Not in Our Name
Below is a joint statement by the coordinators of History Matters and the Young Historians Project:
The History Matters initiative was formed in 2014 and included students, teachers and academics of African and Caribbean heritage, as well as organisations such as the Historical Association and Royal Africa Society. It highlighted the alarmingly low numbers of history students and teachers of African and Caribbean heritage in Britain and the fact that history is the third least popular subject amongst young Black undergraduates. History Matters called for action and convened the History Matters conference, held in April 2015 at the Institute of Historical Research, which brought together students, teachers, historians and many others.
As a result of the History Matters conference, the Young Historians Project (YHP) was formed in May 2015 to encourage more young people of African and Caribbean heritage to engage with history. YHP continues to grow from strength to strength with its central mission being to provide young people of African and Caribbean heritage with the experiences and skillset needed to become historians, to create knowledge of under-represented Black British histories and to share this knowledge with other young people. YHP ‘s approach is ‘each one, teach one’.
We at History Matters and the Young Historians Project were alarmed to learn of the launching of a ‘project’ by Policy Exchange, in our name – History Matters. This project, chaired by Trevor Phillips, whose recent appointment to a government enquiry into why African, Caribbean and Asian people were disproportionately affected by Covid-19 led to immediate demands for his removal, is allegedly designed to ‘document the re-writing of history as it happens, and explore modern Britain’s treatment of its past.’ In fact, it appears to be mainly concerned with widespread opposition to offensive statues and monuments, the renaming of buildings which commemorated individuals who engaged in slavery and human trafficking and the colonial conquest of Africa.
This new ‘History Matters’ project suggests that ‘action is being taken widely and quickly in a way that does not reflect public opinion or growing concern over our treatment of the past.’ Phillips‘s claim that ‘history is being politicised, and sometimes distorted, in the current moment,’ makes it clear what his project finds objectionable. He and his friends do not appear concerned about the Eurocentric distortion and falsification of history which is so prevalent in our society.
We demand that this group relinquishes its name ‘History Matters’, which is so closely associated with our organisational work to improve the understanding of and access to the History of African and Caribbean people in Britain, and with removing those impediments which have led to such low numbers of Black students and teachers of history.