Tanya Kasinganeti: What Black History Month means to me

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As a black person existing in Britain, Black History Month has at times proven to be a point of contention. Somehow, whenever the conversation comes up, it feels like I have to step into my God-given role as ‘defender of the race’ and fight for its existence. And I know I am not the only black person who feels this way.

It’s for this very reason that the month itself causes internal conflict because these interactions cause me to introspect, question how I identify, and consider how this relates to my engagement with the month itself.

For those who don’t know, Black History Month was created in 1987 and Its origins are disputed. Some say that Akyaaba Addai-Sebo from the Greater London Council was its founder, others say that Ansell Wong from London’s Strategic Policy Unit was the first person to bring the idea to light.

Either way, for better or for worse, we have a black history month.

For many years, I didn’t explicitly understand why Black History Month existed, but I was cognisant of how the legacies of colonialism and the sacrifices of the Windrush generation helped to create the greatness that is associated with Britain today. And I struggle with the idea that people dispute how deserving this is of recognition.

Despite the Windrush generation being key to the transformation of post-war Britain their efforts were largely overlooked, with many becoming the victims of the hostile environment policy.

Nevertheless, whenever Black History Month comes to mind, I find myself questioning how much I see myself as a ‘Black British’ person. I was born in the UK and have lived here for the majority of my life, yet I feel like I don’t quite fit in culturally with what it means to be Black British. I see myself as a British-African lost somewhere in the middle, with one foot in Britishness and another in Zimbabweaness.

On reflection, it’s probably because I grew up in areas that didn’t have established Black British cultures. So, when I compare myself to someone who grew up in inner-city London or Birmingham, for example, there are some cultural cues that don’t quite make sense to me. And somehow, I think Black History Month became one of those cultural concepts that was lost in translation because I always saw it as a celebration of Black Britishness, which is something that I sometimes struggle to engage with, in a meaningful and authentic way.

When I was asked to do this article, I was set in my ways about how I felt about Black History Month; however, it seems I may have been a fool of my own ignorance.

As I researched more, I came to understand that Black History Month had a certain level of geographical flexibility. In its short history, Black History Month has transitioned from a celebration of (mostly) African American achievements to one that celebrates Black British ones, with more iterations found around Europe.

This may be selfish, but it gives me hope that one day the contributions of those further afield in the Caribbean and African homelands, could be meaningfully included in the Black History Month discourse, as they are a part of us and Black Britishness too.

So, what do I now see Black History Month as?

I see it as an event that inspires a sense of hope and connectedness to my ancestors and their sacrifices. These have allowed me to be where I am and access the opportunities I have today.

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