Throughout October the Society of Editors has been highlighting the work of the media to promote Black History Month. Society member Joy Sigaud, founder and editor of Editions Lifestyle Black History Month Magazine and Windrush Newsletter, has written her thoughts on what this month means to the black community to be carried on her website and also, with permission, published here.
The Miseducation of Us: Black History Month 2020
By Joy Sigaud
Founder and Editor of Editions Lifestyle Black History Month Magazine and Windrush Newsletter.
Black History Month means so many different things to so many people of the African diasporic community, and in this context, I am referring to people of African or partial African descent, who have never really known Africa.
In order to have some understanding of the background of this community one has to understand that literally for generations, and certainly as far back as one can trace one’s heritage, the people of the Caribbean were never encouraged to explore anything about Africa. In fact, one can go so far as to say, Africa had been deliberately indoctrinated out of their being and aside from their colour, Africa had nothing to with them. We see this in films and some sensationalised writings but the harsh reality of it is that it has become a very natural subconscious bias.
Black History Month UK, which is celebrated annually in October along with the rest of Europe does not have the same historical grounding as Black History Month US where the concept originated amongst a people who collectively recognised the serious struggle on their hands from the day Slavery was abolished and outlawed in 1865 (27 years after the Caribbean). In the US, contrary to the Caribbean Black people though significant in numbers, were not in the majority. And that very same struggle continues until this day.
The people who came from the Caribbean to the United Kingdom on the other hand were, for the most part descendants of farmers and from rural villages in countries where unless you were from certain social groups one would have no idea of the systemic racialism that exists. Colourism on the other hand which still exists was the open legacy of the former slave era but that is a subject for another time.
Here in Britain was where racism for many was first openly encountered and following decades of blatant, though more often than not, subtle racial disadvantages as well as the sensationalisation of the drama series Roots in the ’70s some people, mainly the younger generation who were born or raised here began to question and research their origins.
That great mechanical wheel of the British Empire was turning on itself, in fact one can go so far as to say it had done a full turn. People were enslaved, taken to the Americas, then hundreds of years later they are invited or attracted to Britain and however it came about it is here that they begin to learn and search for the truth about themselves and their heritage. Further still, the British, who are excellent bureaucrats, have great records both here at the National Archives as well as in the former colonies so this was and still is the perfect place to begin the research.
With a simplified understanding of the background, it is easy to comprehend why and how Black History Month provides a platform in many ways for the Black people of Britain. Further, it is at this time and or as a result of this that many have the opportunity to speak out about grievances and issues. There has always been activists, Black Power Movements, people fighting for racial equality bearing in mind that for the greater part , the inequalities were not as obvious in Britain as in the United States but nevertheless it was there in all its subtlety.
In recent years, Black history has been gathering momentum, prominent historians such as Professor Hakim Adi, David Olusoga, and activists like Bernie Grant, Linton Kwesi Johnson and Darcus Howe among many others have been able to eloquently portray the plight of the Black people of Britain in a form that was and is easily understood and succinct. Politician David Lammy is often vociferous in condemnation of certain things and all this lends to the hearing, that there is a great message and stories that need to be told, not whispered in dark corners nor kept hidden within the community but out in the open for all to hear.
The effects of Black History Month have seeped into ‘all year ‘round’ and rightly so. There is a slogan I have seen for Black History Month that says, “Dig Deeper” but no Black person needs to dig at all. The issues are at the forefront of the very being everyday of his/her life.
We conducted an informal survey following the outcry last year of Black babies in Africa being picked up and cuddled for the cameras by “do gooders” asking one specific question: “What are your views on Black babies being paraded by white visitors to Africa for the camera or to raise funds?” 100% of the answers came back as negative – the most common word used being “uncomfortable.” Most were extremely uncomfortable and elaborated on their feelings. This is just one very subtle example of how skin colour or race causes offence. The “do gooders” don’t recognise that unwittingly they are perpetuating age old ‘adage’ of the colonial system that “these people cannot manage without us.” When in truth, it is the other way around. Every person we asked was irked by it, so as a nation and community we all have a lot to learn, firstly to teach the truth to all and secondly to politely inform that portrayed in this way is quite offensive. We don’t need laws to promulgate this just educating on all fronts.
Original “Windrushers” in all that it encompasses are documenting facts for posterity which is exactly the premise on which Editions Lifestyle Black History Month Magazine was founded. There were already publications focussing on some historical facts but mainly promoting already well known people that we read about in the mainstream media, primarily activists and the public sector with one or two using their limelight to promote their own stories as though it were in isolation when the truth of the matter is that the community were a diverse group from all walks of life brought together through no fault nor desire but it was collectively we were able to move forward.
The truth of the matter is that all the people who came on the Windrush and since that time have similar stories to tell, of families sharing rooms, several people sleeping in a bed, doors slammed in faces when looking for accommodation and so on but the stories that aren’t told are the resilience of these people. They worked in many areas and fields often day and night to build up a life for themselves and their children. Most eventually owned their own homes again often achieved by collective collaboration and many eventually went annually on expensive holidays back “home.” Many whom have now passed left legacies and inheritances for their children sometimes over a £1m and more because the value of the properties they had bought in the 1950s to 1970s, at the time they were being rejected, increased beyond anything they could have imagined. Others moved out of the urban densely populated immigrant enclaves to leafier suburbs with more space to raise their children. This side of the population is totally ignored and uncatered for and they have their stories that need to be told too.
In the same pioneering spirit, many of the young have founded businesses that cater not only for their own communities but the wider community as well and when Boris Johnson said that the contributions of the African and Afro Caribbean Communities have been enormous, this is encompassed.
It is important that these facts are presented now so that in the future we do not have to scramble around for information and perhaps, as does happen, some inaccurate claims are made and documented as truth.
Moving forward, I have to say that the number of Black Community members affected by the Covid-19 has been alarming. People whom I spoke to about it, some of whom had lost multiple family members, all had a theory and many thought they could trace it to a particular event person or meeting. The fact that many members of the Black community work in public sector services as nurses, auxiliary staff, in transport and so on has much to do with it and cannot be ignored but if your life calling is to be a nurse, or a postman – nothing can stand in your way if there is a job to be done.
Between March and July the obituaries just kept coming and coming, yet the community kept going in the same spirit, as they had always done in the past. At Editions Media we published a newsletter: Windrush Review which was distributed free of charge in the supermarkets nationwide targeted these people specifically as an uplifting piece of news during those dark days. I rallied the community as we have always done in the past to fund it and it was appreciated by all.
It is in this same spirit that Editions Lifestyle Magazine Black History Month is produced. It is the same spirit that enabled those who came before us to endure and keep going. We still have a long way to go, in good democratic form, but there is no doubt that Black history and British history are intrinsically intertwined so let’s hope we will see a comprehensive education programme and courses open to all children as well as adults if they so wish, to teach it in truth sooner rather than later.
Four years ago, if someone had asked me anything about Black History Month I would have probably said what’s that and feigned vague interest and politely moved the conversation on. As an amateur composer, my interests were centred around music and it was only when I was approached by a young man for an interview on that very subject as a Black composer for Black History Month that I started to research.
Recognising a gap in the market for mainstream readers from the Black community as well as a certain stereotype I knew I had to do something so I created Editions with a plan to do something around Black History Month and Windrush but with a difference. The community needed positive uplifting stories that reflected their day to day lives and that was how the publications were borne.
It is to be noted that as a member of the community, we welcome all the participation and goodwill shown in an effort to raise awareness, increase and influence positive diversity but Black History Month belongs to all of us collectively, not one single organisation nor individual.