Why do we celebrate Black History Month?

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It’s October once again and it is Black History Month in the UK. A wide range of events, ranging from educational to entertaining, is being staged by various communities throughout the union. What is impressive about this month is the attention and support it receives from high ranking members of the society, and the willingness of the wider society to participate and be associated with it.

PM: I’m delighted to support Black History Month in its 26th yr of celebrating the achievements & culture of African-Caribbean people in UK

— UK Prime Minister (@Number10gov) October 5, 2013

As one would expect of any event that marks history, it is a time of reflection. Interestingly, each year the first focus of this reflection is why celebrate Black History at all separate from the history of other races:  Anthropologists tell us that humans evolved in Africa, implying you can’t study history without understanding and giving due attention to its roots. You can hardly discuss the history of the Americas without referencing black history since it was the enslavement of Africans that made the colonization of the Americas viable. Even most of Europe owe a large part of its history as empires to association with Africa. Unlike popular history that is replete with stories of conquests and “discoveries”, black history is mostly the hidden story of ordinary people defying all odds to achieve great feats. Black history can rightly be described as the history of the missing link: it is the history of the people that early European explorers and narrators portrayed as savages and ignorant produced bronze and brass artifacts that required advanced technology.

@scottmohan17 Oh do give over!! Why celebrate one colour and not another? And how many people of colour are actually BLACK?

— Libertilly (@Tilly_E) October 5, 2013

And it is just the distance past that we need to celebrate but also the recent past and present. While Africa and Africans have mostly been portrayed in popular press as helpless and hopeless waiting to be salvaged by Western funded international NGOs, it is important to show the world that that there are local heroes using their meager earnings or risking their lives to help the less privileged and needy.  It is important to show the world that while most of African governments are corrupt, there are so many individuals who are strategically driven out of vision to bring enlightenment and development to those who lack it. I was really impressed by what I learnt about Kipchoge Keino at an event organised by the Kenyan community. This is man who self trained to become an Olympics medalist spending his earnings to build schools and turning his own house into a refuge for any child found on the street. Later in the month, the Nigerian community will be celebrating the life of Tai Solarin, a social activist who risked his life by crossing the war fronts to school children during the Biafra war.

(picture: kipchoge, Tai Solarin)

With the rise of right wing politics fueled by the economic recession and the subsequent scapegoating of minorities and immigrants, it is very important to celebrate the law-abiding, hardworking, very educated and entrepreneurial black people in the diaspora who are providing professional services, saving lives in hospitals, entertaining people, creating jobs and contributing to the economy in numerous ways.

Black entrepreneurs are vital to London’s prosperity. Join me and top speakers for our #BlackHistoryMonth debate http://t.co/tEHnMvYChJ

— Boris Johnson (@MayorofLondon) October 2, 2013

Another area of reflection during this month is the question of identity: What does it mean to be black? Is being black the same as being African? Are we celebrating colour or origin? What is it like to be African-American or Afro-Caribbean? Can you proudly be both African and British? During a presentation on the emancipation of slaves and the freed slaves who immediately willingly joined the US military, the discussion shifted to those emancipated slaves who attempted to return to Africa only to discover that they did not belong. They were Americans after all, not Africans. I am not surprised that there is little participation of black Americans or Afro-Caribbeans in events in Norwich. So is there a black identity?
(Picture: Becky on Slavery)

The above leads me to question the future of the African diaspora. Even though many African in Europe still maintain close association and contact with their countries of origin, is it possible that with time they will begin to feel more European than African? Or with “Africa rising”, there will be a reverse exodus? Only the future will tell but today let us celebrate the positive contributions they are making in their homes and in their homes from home.

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