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What Black History Month means to me: a reflection by Jonathan Holder

Pastor, Visiting Lecturer in Homiletics and Newbold Alumnus Jonathan Holder considers what Black History Month personally means to him.

When I think about Black History Month I have to be honest and admit I haven’t spent a lot of time thinking about what Black History Month means to me. But the more I think about it, I can trace a development in my thinking about Black History Month. Originally it did not mean much, then for a while, I was slightly uncomfortable with it, and now I think I’ve come to think that at first Black History Month didn’t mean much to me because it is just a bit older than me. It was first celebrated in the UK in October 1987, and I was born in 1988. So, as I grew and developed so did black history month. My earliest recollections of it were in secondary school and it was nice to see black people represented and acknowledged, but it was sad that it was mainly Americans.  Black History Month although an important celebration acted to negatively reinforce the idea that there weren’t any black British people of significance.

This moved me toward my discomfort with Black History Month especially when it would come around and people would ask the question, why do we have a Black History Month and not a White History Month? For a long time, I didn’t have a good answer and I knew that there was a reason why Black History Month was important and necessary, but I couldn’t articulate for myself why. I think it was that question that spurred me toward my position on Black History Month now. The fact that this question of why it was necessary was even asked, points to why it was necessary.

Firstly, for me, Black History Month is about recognising the value of Black People. It is possible to grow up in the West and not see yourself represented. Black History Month becomes necessary because we have to find a way to say that black people are valuable, when in so many other ways and spaces what is being communicated to them is that they are not.

Not only is it a recognition of value it is a celebration of culture. Black history month allows people of all nationalities and cultures to come together and celebrate black contributions to culture. It is an opportunity for everybody to be edified and have their perspectives widened.

But most importantly Black History Month is there to remind us that history is not neutral, and sometimes things that should have been presented and remembered have been forgotten. This is why Black History Month is important because books like ‘Natives’, ‘Black and British’, ‘Reading while Black’ and ‘African and Caribbean People in Britain’ have reminded me that we, as black people also play a central role in history. It is a necessary month because our presence in history has been neglected or purposely forgotten. Our history as black people did not begin with slavery and there is a necessity for everybody to remember that.

One day maybe Black History Month won’t be necessary but that will be a day when everyone can be seen in history throughout the year.

My Black History Month Recommendation: African & Caribbean People in Britain: A History – Hakim Adi

Jonathan Holder