Social 1 October 2018 | 10:06

Why Black History Month matters

Olive Pometsey

Olive Pometsey explains why acknowledging the black community's role in British history is essential

01 October 2018 10:06

Almost two weeks ago, Sarah O’Connor died at 57-years-old. Perhaps one of the most well-known victims of the Windrush scandal, she spent the last year of her life campaigning to prove she was a legal citizen of Britain, despite having lived in the country for 51 years – practically the entirety of her life. She went to school in London from the age of 6, voted in general elections, passed her driving test, and had 4 children with another British citizen whom she married. She built a life here. The UK was her home.

And yet, last year the government told her that she, like many other victims of the scandal, was no longer welcome. The life that she had worked so hard to build began to fall apart and, although she went through a naturalisation ceremony in July that formally legitimised her British citizenship, she spent the months leading up to her death unable to find a job and under threat of eviction from her house.

If that isn’t reason enough for Black History Month to be taken seriously in the UK, then I don’t know what is. The implications of Theresa May’s hostile environment policy on the Windrush generation didn’t just make life difficult for those impacted, they attempted to erase those members of society from half a century of the UK’s history. While it’s true that the policy’s initial aim wasn’t to deport legal citizens of the country, the Windrush generation fell victim to the legislation thanks to a widespread lack of knowledge and understanding of their circumstances.

Throughout October, we will be publishing content that will honour the UK’s black community, as a process of healing, celebration and respect.

At school, the closest thing I ever got to an education in black history was learning about the transatlantic slave trade. My class watched Roots (1977) and we were told about how terrible plantations were in the Antebellum South. There wasn’t an utter of Britain’s role in it all; likewise, the brutality of colonialism was neatly left out of the curriculum. Granted, I chose not to study history at GCSE level, but when I began to learn more about the UK’s racial past years later at university, I felt as though I’d been slapped in the face by how much of it is ignored, or perhaps simply deemed as irrelevant, by the wider population.

There are a lot of people, typically those fond of the #AllLivesMatter hashtag, who question the validity of dedicating an entire month of the year to black history. Those people are wrong. Now, more than ever, it seems vital that we dig deep into our history and confront the parts that may make us feel ashamed, as well as celebrate a community that has ultimately triumphed in the face of adversity.

Here, at DRUGSTORE CULTURE, it is our mission to define and defend all that best in culture, and that includes the rich culture of the African diaspora. Therefore, throughout October, we will be publishing content that will honour the UK’s black community, as a process of healing, celebration and respect.

We shouldn’t need a Black History Month, but unfortunately, we do. This is for Sarah O’Connor; the children learning a school curriculum that denies their ancestors’ role in British history; and the people who are still fighting for racial equality today. Black lives and black history matters – we can only hope that we will do it justice.