University of York marks Black History Month


Ceri Hughes explores what the University of York are doing to celebrate the month

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Image by Glodi Miessi

By Ceri Hughes

In the UK, October is marked by Black History Month which is considered a time to redress the historical balance and representation of Black people in Britain. The history of Black people is often marginalised and over-looked. Across the month of October, it has become a period to reflect and recognise the many achievements of Black people across history.

Many moments that are celebrated across Black History Month are not confined to this sub-genre of his-tory, but possess historical significance which can be said to have shaped Britain both politically and culturally. Many people have found that Black historyMonth allows them to grapple with the full legacy of racism in Britain but also in other areas of the globe.

The University of York actively promotes its work to highlight the importance of racial topics being included in everyone’s collective history. The University of York’s Student Union’s BAME Network has a commitment to pushing Black history to the forefront of conversation for October, and aim to ensure that the poignant topics discussed across the month remain at the heart of conversations all year round, having a long-term impact on discussions surrounding race. Avtar Singh Matharu, a senior lecturer at the University of York, comments on the way that Black History Month gives a national and global platform to Black voices, becoming away to showcase previous and current injustices.

As part of the University of York’s series of events to commemorate Black History Month, the BAME Network has collaborated with the University Library to curate a display of books and films which explore and celebrate Black history in the UK and across the world.

Many students at York recognised that much of the work on Black history is vulnerable to Americentrism, as highlighted in last year’s Black History Month initiative of ‘Proud to Be’. The impulse to highlight Black history and recognise figures who have made measurable difference to society both through literary works and other forms of media, is one way that the University of York reflects its commitment to hon-our the works of Black people that are often overlooked.

Last year, the York Anti-Racist Collective Society promoted the hashtag ‘Make a difference Monday’ which centred on further educating students on the importance of Black culture.

This was to ensure the history of Black people is not erased or ignored, rather that it is “common and critical knowledge”. This message has been further pursued this year with the efforts of the BAME Network to explore forms of media which highlight the historical and cultural significance of Black peoples’ past.

The collaboration of the University Library and the BAME Network is to many a further reflection of the power of knowledge ascertained through reading. Issac James is an influential author who digs into the historical roots of carnival celebrations and why it remains a crucial constituent of Black culture. Following the gentrification of Notting Hill, however, Black history historians like James are re-asserting it as the birthplace of a Black Power movement.

In his collection of essays ‘Welcome to the Masquerade: How Carnival makes space for everyone’, James highlights the way that the Notting Hill carnival stands as an expression of Black culture, becoming an art form in its own right. It is often ignored that the Notting Hill Carnival acted as a social response to racially-motivated outbursts of violence by the far-right movement. This is often cited as a way in which Black history has become whitewashed, seen as a celebration and not as a reflection of a larger movement.

Learning about the origins of the Notting Hill Carnival was part of theUniversity of York’s ‘Proud to be’ initiative. In this, many BAME members of the university community reflected on various ways that Black culture is celebrated in Britain. For example, Notting Hill Carnival takes place every year, and attracts two million attendees a year– James reflects on its significance in his essay “Local mixing with the national blending with the international”. The vibrant scale of the Carnival is symbolic of its greater achievements, a stance of cultural unity in a period of racial tension in Britain’s post wind-rush era.

From an outside perspective the Carnival may seem like a celebration of all identities, however it is a testament to the strength and resilience of theBlack community, as it weathered the political pressures and unsettling racial discrimination of the 1970s.

Throughout Black History Month, the University aims to acknowledge the importance of enhancing education surrounding such important events which not only shaped Black history but British history in its totality. The University of York describes itself as champion of the need to learn the diverse stories, aspirations and campaigns that tackle racial inequality.

A key ethos which is embodied in the education of both staff and students is the need to highlight Black voices, experiences and contributions to the development of our society, culture and science. This year’s collaborative project with BAME and the library reflects the need for the University of York to take a leading stance on diversity and anti-racism.

More information about the University of York’s Student Union’s BAME Network can be found on the YUSU website.