Black History Month… But where are the British Blacks?

It’s Black History Month again, a festival I have expressed some concerns about in the past – not because I don’t think Black history should be celebrated and represented, but because giving it a ‘special’ place in a particular month may actually serve to reduce its representation, as we can compartmentalise it, rather than integrate it.

I’ve also been concerned with the sorts of people being showcased. On one local display the names flagged up are: Maya Angelou, Oprah Winfrey, Toni Morrison, MLK , Barack Obama, Nelson Mandela and Malcolm X

There are plenty of women there, which is great. But… not one British name among them… and only one African. Why?

I may be wrong, but there seems to be a danger of seeing black history as simply a history of the American civil rights movement. With all of the movies and music and TV shows, we are perhaps suffering an Americanisation of blackness, so that it’s all about MLK and Rosa Parks – whereas British black history, or the vast swathes of African black history is simply forgotten for not being glamorous enough. Or is that too harsh?

Why can’t we celebrate Lenny Henry, Zadie Smith, Shirley Bassey, Ben Okri, David Lammy? I wonder if it’s because they aren’t seen as ‘exotic’ enough. This may be presents an interesting problem, because the fact that there seem to be so many ‘ordinary’ black people in British life (though perhaps they are not represented enough) may suggest that integration has been a success story. And so the continuing of Black History month needs a little glamour, which it has to export from the US, where race is – given the heat over Barack Obama – still much more of an issue, or blackness is seen as more… ‘real’?

As ever, I’m not presenting anything other than genuine questions – so fire back if you disagree – but it did seem strange to have a display in a borough where so many black brits live, with not one Brit among them.