Black History Month

Well this is a thorny old issue! Both the summer and black history month constitute African Activities’ busiest times of year. We run secondary school workshops and primary school workshops all month. So I imagine you might expect me to be 100% in favour of it. As with all issues ‘race’ it might not be quite as clear cut as all that….


Why do we need black history month?

Like Samuel Jackson I wish we didn’t, maybe we could all be humans and just ‘not see colour’. But this is not our reality, black children in schools see their role models rarely represented and this does have an impact.


White children in some areas never have the chance to meet an adult of colour, let alone be taught by one, if they do we demand they not be curious or ask a question. I do not recognise myself, my friends, my community or anyone I know in the visions of blackness our media and news shares daily, it is therefore a great privilege to be helping to form an opinion by sharing musicart and my life experience and to allow children to ask me any question they would like.
On top of this, for those of African descent, many charity school fundraisers are discussing the poverty, corruption, greed and misogyny on the continent of Africa. It helps to raise funds when the message is clear, but it leaves many children confused as they do not recognise this Africa!
Africa is not without problems but it is also a continent which holds the majority of the minerals it takes to make your mobile phone. A continent with numerous matrilineal societies and a continent in which the majority vote at elections. Maybe it’s not as simple as we hope, maybe black history month might at least give us a chance to address the issue of our absent voice, shame it’s just one month though.
What on earth does drumming, song and dance have to do with history?
Firstly I’m going to say drumming is not ‘traditional’. It is a diverse and vibrant art form which evolves and takes on modern twists, just as any does. Having said this for many ethnic groups across Africa the link between songs and history is unbroken – it is how we carry our history. The Anglo Ga of Volta region in Ghana have a particularly vibrant version, including some funky dances! We are lucky to have Griot holding our school workshops for us. In recent times this has come to be seen as the drum, dance and singing class of Africa. In reality the Griot are the keepers to the history of their people.
Slavery – it was all a very long time ago
If you teach in an inner city and mixed race school in the UK you will know that tensions between those of African and Caribbean descent are still very real. A sore this deep is not one that heals hidden in the dark, here it festers and putrifies.
Between 9 and 10 million people died on the crossing (or were thrown live into the sea to drown – to avoid taxes, law makers and disease). Of the 10.5 million that reached and were exported generations of enslavement and degradation awaited.
Africans actively engaged in this trade. They sold their brothers and sisters for mirrors, guns, education and religion. The first church in Ghana stands inside the slave fort at Elmina. Some Ghanaians make a pilgrimage to lay flowers of thanks on the churches foundations, in a slave fort.
We are blessed to have practitioners from across Africa and from the Caribbean. We have found our healing in acknowledging the horror and the place of our people within it. We have found our way forward by rediscovering what was lost. Our storytelling workshops of Anasai the spider man in schools became stories of Nancy as he crosses the sea, but he is the same cunning and crafty fellow! We know that Ya Asantewa and Nana were cut from the same cloth. Warrior women born of matrilineal societies that taught them never to doubt or limit their expectations. When oppressors came for their husbands they took arms and chased out the oppressors. Our very language has commonality, like echo’s of long ago bouncing back.
History is also edited by those who write it. I’m simply going to invite you to ask if people know Florence Nightingale and then ask if they have heard of Mary Seacole. Goole says 519,000 to Florence and 208,000 to Mary.
We know history is not always comfortable. We have a symbol in Adinkra ‘Sankofa’ it is one of our most powerful symbols, it literally translates as ‘go back and get it’. It means that it is never a sin to look back at our history and to use this to inform our future decisions and our path. We choose unity but we will never get there pretending it was always this way.