To be honest, and to my shame, I had no taken much notice of Black History Month, which has just ended. By the way, I don’t think I would have taken much notice of a national Irish History Month or a Chinese History Month either. Seemed a bit contrived to me.
How wrong I have been. My loss was highlighted by watching a preview of historian David Olusoga’s Black and British: A Forgotten History, which ends its four-episode run on Wednesday. I have now come to the conclusion that Black History Month ought to be renamed Interesting History Month, or, failing that, Our History Month, because what happened to black people who came to or were born in this country is also part of the history of the rest of us.
I concede that some of it is unhappily and insufficiently well-remembered. Perhaps we know something now of the Empire Windrush’s journey in 1948, of the contribution black nurses made to the NHS form its inception (I knew quite a few who worked with my mum, and I knew they came from islands with charming exotic names such as St Lucia, St Vincent and Grenada). We certainly know about the racism that led to the riots in inner-cities across England in 1981; and we know all too much about what the story of Stephen Lawrence tells us about Britain not so very long ago. An awful lot of that is as familiar as it is shaming.
Still, there is more to learn, some shaming, some not so. Even with a hobbyist’s enthusiasm for imperial history, I had not realised the extraordinary story of the visit of the three kings of Bechuanaland (modern Botswana) to England in 1895, and how their initiative and popularity prevented turning the population of their country into landless itinerants, as was soon to befall their neighbours in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and South Africa. Like me, you will also want to learn more about the fate of the black GIs who found themselves in Pontypool in the Second World War; about the raw race riots in Liverpool as early as 1919; and about the life and times of the good-looking, charismatic, bi-sexual black entertainer Leslie Hutchinson, known as “Hutch” in his heyday. Once upon a time, as is well known, to be black and British was out of reach even to those, such as Hutch, who moved in the highest circles of society (including their bedrooms). So, to borrow a phrase, black history matters, and I wish I had paid more attention to it. So may you.
A rather different take on race is provided by Vice, whose new TV channel Viceland brings us some uncompromising content in Hate Thy Neighbour. According to a chap named Commanding General Yahanna of the ISUPK (the US-based Israelite School of Universal Practical Knowledge), I am a “disgusting Cro-Magnon piece of crap”. This is because I happen to be white and, according to the avowedly separatist agenda of ISUPK, God believes that “the white man” is the devil and that Jesus, who is black, is coming back for the white people of the world to put them in slavery.
If you like your racism strong and black, then this investigation by stand-up comic and journalist Jamali Maddix is the place to come. Almost every sequence contains some outrageous remark, such as the contention that Martin Luther King Jr was “the worst traitor to black people in modern history”, that “America is going to be bathed in the blood of the white man” and that “the white man is born a psychopathic, maniacal killer”. I would like to think that the ISUPK, and similar separatist outfits, have been provoked into their ugly mindset by centuries of oppression, slavery and prejudice, and there is truth in that. Even so, and even though they are a tiny minority of any section of people or opinion, it suggest America had an awful lot of work still to do about equality. And that was before Trump.
- More about:
- Black & British: A Forgotten History
- Black History Month
- David Olusoga
- Hate They Neighbiur
- Jamali Maddix