This is last of the series of blogs from our students this week, inspired by the Black Lives Matters protests, and it comes from Holly, one of our History Masters post graduates.
As a white female growing up in East London, the concept of multi-culturalism has always been something that has intrigued me and made me proud of where I came from. I am eager to boast of all the different opportunities I have been given over the years. However, it was not until I was older that I truly recognised within school how differently my black friends were being treated in comparison to the treatment of myself. Acknowledging these difference has always encouraged me to recognise the problems facing BAME people and consider ways that white allies such as myself can raise awareness.
There are many misconceptions about what white privilege means and how it manifests itself within society. There is a general assumption amongst some white people that this is a concept which places a personal attack upon white individuals. I have decided to use my white privilege to discuss the current issues facing BAME and what can be done to challenge the injustices that black people endure on a daily basis.
When describing white privilege to individuals in the past, I have always been overwhelmed with comments such as, ‘how can I be privileged? I have had to struggle to get where I am in life!’Although this may be true and relevant to many people, the main point about white privilege which elevates it, is the idea that white people have not been judged/ discriminated against because of the colour of our skin.
I have personally had my own share of problems which have resulted in unfortunate circumstances which have affected my life, however not having equal opportunities because of the colour of my skin is something I have not, and cannot imagine, experiencing.
The main point that I hope you take away from this blog post is the need for white individuals to pledge their support to Black Lives Matter and collectively work together to eliminate the social injustices that have been forced upon black people globally.
As a white individual living in the UK, I think it is crucial for individuals to educate themselves and show that through the use of education we can gain a greater understanding of some of the disturbing realities which have become deeply entrenched within society.
In today’s society, many people are experiencing heightened levels of frustration, in reaction to a divisive political climate. We live in a world where a large number of individuals are influenced by the media, and an even larger percentage have become accustomed to the social, political and economic injustices faced by black people. The recent protests have demonstrated solidarity between different communities which can trigger some form of change.
The recent removal of statues has caused a great deal of controversy and has sparked tensions between those who are eager to celebrate British History, and those who are ashamed of a burdened past. In my hometown, those who wish to preserve their interpretation of what ‘British History’ is, have deliberately fought to protect these statues by forming communities to physically defend these vandalised structures.
Unfortunately, it has been proven it seems that we live in a world where some groups of people see the value of property as greater than the value of human life. For example, some people are eager to defend Churchill’s name and legacy because of his believed successes during the war. However, there is a failure here to acknowledge the troubling reality that Churchill promoted the notion of inferiority and superiority between races and cultures.
Churchill may have been viewed as a ‘war hero’ but is an individual who can now be viewed as someone eager to encourage social divisions. Many people fail to recognise and understand this because we are taught in History, that he successfully won the war against fascism. It can be argued that History, to some extent, is taught through a very specific lens, therefore deliberately removing Britain’s uncomfortable past from History.
It is our responsibility as white people to not ignore the issues facing black people and other minorities. Insteadwe need to educate ourselves about the daily injustices black people experience. Change comes when there is a recognition of the injustices and social divisions within society. We all need to work as a collective to ensure black people are not only listened to but respected.
There are many ways people can be involved.
I believe most importantly it begins with the implementation of education. At the core of ideological beliefs, is education. History has been known as a discipline which relies upon the voices of ‘white middle class men,’ providing us with a very limited top–down view of History. This form of History provides historians with a limited view of the world and therefore this is something that needs to be revised. I have always been taught in History to confront Britain’s past and acknowledge the works of all historians, regardless of their: race, gender, colour or creed.
This is unfortunately not the case for everyone. The current protests sparked a conversation between myself and some friends, some of whom told me that their secondary school experience included little to no discussion of multiculturalism or diverse societal issues. I have always been familiar with Black History Months as it was always promoted in my secondary school, other than this my knowledge of black History was extremely limited. It was only when I researched certain issues myself, I was exposed to the achievement of black individuals and the constant struggles they face.
One prominent example of this, begins with the lack of consideration in the National Curriculum for the history of black people. As a qualified teacher, this is something I have personally witnessed for myself. Slavery is taught in schools, but this does not define the History of black people. A limited scope/ interpretation is provided and therefore does not allow individuals to fully empathise with, appreciate and acknowledge the achievements of black individuals. There seems to be the attitude ‘we have taught slavery,’ and this is therefore deemed enough in terms of educational standards.
