Black History Month Special, Features

Black History Month: what it is and why it matters

The month of October marks Black History Month in the UK, an annual observance originating in the United States, during which the Afro-Caribbean communities are celebrated and landmark events of black history are remembered.

It is a celebration of the history of the African diaspora, the collective term for the African communities dispersed around the globe. In the United States, the African diaspora makes up over 46 million people and in the UK that figure is around 2.5 million. The month represents a time when countries take a moment to celebrate these communities, their culture and their overcoming of the discrimination that inevitably comes from being a minority group.

It was first celebrated in the United Kingdom in 1987, in London. In Ireland the movement was not started until 2010. In the UK and Ireland, Black History is commemorated in the month of October, whereas in the US and Canada it is observed in February.

Amongst the key figures celebrated are Harriet Tubman and Rosa Parks. Tubman is famed for her involvement in the liberation of over 1000 slaves using the underground railroad system. Rosa Parks was a civil rights activist who is most famous for refusing to give up her seat on a bus in order to allow a white man to take the space, and subsequently being arrested. There are also many living heroes of black history who are acknowledged at this time, for example media superpower Oprah Winfrey and the first black president of the United States, Barack Obama.

Black History Month is attributed with a different theme each year (which can vary between country) in order to shed light on different sections of black history and celebrate the integral, but less well-known, figures who struggled in the pursuit of equality. The theme of the 2019 US Black History Month was ‘Black Migrations’.

The month, as well as celebrating past victories in combating discrimination, also looks at the ever-present struggles that still exist in the world on account of racism; be this police brutality and the targeting of minority groups or attainment gaps of minorities compared with their white counterparts in the education sector.

At UEA, the celebrations include a relay-reading of Beloved by Toni Morrison and a discussion by UEA Pride entitled ‘Black and Queer’, as well as flying the Pan-African flag on campus grounds.

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Jake Walker-Charles

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July 2022
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