Wandsworth Council’s renaming of Black History Month, a tradition that’s over 30 years old, to Diversity Month has unsurprisingly prompted no shortage of responses, many of which were less than positive. It’s odd it’s happening now, four years after the change actually took place. However, the move did raise some interesting questions about the event that remain largely unanswered today. Is it still necessary? Is it inclusive enough? What does it achieve?
Ok, let’s get this out of the way first: Black History Month is, objectively, a ridiculous thing to have to be doing in 21st century liberal democracies. In societies such as ours, all histories, heritages and peoples should be equal, end of story, no exceptions. Sure, we can expect English schools to focus more on English history, just as any nation teaches its own history more than others; but that doesn’t mean English history is better or more important, and it certainly doesn’t mean that we need to anglicise history as a whole. But, in many cases, we do. It is an uncomfortable truth for many, but history really is written by the victor and, as such, the stories and heritages of the oppressed tend to become buried and tarnished by biased accounts and guilty redactions.
The ethos behind Black History Month has never been to carve out a time where Black History stands above all others, only to return to inaccurate obscurity for the other 11 months of the year. Rather, it serves as a reminder there are many sides to history and the view you were first shown is probably not the full story. History viewed from just a Black perspective, or a Hispanic perspective would be equally incomplete. Race aside, any event witnessed by more than one person will produce multiple historical perspectives. Only an amalgamation of those differing accounts would serve as an accurate representation of the event.
I see what Wandsworth Council were trying to achieve with their change to Diversity Month. They wanted to reflect on all of the alternative histories and heritages represented in their society. It’s actually quite a good idea and a noble intent, no doubt, but perhaps slightly misjudged. By lumping all ‘diverse’ groups together, there is a risk that the old ways of ‘us and them’ might prevail. That we will once again have the minorities and the victors, views on history with very little nuance. But then, maybe not. Perhaps by changing Black History Month to Diversity Month we might usher in the next age of internationalism and inclusiveness in history and culture for all.
In the end, the main take away is this: like Pride Parades and Gender quotas in business, Black History Month or Diversity month are short term fixes to long term, systemic problems of inequality and oppression. The open-minded, equal, liberal democratic society we want to live in simply does not exist yet and we have to realise that to move forward. That’s not to say that in our liberal utopia we won’t still celebrate our differing cultures, histories and identities; we just won’t have to raise awareness for those things, because we will all be celebrating together.