On 22nd June 2020, my fellow YHP member Ijeoma, and I attended the Virtual Windrush Day reflecting on the ongoing campaign for justice organised by Greater London Authority. The event reflected on how little has been done to help those affected by the Windrush scandal and how the resurgence of the global movement against racism, state terrorism and Eurocentrism highlighted demands for change through education. Amongst the speakers were Mayor of London Sadiq Khan and Patrick Vernon OBE who delivered a beautiful adaptation of Martin Niemöller’s “First they came…”. Then there was a panel with Arike Oke of the Black Cultural Archives, Jacqueline McKenzie, who is an immigration lawyer, and Clive Foster, who is a social justice campaigner and pastor. There was also a spotlight on Chrisann Jarrett who is co-CEO of We Belong, which aims to combat the hostile environment policies on young migrants, and the event was closed by Debbies Weekes-Bernard (Deputy Mayor of London for Social Integration).
Ijeoma introduced the Young Historians Project and talked about where we began and why we emerged. In 2015, only 3 Black students were admitted to train as History teachers. The numbers are still abysmal. Ijeoma spoke about our projects on the Black Liberation Front and African Women in the Health Sector. I thought about what I could bring to the conversation, and I decided to stress the important of learning about Black British History. It was perplexing to see how my peers don’t know about the Black Power movement in the UK, the Bristol Bus Boycott, the Mangrove Nine, the New Cross house fire, the fact we had a colour bar in Britain that was addressed with the Race Relations Act which came a year after the US Civil Rights Act (1964). There needs to be a whole reassessment on Black British History, and it needs to be a priority as the lack of it has shaped the illusion we have of Britain. There has been a long-lasting narrative that British racism is “subtle” and “not as bad” as other countries. This deflection mentality has been fuelled by ignorance. Skipping over Black British History and only looking at it through a colonial lens is a saturated, eurocentric and lazy narrative.
Moreover, the lack of understanding of Black British history has allowed for the appropriation of Black British culture. It’s trendy to say “wagwan” and other Caribbean phrases, but ironically the generation of post-war Caribbean migrants received guidebooks on how to be British and were encouraged to lose their accents when they came to Britain. It’s popular to attend Notting Hill Carnival but people are uncomfortable to hear about the murder of Kelso Cochrane in 1959, and are not always aware of how racism is organised from a state level. It is also not common knowledge that the first Carnival was organised by Trinidadian activist and communist Claudia Jones. The cultural weight behind language and events changes one’s perception and reality. It helps one to understand the importance of someone’s culture and history to them and how they can translate that to life to become more supportive and empathetic. Is this too much to ask for right now though? If people don’t even know about the major Black British figures and the history behind popular language and events then how could they possibly know about the history of African women in the Health Sector and their contributions, or even know where to start? This demonstrates the utter importance of YHP in fostering interest in history from a young age and diversifying the kinds of history people learn about. I hope we go further with proper resources being assigned to this pioneering research, and I hope in general that Black British history is promoted as a necessity as it certainly is.