With increasing numbers of people losing interest in Black History Month, Rev David Shosanya shares that this unique time of the year deserves its place in the annual calendar, and why it should be celebrated by people of African descent
There are normally one of three distinct responses to Black History Month (BHM) in the UK: either it is fully embraced and celebrated by activists, nationalists, those that consider themselves to be stewards or guardians of African, African-Caribbean culture(s) and sympathisers (many White individuals who support and advocate for the right and rightness of Black people to promote and celebrate rich and diverse African and Caribbean cultures and histories are included in this category); or it is greeted with a scepticism that betrays an instinctive or acquired contempt for Black cultures and histories in general, and Black History Month (BHM) in particular; or it is recognised for what it is and for what it represents: an opportunity to highlight and celebrate the historic contributions of African and Caribbean individuals and cultures and communities to the civilisation and development of the world as we now know and experience it today. Furthermore, BHM has the potential to continue to inspire and shape the personal and communal ambitions of African and Caribbean people(s), as well as the way we are perceived and represented in mainstream Western, British, society.
Sadly, many are still not convinced of the benefits of BHM. Those of us, who are the descendants of Africa and the custodians/stewards of African cultures and histories in the Diaspora, must be careful to ensure that the indifference towards this annual celebration is not allowed to cause us to become cynical and jaded about what it really stands for. Frankly, the fact that there still remains a need to highlight Black history as an integral part of the collective history of the human family is shockingly alarming, and not the result of an innocent oversight.
Regretfully, but undisputedly, there has been a long backward trajectory in Western societies of ideologically misrepresenting notions of African-ness, Blackness, or however one wishes to name the communities that have and continue to be systematically caricatured for an ‘otherness’ than is projected and enforced upon them. I strangely recollect being told by a lecturer that – and I quote – “Black people have no history”. Needless to say, the curriculum was temporarily suspended, and no further comment of that nature was ever made again in my hearing!
So far, I have focused on one aspect of BHM: the recognition of African and Caribbean cultures, histories and contribution to civilisation. There is another dimension that we must also embrace: BHM offers us a specific opportunity to focus and reflect on the various challenges facing Black communities. It is needless to say that we continue to wrestle with the legacies of the Transatlantic Slave Trade (The Maafa or Black Holocaust) that, if left unchecked, have and will continue to hinder the corporate or collective sense of wellness we experience as Black communities and individual capacities to make meaningful contributions.
There are at least six legacies that, in my opinion, we need to be cognizant of and intentionally seek to address:
1. Social and geographical dislocation: the sense of feeling ‘nomadic’ by virtue of not belonging ‘back home’ or here in the UK
2. Infrastructural exclusion: being prevented from accessing structures or being prevented from being visible within those structures in significant positions, or with adequate representation at senior levels within institutions
3. Identity disorientation: wrestling with a sense of personal and corporate identity, as a result of being culturally and communally misrepresented – a kind of social violence
4. Historical amnesia: the failure or reluctance of African and/or Caribbean diasporic communities to carry our culture and histories and to pass them on to our children
5. Spiritual and temporal dichotomies: We have become conditioned through a form of ‘brainwashing’- particularly religious brainwashing – to place a greater premium on spiritual matters over and against temporal concerns
6. Internalised pathology: the feeling and experience of despising oneself and embracing/ owning unhelpful feelings about one’s self, community or history.
Clearly, these legacies present us with the ginormous challenge of seeing their hold broken over the individual and collective consciousness of African and Caribbean communities here in the UK and beyond. I am not naive to suggest that solely celebrating BHM somehow makes it possible to achieve this task. I am suggesting, however, that being intentional in focusing our energies to work together to highlight and celebrate alternative and potentially transforming narratives about the cultures and histories from which we find our genesis, we will be better equipped to exercise a personal sense of agency that can result in the construction of a new worldview that is rooted in a sense of persona and communal pride. BHM provides a natural focal point within the year for us to begin embarking on that journey.
Happy Black History Month. Blessings
REV DAVID SHOSANYA is a Regional Minister & Director with the London Baptist Association