Education has become one of the clearest indicators of life outcomes such as employment, income and social status, and is a strong predictor of attitudes and wellbeing. An international team of researchers at the Economic and Social Research Council found evidence that suggests children begin to become susceptible to social influence when they reach age 12, which neatly coincides with the beginning of our secondary school years. We’ve all been there, when you’re young, you can come to believe something just because someone else tells you it’s true, regardless of if the information is indeed factual. This is why what we educate our youths in school is so vital.
Indoctrination happens through many channels; however a main vehicle is the school system. This indoctrination is far more subtle, unlike the boldness of speeches. The system passively disseminates a particular point of view, communicated as the truth. This becomes particularly detrimental for black youths in the teaching of history.
When I was in my teens, I remember being bored out of my skull learning about the Tudors and the Stuarts; I just didn’t resonate with the topic. To be honest, it wasn’t completely because the subjects didn’t look like me, but I believe that young people’s attention spans are so small, that it’s necessary to find ways to get them to connect with the learning material, and for me, the beginning of modern England just wasn’t it! I had no connection with most of the content.
I remember going home to my mum and asking her to tell me all about her Ghanaian history; she didn’t actually tell me too much (I don’t think she knew too much herself) but the parts she did know was fascinating to me. I asked her how her dad came to have the name John-Faux Brown, it sounded awfully English to me and I was used to hearing Ghanaian names such as Kwasi Acheampong! Again, she didn’t know and I left it at that. At times I’d wish I’d had my mother’s maiden name, I was bored of getting the piss taken out of my surname; Brown was so much quainter. Whenever I got the chance, I used it – Amoo had no meaning to me – that’s what happens when you’re missing your history.
One afternoon, our history teacher, Mr John Payne, wheeled in television looking quite uneasy. He silenced our nattering voices and informed us that we were about to watch a film called Roots. He told us to remember that this happened a long time ago, and slavery has been abolished, so shouldn’t look on to our classmates with any disdain. So you can imagine what happened….. we all watched the film and became more divided than ever. I attended a predominantly white school, so as you can imagine with young teens, the ignorance was rife. The black kids were called Kunta Kinte at every opportunity, and when we reacted, we were reprimanded.
As an adult, I can see how irresponsible it was for my school to have a majority white history curriculum, with splashing of slavery interspersed; but as I youth, I really did believe that this was the start of black history. As a result, I wanted to distance myself even more away from my African surname and my culture. This alienation was one of my biggest internal battles – why was being black so hard? Why were there some many negative associations? Why did I have to be black?? Thankfully, this feeling didn’t last too long as black people became the ‘in’ thing pretty quickly due to popular culture and my family were dope af and dripping in African culture – but what if this hadn’t been the case for me like so many others? Knowing who we are, where we come from and having a sense of pride and purpose shapes the people we become. Epidemics like bleaching, chemical relaxants, rejecting your own race usually starts in our teenage years therefore schools have a duty to help all of their students to build a sense of self and that comes from the integrity of the material they teach and those who deliver it.
The introduction of Black History Month was a step in the right direction but it isn’t enough to say that our history is only worth 30 days a year. Why should our history be treated differently? Why can’t all history be equally studied throughout the school year? To deny the systemic suppression of black history in the national curriculum is as blatant as saying that Donald Trump isn’t a racist. We need to fess up, call a spade a spade and make the necessary changes to drive progression.
The Black Curriculum is an organisation re-imagining the future of education through Black British history. The social enterprise was founded in 2019 by young people to address the lack of Black British history in the UK Curriculum. They deliver arts focused Black history programmes, provide teacher training and campaign through mobilising young people to facilitate social change. By providing children a sense of belonging and identity, we are setting them up for a better and brighter future. It’s not just about better economic outcomes; nothing is more important than knowing thy self.
For those unaware of the true history of black people pre-slavery, here are just a few snippets:
- Birth of civilisation: The earliest stages of human evolution are believed to have begun in Africa about seven million years ago as a population of African apes evolved into three different species: gorillas, chimpanzees, and humans.
- Before the rise of Egypt, an even earlier kingdom was founded in Nubia, in what is present-day Sudan. Ta Seti is thought to be one of the earliest states in history, the existence of which demonstrates that, thousands of years ago, Africans were developing some of the most advanced political systems anywhere in the world.
- 400: Kingdom of Ghana. Archaeological evidence suggests that Ghana had achieved a high level of civilisation (advanced metalworking, an indigenous trading network) before Arab travellers arrived around AD750. Its capital, Koumbi Saleh, had a population of 30,000.
- 1241: The earliest image of a black Briton was discovered in the Domesday Book used to collect taxes proving that we’ve been living side-by-side for centuries.
- 1375: Mansa Musa I of Mali is considered the richest man in history (his net wealth in today’s money equates to $400bn) and was a prolific philanthropist.
What can you do you do to help?
The Government have stated that “The flexibility the curriculum provides means teachers can include black voices and history as a natural part of lessons in all subjects.”
So write to the Heads of your family member’s schools and ask them how they plan to permanently add black history within their school curriculum and follow up on an answer.
Speak to your children about the Black Lives Matter movement. There is a useful guide that has been created to facilitate conversations with primary and secondary aged pupils. Click here to view A parents guide to black lives matter.
The time for change is now.