Workers' Weekly On-Line
Volume 49 Number 18, October 19, 2019 ARCHIVE HOME JBCENTRE SUBSCRIBE

Black History Month

Reflections on Black History Month

Since the 1980s, the month of October has been widely recognised as Black History Month (BHM), a month to celebrate and recognise the important histories, struggles, contributions and achievements of those of African and Caribbean heritage in Britain. At its inception the month was intended as an affirmation that the Eurocentric rendering of history that proclaimed that "Africa has no history", and other such racist views, must be condemned, along with all attempts to present history as only the deed of the white men of property. This was of particular importance since such views and approaches were ingrained within the state education system, as well as the monopoly-controlled media. In recent decades BHM has received increasing official recognition and this year was even acknowledged and commented on during Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons.

The celebration of BHM reflects a widespread recognition that a Eurocentric rendering of history does not serve the interests of the majority of people, but it also reflects the reality that much remains to be done on this and related questions throughout the year. In this regard there are constant demands for the "decolonising" of curricula at universities and throughout the education system, as well as in the media, the heritage sector and elsewhere. These demands raise important questions regarding not just the need for enlightenment but also who should be the decision-makers in the education system and whose interests should it serve, as well as the need for the people to further develop their own media, which is in opposition to the aims of and interests of the monopoly and state-controlled media. In short, it raises the question not of the need for "decolonisation", which history-as-such generally records as the deed of the colonial powers themselves, giving rise to the end of history's development. Rather it raises the question of people empowering themselves, so as to create a people-centred society in which the interests of the majority take centre stage, and in which they can become history makers.

The official recognition of BHM by the powers that be should not hide the fact that the state, the judiciary, media, etc., are the forces that are most responsible for the existence and encouragement of racism in all its forms, as numerous examples, such as the recent Windrush scandal and the entire immigration system, make abundantly clear.

The Oval 4

It has also been further illustrated this BHM month by an announcement regarding the most recent developments in the infamous Oval 4 case.

The "Oval 4" were four young men, Winston Trew, Sterling Christie, George Griffiths, and Constantine Boucher, who were brutally attacked and then arrested at Oval underground station in March 1972. They were subsequently savagely beaten whilst in police custody, tortured to make them confess to crimes they had not committed and charged with attempting to steal, theft and assaulting the police. At that time the state, the monopoly-controlled media and others had orchestrated a campaign around what was referred to as "mugging", street theft which, in an openly racist manner, was blamed almost solely on young black men. In this racist environment, and despite a vigorous campaign in their defence, the four young men, like many others at the time, were convicted and sentenced to two years imprisonment. Even though they later appealed that verdict, their sentences were only reduced; the verdict was not overturned.

Since that time, for nearly fifty years, the Oval 4 have been trying to overturn this injustice. Winston Trew even wrote a book about his entire experience, the shattering effect it had on his personal life and on his family. It might be considered that with the official recognition of BHM and the apparent interest in history that this and other historic wrongs would have been righted many years ago but that has not been the case. This might have been considered more likely because it was known for many years that the police officer who led the arrests of the Oval 4 and several similar cases was known to be thoroughly corrupt and was later arrested for mailbag theft and subsequently died in prison. Yet still nothing has been done by the state and its agencies. It was only last year, following the overturning of a verdict in another case involving the same corrupt police officer that it was possible for Winston Trew to make an application to the Criminal Court Review Commission (CCRC). Now forty-seven years after the trumped-up charges and unjust conviction the CCRC has now referred the Oval 4 case to the court of appeal.

Enough is Enough

This BHM is an opportune time to reflect on the entire history of the Oval 4 case, which was the collective experience of many at that time. It demonstrates once again the completely racist and anti-people nature of the state and its entire machinery which cannot be reformed to serve the interests of the majority. It is also a time to reflect on the lessons of history in general and why so much effort is expended to deny people their collective memory, to deny the fact that the people are the agents of change and the makers of history. Instead every effort is made to present various forms of disinformation which serve to create confusion, to deprive people not only of their collective memory but also of an outlook that can point the way forward to their empowerment and the creation of a society in which the majority are the decision-makers.


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