- Tionne Parris
Troy Deeney: “Where’s My History?”
On May 23rd 2022, Channel 4 presented the British public with Troy Deeney: “Where’s My History?” This 60-minute documentary, hosted by Footballer Troy Deeney, explored the lack of Black history taught in schools across the UK. In response to this documentary, YHP would like to offer some comments – and share a little about our work and history up until this point. We believe it is important to emphasise that YHP has been working towards similar goals since 2014, and we warmly welcome meaningful collaboration with our organisation.
The Young Historians Project is a non-profit organisation formed by young people encouraging the development of young historians of African and Caribbean heritage in Britain. We are made up of a community of young members aged 16-25, spread across the UK, and we work together to produce dynamic projects, documenting pivotal and often overlooked historical moments. We believe that with this approach, young people of African and Caribbean heritage will engage with affirming histories and develop the skills to become the historians of the future. As well as nurturing future generations of scholars, we regularly work with schools, local communities, and educational organisations to provide free resources, and facilitate workshops and interactive sessions that invite discussions of why it’s important to embed Black British history within larger narratives of British history. As young Black people in YHP, we not only tackle our exclusion from the structures of academia and school curriculums, we work to uplift, connect with, and provide a forum for other young people, non-academics, activists, and elders in our communities – so that they can share and narrate their own stories.
Troy Deeney begins the documentary ‘Where’s My History?’ by sharing he had a difficult time in school and wasn’t aware of much Black British history. It is stated throughout the documentary that the exclusion of role models in Black history negatively impacts Black children and teens’ self-image. One young activist, Angel Ezeadum, plainly stated that watching Roots (1977) in a room full of white peers was a deeply uncomfortable experience – feeling “eyes peering” at her as she was the only Black person in the room. Considering there is much more to Black history than histories of slavery (as was said frequently in the documentary), it highlights exactly why there must be an expansion of Black British history, and Black history more generally in school curriculums. Not only this, but we also need Black communities themselves to take the reins and have their say in determining what histories should be covered. At YHP, our members are given the freedom to steer the projects as a team, and on top of learning how to research, write, and gain practical skills like video editing; we also facilitate intergenerational conversations between young people and the elders of our communities – who have valuable insights and rich histories that we believe must be preserved and remembered by all. We also work to instil our volunteers with confidence, and encourage a sense of community that may be difficult to find elsewhere for young people.
It is worth noting that the documentary rightly celebrates the inclusion of Black history in Wales’s curriculum, which is a momentous achievement, but we must be clear that this is not the end of the road by any means. This curriculum must be continually revised and updated to prevent stagnation. As Deeney himself exemplified in a conversation with his mother regarding them both learning about the U.S Civil Rights Movement in school, there is far more to be covered in the canons of Black history in general than Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King. In Britain, we also must continue to expand beyond the narratives of Windrush and Mary Seacole, for example. Although these aspects of Black British history are undeniably significant and relevant today, there is so much more to learn about the myriad of Black experiences throughout our history in Britain. At YHP, our projects have delved into radical Black histories, like the Black Liberation Front, and explored the contributions of African women in the National Health Service throughout the last century. There is still so much more to learn. In one of our current projects we will delve into the History of Black British History as it relates to the growth of the discipline (both inside and outside of academia) and its key architects and interlocutors across the 20th Century.
Another segment which deserves comment is GB News pundit Calvin Robinson’s perspective. Featuring briefly as the ‘other side of the debate’, Robinson flippantly stated that: “If 3% of Brits are Black, why should we add Black history [to the curriculum]?” The reality is, by excluding large and nuanced swathes of ethnic and minority histories within Britain, it not only affects the identities of those marginalised – it creates false narratives that distort the wider British history. Presenting Black British history, for example, on school curriculums is not only an exercise in excavating powerful, meaningful histories for Black people in society - it broadens and enriches British history as a whole, which is especially important if we, as Robert Primus from Harris City Academy stated, want our British youths (no matter their race) to enter adulthood as educated “world citizens”.
In closing, we would like to stress overall that Deeney’s documentary, and even YHP’s interventions, must all be placed within a much larger social movement that did not emerge out of 2020’s #BLM campaigns. Whilst #BLM did reinvigorate interest in the history of Black people in Britain, we must emphatically state that this discipline is not a new phenomenon. Our latest project ‘The History of Black British History’ will show that there are and have long been activists arguing for Black British history to gain wider attention, long before it was en vogue to do so. In our project, we will spotlight activists and historians like Colin Prescod, Hakim Adi, Marika Sherwood, Chris Power, Nigel File, Roy Sawh and many others to give a truthfully textured presentation of their work, exploring its importance to the current day. It has not been an easy journey at all, and its long from over, so we call on Troy Deeney and audiences of this latest documentary, to collaborate with us to rightly place them within a robust record of the contributions that have already been made across the last century.
Ultimately – we agree with Deeney’s documentary, and like Deeney we also work towards the goal of Black history being put on school curriculums. However, whilst that fight continues, we must be proactive and continue to develop the discipline of Black British history independent of Government-dominated initiatives. We invite others to join us in making space for our communities to tell their history for themselves.