Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Why Black History Month is still relevant

Every Black History Month I dream of a plan where I give everything up and run off to take a culture and history studies MA at the University of London. To soften the blow this year I have signed up to see a few exhibitions and readings and I am so looking forward to them. I embrace all culture and history and I am certainly one of those who looks forward to when Black History Month is what 'we used to do in the old days when black British history wasn't recognised, valued, or part of the national curriculum' but in the meantime I support the cause and will continue to do my bit to champion the people from history and from today who make me proud to be British. And quite frankly while we still have people watching and not challenging programmes that stereotype people of colour as uneducated drug dealing street kids who if they are lucky get a job in a cafe in Albert Square than we need Black History Month!

This is one lady I would have loved to have met. 

Image via the BBC

Una Maud Marson was the first black programmer maker at the BBC. In the 1940s she would bob up the road from Broadcasting House to the Langham Hotel. The Langham was far more than a five star hotel at this time, it was the place for any self respecting broadcaster to be seen.  I read somewhere that Una used to make her evening dresses out of her curtains, and I am sure they were fabulous.  But of course her experience was not all fancy parties. Her most famous poem, 'Nigger' addressed her experience of life in London. You can google it.

If you read my post a few weeks ago you'll know Stuart Hall - the cultural theorist is one of my hero's. I like social history and semiotics. Time spent critically thinking about art and film, for me time is time well spent; I have Stuart Hall to thank for all of that.

When I look back at my interests it was obvious really that one day I would end up designing greeting cards that reflect social history.  It is a love of analysis that made me learn more about Lenny Henry,  more than maybe is healthy. I could be his number one fan from the critical thinking posse! 

His documentary '"Finding Shakespeare" on ITV recently was an open dialogue into what shaped his views and his passion for the stage and more crucially why he made the career decisions he has. I am so happy I have never and will never see Lenny Henry on Eastenders - which by the way I think is the worst programme on TV. I gave it up in the 90s a short time after finding Stuart Hall.

So black history month may be tiresome for those of us with a little age on our side or with a long relationship with cultural pride but its not all about us is it? It's a ladder for those who are aren't in this special place yet so they can be inspired to learn more about the richness black people have and continue to add to the fabric of British history. It's still a reminder to schools especially those outside London to talk about John Blanke And surely those conversations are for everyone, we all know one of the biggest discussions we need to have more openly in this country is the one of race - doesn't Black History Month also provides a soft platform from which to do that? 

My thoughts are set against my six year old asking, just last week, why there are mostly white people on TV? That's a good question son I said, lets talk about it. Inside my heart sank as there were more black people on TV in the 70s and 80s than there are now. I don't let him watch crap TV, it's damaging for his impressionable and developing mind. For me his question sums up why Black History Month is still relevant. My son is not with me 24 hours a day, he is exposed to people who's views are not the same as me and his Dad's. I hope a TV executive somewhere has a bit of an inward think. I hope a life story like that of Una Marson ignites a film idea and I want TV producers to remember that the kids of today, especially those who belong to a growing ethnic middle class, are the innovators and business leaders of tomorrow. I expect that when my son is an adult Black History Month will be outdated but, in the meantime, if just one person recognises the damage programmes like Top Boy and Eastenders do to our impressionable minds than yes I will be a happy Strange Fruit!


  1. I can't seem to find the text for Una's poem - are you able to provide a link?

  2. Here you go, this one is on the British Library site

  3. Thank you - fantastic poem that still feels very relevant today!!