Workers' Weekly On-Line
Volume 50 Number 40, November 7, 2020 ARCHIVE HOME JBCENTRE SUBSCRIBE

Black History Month

Parliamentary Debate on Black History Month

In Bristol on June 7, the statue of Edward Colston was torn down by protesters and thrown in the harbour. Colston was a notorious human trafficker in the late 17th century who was associated with Bristol, one of the main ports connected with trans-Atlantic trade in enslaved Africans.

This year witnessed an unprecedented upsurge of opposition to racism and Eurocentrism in all forms, in what was popularly known as the Black Lives Matter movement. Initially horrified by the police killing of George Floyd and other events in the US, throughout the country people of all nationalities demanded an end to state racism and police violence in Britain too, an end to all forms of inequality, as well as an end to the public glorification of slavery and colonialism and those who carried out crimes against humanity. However, in the face of this unprecedented upsurge, the government has continued to resist the call of the times and set itself against any meaningful change. It has made attempts to criminalise those who protested earlier in the year, demanded that museums should respond negatively to public demands for change and the removal of statues glorifying crimes against humanity, attacked those who it labels as seeking to "rewrite" history, while at the same time attempt ing to sow confusion about the nature and source of racism and inequality in society. In addition, it has recently demanded that schools should follow government directives as to how they teach certain subjects. The government has declared that schools should refrain from using teaching resources from organisations which, it is asserted, "take extreme political stances" including "a publicly-stated desire to abolish" capitalism.

The partisan political approach of the government was most notably displayed during the recent "Black History Month" debate in parliament, although it was also very clear that history was being presented in a partisan way by many of those MPs who spoke. Although there was often reference to the BLM movement by those who opposed it, or claimed to support it, there was little that addressed the source of racism in society, nor the solution to the other widening inequalities in society.

The History of African and Caribbean Communities in Britain is the only children's book on African & Caribbean people in Britain. It has been subject to resistance to publication since its first publication in 1995. Now being reprinted after a campaign this year led by Tayo Aluko, Writer & Actor Member, Black and Asian Studies Association.

There is ample evidence that problems find their source in the capital-centred system and an economy geared to paying the rich, as well as the fact that the people are disempowered from exercising any meaningful decision-making in society. Much of the debate centred on how history is taught in schools, a debate which has been ongoing for many decades, whichever government is in office. However, the demand for a modern education system, which, in terms of its curriculum and other characteristics, places the people's needs in first place, has never been brought about by debates in parliament. Rather it has advanced by the struggles of educationalists, parents, students and all those concerned organising themselves to make advances. This important history was conveniently ignored by those pontificating about such matters in parliament.

Not surprisingly there was often a great ignorance about history in general, parliamentarians mainly championing various historical personalities that they felt might add weight to their own partisan political views. There was also a significant lack of an enlightened outlook on other important questions on display: one MP even went so far as to speak about the existence of "races" in Britain.

During the debate, Kemi Badenoch, the Minister for Equalities, spoke on behalf of the government, stating that it was opposed to the "Black Lives Matter" movement because it was "political", and warning schools not to support it because they had "a statutory duty to be impartial". The Minister went further, maintaining that any school "that promotes partisan political views such as defunding the police," which the government finds objectionable, "without offering a balanced treatment of opposing views, is breaking the law." The Minister also accused those who "campaign against racial inequality" of importing "a narrative and assumptions" from the United States. However, it appeared that her own attack on various dubious theories that originate in the United States was simply importing an approach most recently adopted by the president of that country, who has also attempted to attack the entire movement for the rights of all by focusing on those who allegedly preach "divisive conce pts" and "race and sex stereotyping". By such means the governments of both countries attempt to divert attention from people's demands that Eurocentrism and racism in all the forms perpetuated by the state must be brought to an end, whether in the education system, asylum and immigration acts, police violence, attacks on the rights of citizens as witnessed recently during the so-called Windrush scandal, the glorification of slavery and colonialism, or the disproportionate effects of Covid-19. What is being demanded is that the entire economic and political system which has given rise to such features in society must be brought to an end, as contrary to the needs of the people, and an anachronism completely out of place in the 21st century.

The parliamentary debate on Black History Month has mainly been commented on because of the government's assertion that teachers and schools might be accused of breaking the law for their teaching methods and the content of the curriculum. However, the debate itself, the first in five years, was clearly the result of the demands raised by the masses of the people in the unprecedented upsurge that occurred throughout the country. What is required is that this struggle for a new world is further developed, with the clear orientation that it is the people themselves who must continue to develop the forms of struggle, the outlook and the mechanisms necessary to end racism and all forms of inequality. What is required is a struggle to defend the right of all and bring about the empowerment of the people.


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