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‘You’re a history teacher? You don’t look like one’: changing perceptions and actions during Black History Month

Blog Editor, IOE Digital15 October 2020

Robin Whitburn and Abdul Mohamud.

Black History Month has featured in England since October 1987, when the Ghanaian activist Akyaaba Addai-Sebo led the efforts of the London Strategic Policy Unit to introduce a UK version of the longstanding American experience.  For recent generations it appears as a traditional feature of the autumn landscape and it might be easy for it to lose connection to its activist roots.  But 2020 has seen a sharper edge to the sense of obligation to ‘do something for Black History Month’.

The killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis at the end of May and the subsequent Black Lives Matter campaigns have stimulated considerable appetite among history teachers for curriculum change that might do justice to the global and British history of peoples of African descent. But what should that look like?

Diane Abbott MP addressing an event at the Houses of Parliament. 1987 saw the first Black and Asian MPs since the 19th Century

As with the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, in 2020 it appeared to be the United States that was the unequivocally racist society, and some people in England sought solace in the notion that the slaughter of George Floyd could only happen there. After all, ‘we never had segregation, and our police don’t shoot unarmed Black men in the back’, therefore British history should be presented as having a positive profile on race. Notwithstanding the inaccuracy in ignoring the British ‘colour bar’, Amelia Gentleman’s recent tireless efforts to expose the scandals of the British Government’s ‘Windrush Betrayal’ should surely call a halt (more…)

Black History Month: time to explore the hidden histories of Africa

Blog Editor, IOE Digital6 October 2016

Robin Whitburn and Abdul Mohamud
Historically, Black lives have not been deemed as important as those of white people. This goes back to the Scottsboro Boys – randomly imprisoned in the United States in the 1930s, up to Trayvon Martin and other unarmed black men shot by white men in this decade; from Kelso Cochrane – stabbed to death in 1950s London, to Mzee Mohammed – who died in police custody in Liverpool in 2015.
On both sides of the Atlantic there are serious concerns that racism has pervaded the interaction of Black people with the justice system. A serious and rigorous approach to the teaching and learning of the hidden histories of Black people of direct African descent is one way to counter the stranglehold of racism below the surface of our societies. Our book, Doing Justice to History – Transforming Black history in secondary schools, aims to equip (more…)