Sometimes you have to stop and think, ‘have we really progressed?’ Fortunately, Europeans have long dismissed the popular ‘flat Earth’ myth, but when you state the fact that Australia and America are black countries, there is a chorus of incredulity at your claims. Not many people would argue with the idea of equal rights or opportunities for black and white people, but when you suggest that the former have a history to be proud of, and a history to be celebrated, then many become uncomfortable.
There could be no better timing for the release of the music video ‘This is Black History’ (below) the brain-child of hip-hop artist Logic and producer Last Resort, with visuals by Global Faction.
As rapper Big Ben tells us in the video, black history is what happens ‘before the kidnap, chains, rotting in the cabins.’ This is Haze’s ‘legacies never told’ and Big Frizzle’s ‘book of negroes.’ This is Rodney P’s ‘intellect like Menelek,’ and Akala’s ‘showing civilisation before colonisation.’ This is the history (or, should it be, her-story?) that we are not taught at school. And as Michael Gove bans school students from attending a Palestinian literature festival in Tottenham, we enter Black History Month: the collective experience of billions of people over many centuries, confined to one month of each year.
What message does this send to the ethnic minorities the British government so often boasts of ‘reaching out’ and ‘engaging’ with? Your culture is of no importance or value to us. Ironically, this seems to be closer to the truth than the ‘come and join us’ attitude of more liberal politicians. There is no problem with black people joining in the glorification of a ‘British culture’ they are supposed to subscribe to, but exploring the continent their ancestors were born in is considered superfluous.
But what exactly is this British culture that we are taught to love? Is it not, as Richard Osborne suggests in Up the British!, ‘an imaginary identity made up of different ethnic groups and cultures, as well as an Empire.’
As Malcolm X once said, ‘Only a fool would let their enemy educate their children.’ And here hip-hop music provides a welcome antidote to a curriculum that, as Akala points out in the video, finds it very difficult to ‘accept that a bunch of coons ever taught a thing, ever in human history to people with lighter skin.’ Although it may be more subtle in its discrimination nowadays, primary and secondary education have been carefully moulded to shape a history of maths, science and politics, that begins with the Romans, Greeks and occasionally Ancient Egyptians. So, it is no wonder that a mathematical equation is referred to as Pythagorean Theorem, despite being discovered millennia before Pythagoras was born.
The official history of the black people’s experience begins with slavery, and reaches a comfortable and neatly-wrapped solution with the civil rights movement. Rosa Parkes, Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela are the people who, always peacefully, made things OK. King is preferable to Malcolm X, and Mandela to Steve Biko. But who knows about ‘the Moors in Spain, Benin, or Luanda in 1668, Lalibela or the Citadel’, as Akala questions in the video? Wordplay says that he will never forget ‘bredders like Fred Hampton,’ but we don’t need to hear about his assassination at the hands of the police in Chicago, do we?
After all, who needs the Black Panthers when you had the peaceful March on Washington? Who needs to talk about racism, when the President of the US is an African-American? Or, as Boris Johnson might ask, ‘do we really still need Black History Month?’