Opinion

Black History Month 2020: “We have a responsibility to honour what we’ve been through this year”

We’re living through history. This year we’ve watched and absorbed the sort of things that we’ll be telling our grandchildren about; the sort of thing that will (hopefully) be written in history books and taught in schools.

It’s incredible, really. Our experience of 2020 and the responsibility we have – both as a society and individuals – to use it to do better is a heavy one. But it’s one that we have to consider an opportunity rather than a burden.  

If there’s one thing that I’ve learned recently it’s that the change we’re demanding to see in the world will take more time than we want it to. And we can only push forward if we’re willing to keep looking at the ugly side of things and challenge them.

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Until this year, I’d not really heard people discuss Black livelihood as a global issue. Not in the way it (finally) is now. Until the tragedy of George Floyd’s murder, I’d be embarrassingly impressed by any mention of the Black Lives Matter movement beyond the headlines that speckled the news. For a long time, it felt like it only existed as this incredible, world-altering force among those of us who chose to engage with it.

In the last six months, however, I’d like to think that many of us haven’t been able to go a day without thinking about Breonna Taylor, the sickening stats about the number of Black women who die during childbirth, or a prevailing conversation about the racism pandemic that’s been looming far longer than we in Britain have been willing to recognise. At least, I know I haven’t.  

So after a year like this one, one where it finally feels like there’s been a turn in the tide and a communal willingness to confront the systems that have fed the pain and trauma of generations of Black people all over the world, what should Black History Month look like?

I’ll hold my hands up and say I’ve long been one of the people who struggled with Black History Month as a concept. I’ve been conflicted knowing that the focused celebration of Black people and our culture is both necessary and deserved, but watching it play out over one dedicated month a year has always felt like a commercial ‘tick box’ rather than a sincere effort by brands, businesses and even schools to further integrate Black contributions to the world into the fabric of society.

Admittedly, I’m surprised that my expectations of Black History Month are higher this time around. The Black community has been calling for the world to step up for years. Our wounds are old and we wear the scars that our mothers, grandmothers and great grandmothers bore when it came for their generations to protest, rally and fight to get to where we are now. So when I think about how we carry the momentum of the history that’s already been made this year, my heart is heavy and fragile, but it’s also full and optimistic about what October 2020 has the power to do.  

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We’re not just shaping a Black future, we’re shaping the future of everything – we have to be encouraged by the relentlessness and resilience we’ve shown in the face of this year’s tragedies, and harness our anger and frustration at the reluctance of some global powers to act. 

It took far too much tragedy for the world to wake up to the racial crisis many of us have been shouting about but more people than ever before are awake to it now, so let’s play it forward in the ways that haven’t been given a big enough platform before.

Let’s spotlight Black motherhood in all of its strength and pain, and take this opportunity to challenge the ways that our matriarchs have been failed. We’ll use this month of extra attention to celebrate Black queerness in all of its beauty, champion the many facets of Black masculinity and give voice to the other communities under the ‘Black’ umbrella whose stories have long been overlooked. 

Every single one of us has the power to make Black voices louder, and it’s our responsibility to use this year’s Black History Month as a significant landmark on our way to the future that we, as a determined, resourceful and mighty generation deserve. Watch this space, because there’s so much more to come.