild the country, our black health care workers who help to keep the NHS on its feet, our black entertainers, musicians, influencers, sportsmen and women who represent the country despite the blatant racism.
As well as this, we should see Black History Month as a call to action. The fact we even need a Black History Month is evidence that racism and racial disparities are still issues that must be addressed with urgency.
I also want to use this opportunity to recognise the contributions of immigrants in this country regardless of their racial background. For all the immigrants who have historically had bad rep based solely on misinformation. As someone who has immigrant parents, I have seen first hand the difficulty of giving to systems that want your labour, benefit from your culture but don’t appreciate the role you play in giving back to society.
Finally, we must acknowledge that Black British history is British history. All the good and the bad did happen in real life, therefore no matter how bad something seems, it is important that future generations know exactly what happened and when it happened. Looking back on the past is the only way we can look forward. So for the rest of this year, for the rest of next year and all the years that follow, always remember the contributions of black people regardless of whether they are widely known or your average person.