Black History Month 2021 at the Young Historians Project
For Black History Month 2021, the Young Historians Project was invited to many events to talk about the organisation and its most recent project ‘A Hidden History: African Women in the NHS.’ One such event was a guest lecture at Kings College, in which I presented a brief lecture on YHP for a Social Sciences class who wanted to learn more about activist organisations in the UK.
To get a flavour of what the students were aware of in terms of Black British History, I opened the lecture with a simple question: ‘What do you know about Black British History?’ I encouraged them to write down some examples to discuss later. The aim was not to embarrass or chastise anyone for their lack of knowledge, instead it was an opportunity to consider how prominent Black British History is relation to mainstream British history.
Next, I gave a detailed talk on YHP – explaining our aims and interests as an organisation. This can be briefly summarised in 3 points
1) To recruit young people of African and African-Caribbean Heritage who are interested in developing their skills as volunteers.
2) To address some of the narratives about Black British people in mainstream British History.
3) To contribute to public history and community-engaged history.
With these aims in mind, I related the work of the Young Historians Project to my personal development as a PhD history student. I shared that although I was already in academia when I joined YHP, I had felt isolated as a researcher – I was often the only Black person in my University classes, and if I had not had such passion for the subject I could see how this might have turned me away from pursuing history as a career. I emphasised that by joining YHP I found a community of black historians, and a space to grow and develop as a historian with a healthy support system. Furthermore, being present at events such as this, YHP has given the opportunity to become a visible representation of a young black historian in a way that encourages others to pursue historical study as well.
After the lecture, students seized the opportunity to ask me questions about the work of YHP and its significance in the current political climate. I was taken aback by the depth of their questions, as they immediately expressed their interest in the YHP initiatives and posited their own explanations for why Black British history has been so underserved in Academia and beyond.
One student argued that the “guilt” of British society was perhaps a reason why Black British history is suppressed. In unpacking these ideas, they stated Britain is uncomfortable with the way racism and its legacies of empire and colonialism are intertwined – so it is easier to simply ignore the impact and prevalence of racism in the UK. Another student lauded YHP for its approach, stating they were tired of British history being peppered with a “white saviour complex” when exploring Black histories. Most encouragingly, a student simply said that the British curriculum has had plenty of opportunity to grapple with Black British History and thus congratulated YHP for taking the reigns and creating our own initiatives to remedy the situation.
In our closing discussion, it became clear that Black British History cannot be confined to a seasonal event. The responses from this talk showed that young people are engaged with the glaring problems in the communication of British History. The many events YHP was invited to attend this year is a further testament to the relevance and growing significance of our work and the way it stimulates conversations about Black British History in the larger public sphere. We will continue to consistently to bring Black British History to the fore all year round.