In the UK, each October, we celebrate Black History Month as a nation. It gets plastered on social media, billboards and even in schools – but what is Black History Month? And what can you do to celebrate it? Well, we’ve got the answers. Here’s precisely why it’s such an important month, and how to celebrate Black History Month!
What is Black History Month?
Black History Month was first recognised by the US government in 1976, and we started celebrating it in the UK in 1987. The idea originated in the US with a man named Carter G Woodson. He was the son of former slaves and was born in Virginia in 1875. Through working as a coal miner, he saved enough money to attend high school. He then continued in education and achieved a PhD from Harvard. Then, in 1926, he sent out a press release to mark the very first Black History Week in the US. He continued to work to promote black history throughout his life and left a huge legacy.
The Black History week was expanded in 1970, and then in 1976, February was officially designated as Black History Month. February was chosen as it aligns with the birth of both Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglas, two key players in the end of slavery in the US. In the UK, it is celebrated in October. The first year that this was celebrated coincided with the 150th anniversary of Caribbean emancipation and the 25th anniversary of the Organisation of African Unity, and the month marked the date that Dr Maulana Karenga from the US was invited to mark the contributions of black people across the world.
Why is Black History Month important?
Even though it isn’t necessarily taught in school, people from African and Caribbean backgrounds are deeply entwined with British history. Black History campaigners believe that their contributions are too often overlooked or ignored.
The idea of Black History Month is that it gives everyone a chance to share, celebrate and understand the impact of black heritage, culture and importance. It is especially important now, in the wake of the Windrush crisis, the Black Lives Matter Movement and increased awareness of racially motivated hate crimes.
The month allows us to recognise the achievements and huge contributions of the black community and is an opportunity for people to educate others and themselves about the effects of racism and stereotypes.
What kind of history can we learn about?
Whilst many schools cover Britain’s role in slavery, there are plenty of things that schools, sixth forms and even degrees do not necessarily include when it comes to Black History in the UK. For example, it is not common knowledge that there were black Britons as early as Roman and Tudor times or that Olaudah Equiano, a former slave, bought himself out of slavery and wrote the earliest-known example of writing by an African writer. Likewise, until more recently, many people didn’t know about those that travelled over to the UK on the SS Windrush.
It is this history and influence that people get a chance to educate themselves on during Black History Month, and it helps us to acknowledge the history of our country – not just the good bits, but the good, the bad, and the bits that often get overlooked.
How to celebrate Black History Month
Support Black-Owned Businesses
A lot of black-owned businesses face racism which can prevent them from growing. Whether its customers refusing to purchase from them, not being taken seriously, or being denied support or help, these get in the way of the business’ success. During Black History Month and every other month, one way you can celebrate is by shopping with black-owned businesses. Check out independent stores like Prick London, Copper Dust and Nubian Skin, or look at this list of 101 UK black-owned businesses.
Educate yourself with some anti-racist texts
Last summer, there was a lot of talk about how to educate yourself in how to be anti-racist, as not being racist is not enough. So this Black History Month, why not check out some of the best anti-racist books available, like How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi, White Fragility by Robin Diangelo or other key texts about race?
Donate to charities that support the fight for race equality
One of the best ways to celebrate Black History month is to find and donate to charities that support, fund or work on anti-racist campaigns. Check out charities like Stop Hate UK, UK Black Pride, Black Minds Matter or the Stephen Lawrence Foundation.