I am White. I consider myself a White Ally in the fight against racism. I recently joined the Let’s Talk About Racism Facebook group where I have discovered a growing interest in Black history. Why?
There is a whole load of White history – and I say this in the knowledge that the history available to me has mostly been exclusively White. Even when I have been aware of Black History it is told through the lens of Whiteness. At school I do not remember ever reading a history book written by a Black person. I do not recall ever having a history teacher who was Black.
Then came 2020. A global pandemic changed life as we knew it. In the US there were protests in the wake of the killing of George Floyd. In the UK people pulled down the Colston Statue in Bristol. In that moment I came to realise the full extent to which our historical landscape in Britain hides a hidden past. Landmarks and buildings we take for granted as being a celebration of our culture suddenly reveal themselves as having been born out of cruel colonial wealth – money and riches attained by way of the slave trade, and the economic rape of ‘colonised’ nations. We do not think about this until we realise how these artefacts of racism impact those who come from Black, Asian, Indian or Mixed backgrounds. What is it like to be confronted everyday by historical reminders of slavery, or colonial rule? What is it like for a Black child visiting the British Museum to see his or her culture owned and exhibited like trophies? What is it like for Black children to learn the history of Boudica, but not that of The Songhai Empire? Equally important though – what does it mean for White children not to know about the Songhai Empire?
Now, with the guidance and enthusiasm from Black members of LTAR I have begun to discover a history of the world that did not exist for me. Names of Black inventors; great civilisations that I don’t remember ever knowing about.
I have read a lot of history, and have taken time to delve into “lost” history which is not always easy to find. I am not a lazy thinker and I try to think before I speak, and seek out alternative views. But my recent journey into Black history has taught me that depriving humans of parts of the history of humanity is not a good thing – it is not spiritually good, nor psychologically good. To understand ourselves now, in the present, we have to know all we have ever been.
My recent experiences of belonging to LTAR has electrified Black history for me. It is not because I want to disown White history. Neither am I Black so I am not discovering my roots. I think it is because as a human I am now able to find inspiration from the history of other humans. It is as if I had a relative who has been sending me letters for years but they have been hidden away and I was never allowed to read them.
Now I find myself hungry for a wealth of knowledge that completely adds to my own experience of being human. It redefines my place in the world in a way that allows me to embrace the world as a complex and beautiful social organism which has evolved over thousands of years.
There is another side to this, though. You see, hidden history has a tendency to be uncomfortable. Black history has so often been exactly that – hidden. To appreciate Black history I needed to recognise some truths about the culture of Whiteness that I have grown up with. The culture that says, for example, White people are the creators of everything that is good. As I learn about Black History I can feel threads of my own identity as a White person begin to unravel. I see civilisations that pre-dated Western Culture by thousands of years. I also see the cruelty of colonialism, and the way in which White culture has so often derailed attempts by Black people to achieve equality within the world.
At this point I want to make something very clear – celebrating Black History does not mean, as a White person, that you need to obliterate White achievement. It does not mean that you engage in a gigantic guilt-fest rejecting everything White. No Black person is asking you to pull down Stonehenge, nor forget pilots who risked their lives in the Battle of Britain. But, did you know about the 500 Black airmen from Caribbean and African countries who also risked their lives in this same conflict?
Those that try to suppress or ignore Black History need to realise they are suppressing their own experience of humanity – reducing it, vandalising it. Some might say that, as a White person, to recognise and cherish Black history is to deny or degrade my own White history, that I am a traitor. To these people I would say I deny nothing. But I will no longer allow for just part of the story to be told. The history of the world was never, in reality, just White. Nor should the future be.
So, thank you for the Black History givers, the tellers of hidden and lost lives. We all benefit, we all grow.