Our histories should be accessible to all: the significance of highlighting Black British History
Having only joined a few months ago, I am one of the newer members of the Young Historians Project (YHP). Nonetheless, this group’s diligence and togetherness inspired me to get involved as quickly as possible. I used to feel isolated by the lack of representation within my history classes and there were few to talk to about my independent projects on Black British history.
My new colleagues have instilled confidence within me and I’m eager to pass it on to others. That is why increasing the publicity of YHP is a matter of great importance to me.
So when my university collaborated with the Royal Historical Society (RHS) to deliver a workshop on Race, Ethnicity and Equality, I jumped at the chance to promote our group.
I opened with a brief introduction to YHP before showing Daniella and Jasmine’s promo film, a summary of which can be found here. Then I recapped some of the key points, highlighting the intended outcomes of our current project, which is discussed in greater detail here. Following this, I explained how YHP addresses some of the key problems outlined in the RHS report, underlining how we train young historians of African and Caribbean descent as they research Black British history. I also elaborated on our school workshops, and how our very existence should encourage the establishment of similar student-led initiatives. The members of YHP act as role models outside of academia and demonstrate how this history should be accessible to all. This then allowed me to discuss how departments can support us through promotion and collaboration.
I concluded with a discussion of my own perspective of the RHS report, as a history student of Caribbean and Indian heritage. I believe, like many YHP members, that ‘BME’ topics should be compulsory at many levels of education. ‘BME’ topics being optional whilst other histories are compulsory and popularised reinforces the idea of such histories being separate and subordinate, which has greater racial implications beyond the sphere of History.
Our histories have always permeated the national narratives of Britain and should be represented as such.
I also highlighted the need to celebrate the achievements of the ‘BME’ community, as many leading universities and schools focus on stories of oppression. There is more to our history than this and I believe that these attitudes contribute to such low levels of engagement with history among Black youths. Our history is one of struggle, but it also one of hope and resilience independent to slavery, colonialism and abolition. This is why YHP’s work is so important, as our research on the Black Liberation Front and African women in Healthcare exemplify the neglected albeit essential stories of Black achievements.
The audience responded well, humming in agreement and contemplatively nodding. Many spoke to me afterwards because they wanted to take leaflets and hear more about YHP’s work. This included Jonathan Saha, who agreed that the RHS’s previous attitude to racism had been inadequate, as highlighted in Hakim’s interview here. He hopes to develop a better relationship between the RHS and YHP. The responses to this talk give me hope for a fairer representation of ethnic minorities within history and academia. Hopefully YHP can reach more isolated students across the country and continue to educate all about the importance of Black achievements to British history.
NOTE: I’m not fond of the term ‘BME’ but this post would lose focus if I discussed why. I use it in relation to the focus of the workshop.