Why is Black History important for young people?

Education for all British teenagers focuses on an intellectual heritage that begins with the Greco-Roman tradition, on one hand, and the Judaeo-Christian tradition on the other. In addition, mainstream education includes references to the contributions of the Hindus, Buddhists, Arabs and the Chinese to certain aspects of human culture.

But what about the contributions of Africans and African descended people? Where is any of this reflected in mainstream education?

For most Black teenagers, the experience in the classroom and lecture hall is one of being present and being excluded at the same time. Nearly all information taught in schools and colleges ignore the Black teenager’s cultural heritage. Some old school educationalists even claim that Black teenagers (and Black people in general) have no cultural heritage whatsoever!

Consequently, the experience in the classroom and the lecture hall, as far as black teenagers are concerned, is one of being indoctrinated with somebody else’s culture. For black teenagers, this poses a difficult question: Should you forget your cultural heritage and fully embrace another heritage or should you resist the indoctrination?

This is a difficult choice that Black teenagers have to make. Some will embrace the European heritage and will be rewarded with GCSE and A-level success. The rebellious teenagers will resist for as long as they can. Many will leave the education system with little or nothing to show for it.

Black History is a subject that can interest black (and non-black) teenagers. It is a subject that enables black teenagers to see and learn about people that are just like themselves. Black history in the broadest sense includes the contributions of black people to development of history and civilisation. It includes the contributions of black people to the development of the arts, technology and the sciences, industry and world trade, and religion and philosophy.

Even if we restricted the scope of black history to the British Isles, black people here have a history stretching well beyond the Empire SS Windrush in 1948. For example, one mainstream TV documentary shown over the last 12 months featured the rediscovery of the burial of an eleventh century African male. Another documentary featured the rediscovery of a burial of an elite fourth century African female in York. Yet another documentary featured a Roman emperor, of North African stock, who led troops in battles against the early people of Scotland, and who himself died in York.

Even if we restricted our focus from 18th century to pre 1948 London, there are various Black personalities and organisations important in political history such as Oludah Equiano, William Cuffay, and Henry Sylvester Williams and the Pan African Movement. In Literature, there were best selling black writers such as Phillis Wheatley and Mary Prince, the dramatic actor Ira Aldridge, and the Black Newspapers Africa and Orient Review and The Keys. In Music, there were black classical and popular musicians such as Ignatius Sancho, Professor Samuel Coleridge Taylor, Ken ‘Snakehips’ Johnson and Leslie ‘Hutch’ Hutchinson.

Imagine if Black teenagers were exposed to this wealth of information!