I have personally witnessed a culture of ‘not teaching beyond the curriculum’, and an unwillingness to broaden discussions around black history. Many students do have an awareness of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, however their extended knowledge beyond this is extremely limited. I was shocked to hear from some students they ‘did not have a clue who Marsha P. Johnson was,’ something I found extremely troubling. Marsha P. Johnson was black gay American, who self-identified as a drag queen and was responsible for leading many protests throughout her years. She was known for her significant role in the Stonewall riots in 1969 and the advocation of gay rights.
Key individuals such as Marsha P. Johnson appear ‘forgotten’ from History. Is the advocation of black and gay rights, something that should be forgotten? Absolutely not, if it was not down to the bravery and courage of such individuals like Marsha, many human and civil rights would not exist today. Black men are marginally represented in History, but it appears black women and members of the LGBTQA+ community, seem to be excluded from History.
Furthermore, other key individuals such as Angela Davies are rarely discussed, and her contribution towards equality for women and black rights shaped History – not just in America and the United Kingdom, but globally. It is important for the LBGTQIA+ community and black people to have a prominent role within the History curriculum, as every individual should be provided with the opportunity to explore their roots and places of origin. People need to recognise that these individuals risked their own safety and lives for the consolidation of the future generations’ civil liberties. Surely, we should appreciate the battles faced by strong black individuals, who thought to preserve even the most basic human rights.
Furthermore, limited information is known about feminist author Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche. She is known for her feminism and creating a definition of feminism which suited her, as opposed to adopting what society thought was ‘appropriate’. It was only upon discussions with my friend, that I became aware of her work (it is through having these conversations that we allow ourselves to broaden our knowledge). Further research of my own, allowed me to understand her background. Coming from an African background, she was taught from an early age how feminism was ‘not African’ and therefore culturally, there was a separation between feminism and her African background. This further raises the issue of intersectionality within feminism and the need to acknowledge how important it is when discussing such a controversial issue like feminism. Adiche has been an inspiration to many women but her name is not readily known. She has been able to successfully take the word ‘feminism’ and use it to further the needs of women but also carve her own personality in an oppressive world, which is something to be admired.
At school, we are taught about the suffragettes and the willingness to achieve the vote. However, how do we treat women who are BAME and have their own interpretations of feminism? Are they recognised in the way white women are?
Feminism is not just a white issue, it is an issue that is prominent in all races, particularly in races where women are under represented.
Fortunately, some universities and schools are looking into the revision of the curriculum to include a History which allows Britain to confront its uncomfortable past. During my undergraduate degree, I was able to widen my extensive knowledge about colonialism and the impact both the British/ French Empire had upon various countries throughout the world. Unfortunately, topics such as colonisation and the recognition of British prejudices and atrocities are not regularly discussed inside and outside of the classroom. This is something that needs careful consideration, when schools and universities finalise their modules.
Lastly, a new form of History is argued as being developed. Many see the removal of statues as a radical History and something that should not be focused on and closely defended. Surely, as educators and believers in social equality, we have a right to challenge those responsible for social injustice?
The removal of statues of questionable figures is surely one step to Britain coming closer to confronting its uncomfortable past.
The troubling problem in Britain remains, that these issues are so deeply entrenched in society, they are just accepted. The idea that people don’t realise that what they are saying is racist, is something which also needs closer analysis. It is possible to have conversations with black individuals when discussing race. For example, asking what language is appropriate is one step to understanding what it means to be BAME. This will inform your own understanding and provide a safe space for black people to demonstrate their frustrations. Everyone is individual, and so one person that you may speak to will have a different viewpoint or experience to another and this needs to be carefully considered. Allowing these conversations to happen early on, will hopefully install some confidence in standing up for minorities and being a true ally.
If any points are to be considered from this blog, then allow my points to be the following: it is not to say the lives of white people are not important, it is about acknowledging that ethnic minorities around us and the world they deserve to live in.
Skin colour should not be a determining factor in why BAME communities should suffer: politically, socially and economically. Furthermore, it is our job as white individuals to also have an education about the problems facing black people within the United Kingdom, without education people may remain naïve to what is going on around them.
Finally, ASK, if you are not sure if what you are saying is appropriate, ASK, people would rather you took the time to ask then having to correct you on your use of terminology. A person’s history is specific to that individual, so a consideration of this is an important aspect of recognising Black Lives Matter and implementing future practices which help minimaliseracism in this country.
Holly is completing a masters in History having recently graduated from Northampton with her BA History