The murder of George Floyd in May 2020 recently sparked a wave of international protests supporting the global resistances against racism, state terrorism and Eurocentrism. However, some have seen racism as something that is exclusive to the US. As a black woman living in Britain, I have found claims of racism being non-existent laughable.
The current prime minister has said that ‘Africa is a mess and that ‘Black people have lower IQs.’ - this is racism and it is certainly not subtle, tolerable or ‘not that bad’. The British government has woven racist myths and beliefs throughout the capillaries of society - especially in young people’s historical education. History education in the UK, doesn’t talk about the worldwide exploitation of people and resources - but instead skips to the story of Britain as the great industrial power and model to the rest of the world.
In this manner, the UK has been built on a foundation of consistent erasure that makes it look like a generous and superior caregiver to the ungrateful and unruly. The British government has purposely left out the murderous voyages of imperialism, while claiming that one mention of Olaudah Equiano in year 9 is the only necessary show of Black people in history classes.
By leaving out hundreds of years, the establishment have been able to curate their own fantasy, where many feel emboldened in acting out their racist beliefs. This fantasy has been the foundation for the police’s free reign that has led to the unjust murders of innocents like Joy Gardner, Mark Duggan and Sean Rigg. Instead of nationwide outrage, the deaths of Black people in police custody have been met with questions like ‘how were they acting?’ and insistence that the force used must have been appropriate. These statements are regurgitations by those who have digested ideas about Black people being ‘savages’ and ‘immune to pain’ that have survived over centuries.
Although many people wholeheartedly choose to fly the flag for white supremacist ideals, they often have no idea of where the language and images they have for Black people have come from. It is this language that I think can be especially detrimental to young Black people’s perceptions of themselves. In the UK, the government has made extra effort to try and disconnect young Black people from their past. This is expected, as this connection is exactly what enables us to understand that our experiences of racism are not just blips or everyday growing pains. This lack of connection fooled a younger version of myself into thinking that racism was a thing that belonged to an age long ago, despite the very recent existence of things like the colour bar - the legal discrimination of Black people in Britain - which was not addressed by a change in the law until the 1965 Race Relations Acts. This was only 55 years ago.
Although it is not the sole solution to transforming our society, I have personally seen how historical education has given me the ability to understand the way that our current society runs. Accounts of how Black people have dealt with and fought against racism in the past, can inspire us to create new solutions and have more engagement with the construction of a world that does not revolve around our subjugation.
Unravelling centuries of history cannot and should not be done overnight. Education is something that takes time in order to be effective. It needs to be coupled with actions that directly oppose and dismantle our current world structure. Thus, having a robust foundation for a new world, requires us to engage with the past with different tools and perspectives that are different from those that have oppressed us. As Audre Lorde has famously said, ‘The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house’.