Updated: Mar 20
You may have heard that Hillingdon Borough Council this summer voted against the reintroduction of Black History Month. I believe this vote does not represent the wishes of many here in Hillingdon. Do the majority of us really not want to benefit from the educational opportunities Black History Month brings? Do we want to send a message of openness or a message of ignorance? Black History Month started in the US in 1970 and in the UK in 1987. At one time it was observed in Hillingdon too, but in 2007 our Council decided to stop holding Black History Month events and activities. Since 2007 some Council members have at times proposed that Black History Month be reintroduced. However, each time the majority of the Council has voted against it. But why? What could be stopping Hillingdon Borough Council from observing Black History Month?
As far as I have been able to find out, there is only a small financial cost associated with holding Black History Month events: A Resource Pack from blackhistorymonth.org.uk costs £49.50GBP, and there are free resources available online too. I don't believe the Council has stated that cost was an issue anyway.
Lack of material would also not be enough of a reason to vote against holding Black History Month; material is readily available, as is evidenced by all the other boroughs across the country where Black History Month is observed each year, from Durham to Dorset, Cheltenham to Colchester. So if other boroughs do it, why not ours?
When I contacted them to ask, one Council member suggested that an initiative introduced by Hillingdon Council called "Diversity Month" is a viable alternative to Black History Month, or in other words, a better idea. According to this Council member, "in 2008, the emphasis was changed and moved to celebrating the whole range of diverse community groups and cultures found throughout the borough."
The Council member went on to say, during an address to the Mayor at the last Council meeting:
"We believe that we shouldn’t merely educate our residents for a month every year about the contribution that our BAME communities have made, but that we should celebrate and educate throughout the year. I do hope you understand my reasoning for not selecting and commemorating our black communities’ contribution to Hillingdon life for just one month a year but think it’s absolutely vital to keep their stories and contribution as one of our important cultures and groups up front and centre throughout the year."
So, the reasoning offered is that Black History Month is somehow insufficient or too specific, and that the Council has decided to educate residents in a generalised way that they have deemed more appropriate.
While I agree with this Council member that there should be more education and celebration of black history, more of the time – along with more of the same for other cultures and histories too – this does not mean that Black History Month shouldn't be observed!
As long as Black History Month is being suggested or requested, as long as people are running the initiative, it is surely a no-brainer. What the Council seems to be missing here in Hillingdon are a few crucial points.
Firstly, those of us who are white, as I am, are not in a position to do the "educating" on the subject of black history. Nor are we in a position to decide whether Black History Month is no longer needed, or whether it should be superseded by a new initiative that we have developed.
There are consultants and specialists who develop Black History material for distribution (I have listed some of these at the end of this article); we should be ready and willing to listen to them rather than assume we know better.
I believe the Council should see their position in this area at most as facilitators, inviting groups that offer Black or BAME History and cultural events and activities to provide these initiatives through Council services such as schools and libraries.
Secondly, to vote against Black History Month effectively silences the voices of people who are black.
Surely by now we can all agree that it is time for us all to stop silencing black voices, and start listening. In this way we can stop being complicit in the systemic and widespread racism that has been an integral part of our country's culture for so long. And thirdly, if the majority of Hillingdon Council members believe that Black History Month, which is currently held across the UK, is unnecessary, this is a clear indication that Black History Month is most certainly required here, and that more education is essential for us all, including the Council. I have decided to tell Hillingdon Council that I disagree with their decision, and that I want them to reintroduce Black History Month here in Hillingdon. If you agree, sign the petition at the link below, and exercise your right to vote. Tell the Council what you want; they are there to represent us, and they need to know what we think.
If possible, please share the link to the petition, and ask your family and friends if they would like to sign too. More than one person per household may sign. If we can get to 100 signatures, then the Council will be required to formally consider the petition.
(Wandsworth Borough Council also decided to cancel Black History Month and replace it with their own "Diversity Month" in recent years. However, following a public vote, Wandsworth reversed their decision and decided to celebrate Black History Month again as of last year.)
Black History Resources: