Black History Month 01st October 2020
What does it mean to me?
When I think of Black history, it automatically takes me back to the lessons on the Bantu civilisation taught in East African schools and the fables about our tribe my grandmother spoke about (the Kikuyu tribe of central Kenya). I also think about Dr Richard Leakey who excavated the first bones of Homo erectus, ‘the Turkana Boy’. Kenya is now considered the cradle of humankind. These thoughts give me pride and happiness but that soon turns to bewilderment to why these subjects are not taught in schools. I then realise, if you want to learn about Dr Leakey, then you must also learn about the British Empire, slavery, the many wars for independence and colonialism. The second thing I think about is how can I get Black history be taught in schools here?
Having lived in Kenya for the first 16 years of my life, I moved to complete my education in Oxford and have remained in the UK ever since. Racism was not something I had experienced before I came to the UK. In Kenya, tribalism was prevalent during election season, so I had some knowledge on prejudice. The bible has some views on slavery but not many people mentioned them. My first experience of racism was when a girlfriend from college invited me to a birthday meal with her family. One of her aunts asked if I was with her niece for a “passport” (intending to marry for British citizenship)? This upset me because I was eager to please the family. It has been ingrained in me by my elders in Kenya, who served their colonial masters, that white people must be given the utmost of respect. The manner questions were asked that night, surrounded by strangers, I soon woke up and smelt the coffee. This was not a genuine attempt gauge my intentions with a member of their family, but an attempt to upset me. I informed them I was British, with a passport but no one was particularly interested to know that. There was more interest to confirm my ‘mother is black’ than anything else. Being young, I did not handle the situation very well, but it did prepare me for a life in the UK.
From my experience, tone and body language are the best indicator for prejudice as well as what is being said. My upbringing like most Africans my age had plenty of corporal punishment, so we tend to avoid confrontation. I have never corrected anyone older than me for referring to Black, Asian and minorities ethnic as “coloured” because the tone has always respectful, but I have pulled people up for stating “your lot are ok, its.. (other BAME) who are the problem” because the tone has always been disrespectful or racist. In the past, I gave the impression to my white friends I was easy going and didn’t really mind a joke at my expense, in order to fit in. I thought being considered “a good laugh” and being accepted was important, again a habit passed down from elders. This takes a toll on your mental health and it is not sustainable. It is surprising how many BAME turn a blind eye to casual racism for an easy life and I suppose that’s why Priti Patel is doing so well in the conservative party.
“The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man.” George Bernard Shaw
Since I have become a father, I do not tolerate any kind of racism, casual or otherwise because that’s not the person I want to be, and I want to make the world a better place for all the youth of tomorrow.
So, what do I think of what is happening now? It is a scary world for me, Donald Trump and Boris Johnson have been elected by millions of people who obviously do not mind their racist comments and views. Who voted for these people? Are they next door? Prescribing my medicine? Teaching my children? Policing the streets? I don’t know but I know they are out there because they respond to my tweets! The world seems unfair and skew-whiff and not enough people can change it. This is not the will to change it, the numbers are just not there. In the UK, 3% of the population are considered Black and 8% are Asian, so, equality needs many more friends from the white community to join the struggle. The Liberal Democrat party is a good place to meet up and organise. Social media has given extremists a platform which enables some parliamentarians to bend the system for personal benefits. This endangers all our human rights because we have been dived by fear and hate.
I watched George Floyd die on camera, I saw Breona Taylor get shot in her bed, I have read about many other similar incidents, it makes me so angry that in this day and age these things are still happening. The system has given police too much protection and I feel black lives don’t matter. Suspicion less stop and searches are disproportionate in targeting young black men. I feel helpless, worried that this could happen to me and this is not the world I want for our children. I fear the laws being passed in parliament will keep pushing BAME communities down. Obvious changes to improve equality in our communities have been met with unprecedented resistance, ridicule, and violence.
Black Lives Matters and the removal of controversial statues came under attack because the government gave out mixed messages, why? I do not want to see slave traders celebrated while I do my shopping, it is an insult. This is a sign that the current government needs to separate voters because the numbers stack up in their favour. Laws are being diluted, circumvented and I am not just talking about Dominic Cummings or the Internal Market Bill, the fabric of our democracy is under threat.
Covid19 concerns us all, and again, mixed messaging from the government has led to many more deaths than there should have been. I cannot help and wonder why this pattern from the government has resulted in the BAME community not getting more support. More than 90% of doctors who had died during the pandemic were from BAME backgrounds. Doctors from these communities were also three times as likely to say they had felt pressured to work without sufficient protective equipment. Other suggested reasons have included existing health inequalities, housing conditions, public-facing occupations, and structural racism. We must address all these issues as we feel let down.
What does the future hold for the next generation? Social political issues like Poverty, crime, economic equality, the environment, immigration, racial equality, human rights are moving in the wrong direction for the BAME community. The education system is outdated and cannot keep up with China and India who are pumping out graduates like it is out of fashion and there is Brexit, all these factors will mean Jobs will be harder to secure for the BAME communities. There are no current systems in place to improve institutionalised racism so the elite will get richer and the rest of us will struggle to make ends meet. If this government can pass the ‘emergency covid19 powers’ knowing they have a major impact on civil liberties, human rights and the treatment of vulnerable people, as well as refusing to sign up to human rights safeguards demanded by the EU in exchange for a trade deal, we are in for a rough ride. The Human Rights Act is likely to be diluted in the near future which will be another chapter in Black history we will not forget.
Black history month is also a time for remembrance, appreciation, and learning. This is a time for communities to come together and celebrate their differences. In any other time, I would be hosting a BBQ for my neighbours. This is a time to remember Black heroes like my grandfather, Mr Paul Kamau Gitucha and all the Africans who fought for the British army in the second world war. All the BAME who have given their lives for the Queen and country. The Mau Mau Uprising (1952–1960), also known as the Mau Mau Rebellion, the Kenya Emergency, and the Mau Mau Revolt, was a war in the British Kenya Colony (1920–1963) between the Kenya Land and Freedom Army (KLFA), also known as Mau Mau, and the British colonists, let’s not forget.
I appreciate people like Martin Luther King Jr., Malcom X, Rosa Parks and Mahatma Gandhi who have inspired movements for civil rights and freedom across the world.
I must also remember to be flexible, and patient because some people do not know how to talk to me due to the education system letting them down. As Prince Harry says, “this is the time to introduce Brits to other Brits”
Crispin Watkins, thank you for asking the question. Unity is a good thing!
By, Ian J. Prince