When I started teaching, I taught in a vibrant, multi-cultural school with teachers from all ethnic backgrounds. An Irish head, a Pakistani deputy and leading black senior staff, all women. I never thought about it then, but it made a difference on how the curriculum was taught in that school – so much so, that we probably taught “Black History” a lot of the year.
I don’t recall it being called “Black History” but we did teach it. This was over 20 years ago. Things have changed since. I didn’t realise how lucky I was to have had that start in my career. The curriculum now has become less flexible, the pressure to meet targets has grown and Black History Month became a tick box in many schools.
However, this year it’s been different. After the tragic death of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter campaign, there’s been a genuine attempt in the media in particular to highlight British Black historical figures. My daughter has come home talking about Benjamin Zephaniah and reading his poetry. I’ve seen Google animating headings with Dr Harold Moody who established the League of Coloured People in Britain. It’s been wonderful to see this year, the first Black British female headteacher, Yvonne Connoly being honoured with a CBE.
In Sutton I have been joining the amazing local group Residents Against Racism. We meet on the streets in a small gathering holding placards but most importantly we talk about what we need to do to bring change. I am proud that the Community Action Sutton Group holds regular Fairness Commission Race Equality meetings who are making real strides in making affective change. Recently the discussion led to a determined goal that we improve the training of staff on Black History.
We have seen wonderful examples of schools like Glenthorne High School running a social experiment to see if they could end racism – a fascinating series on Channel 4. But we have also seen how students felt the need to protest and have their voices heard in another Sutton school. In addition, Sutton Police Commander Stringer said at a recent event for National Hate Crime Awareness week, there’s still a low number of cases being reported. Sutton, like other parts of London can not shy away from racism in its community and education is the key to make sure we can eradicate racial prejudice for good.
Which is why I fully support the initiatives such as the Black Curriculum. Their campaign to teach Black History 365 days of the year, #TBH365, started by Lavinya Stennett, is about making history more inclusive all year round. British History is Black History. British history is my history, my Pakistani parents, my Indian grandparents and my white English in-laws all included. Black children should not feel like their identity is not integral to British society. They should not feel other. Let’s celebrate the black identity but don’t tokenise it and put the posters away till next year. It’s the duty of educators and parents to teach truth – all year round.
* Cllr Hina Bokhari is Sutton and Cheam spokesperson and London Assembly Candidate