Black History Month is an American tradition that began life as Negro History Week and was brought to Britain in 1987.
The month of October is an important month. Important for me because it’s the month where when growing up there was a strong focus on educating me about my history from my parents, the history I didn’t get taught in school. A history that for too long has been hidden. A history that has been stolen. A history that is mispresented.
It’s also a month of celebration. To celebrate being Black in all its beauty and the contributions Black people have made to society and the UK.
My books were filled with the words of Black writers like Margaret Busby, my head with the dates of the transatlantic slave trade and my heart with names such as Mary Seacole, Olaudah Equiano, Phillis Wheatley, Evelyn Dove, Paul Stephenson, Olive Morris, Alexander Miles and Omoba Aina.
It also involved me asking my grandma to tell me her story of when she came over from Jamaica on a boat, suffered travel sickness for 10 days straight and repeatedly said to my grandad, “mi nah won come to dis yuh ere cold country”.
Black history month means all of these things to me and more.
So, if you’re white and in the workplace, here’s what you can do. Black people need you to talk about race and to not stay silent. If you don’t talk about race you maintain the status quo. There’s no script. It’s about creating a safe space for people to have honest conversations. It’s how you demonstrate curiosity, active listening, and maintain a two-way dialogue. It’s not about being a perfectionist and always having the right words. You will make mistakes and it’s how you recover from these mistakes that is critical. It’s about making sure that you set Black talent up for success, that Black talent has equal opportunities, and you pay Black talent accordingly, not at a discounted rate.
Talking about race isn’t something to be fearful of, not talking about race and not taking action is.
“Every generation has a duty to fight against racism. It will find its way into our country and into our homes. Addressing this challenge is our duty if we wish to seek a happy and prosperous existence”.
- Paul Stephenson, Campaigner for equal rights
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