Me: What impact do you think conversations around Black history have on your own sense of identity?
Des: Although I have been fortunate enough to have the opportunity to learn about Black history, which is a rarity in itself, I have limited knowledge about the history specific to my identity as a Black British person.
Being a Black person raised in the UK is a unique yet isolating experience. Unless you happen to live in a particularly inclusive community, the vast majority of “role models” you’re exposed to will be nothing like you. The exclusion of British specific Black history causes us to internalise the idea that although Blackness isn’t inferior, our individual cultures cannot coexist with the Britishness enforced upon us. Many of us, as descendants of immigrants, are left with disconnected identities because we face pressure from inside and outside our communities to choose a side instead of embracing our intersectionality.
As a postcolonial, post globalisation, multicultural country, that prides itself on its relations with the members of the Commonwealth, we ought to honour the diverse communities that have improved our lives for the better, often at the expense of their own.
All of the Black British icons I know, the Olaudah Equianos, Edward Enninfuls and Baroness Lawrences of the world, are people I know only from my own deliberate efforts. I am so glad the SHFGS community have embraced Black History Month, but we ought to remember that it does not end with us. There are millions of youths of all ethnicities in the UK being disserviced by the lack of Black recognition in an ethnocentric, anglocentric, and inaccurate white history.
Me: Is there anything that you have learnt about that you have found surprising/interesting/troubling?
Asha: The rates of maternal deaths amongst women of colour was a real shock to me. As a child, this isn’t something I’d been exposed to but as I prepared to study Biomedical Science I began to see things I hadn’t prepared myself for. Healthcare professionals are, of course, encouraging and suggest that they prioritise good care for all, but statistics are not showing this in reality. I can’t imagine changing my medical treatment for a person based on the colour of their skin so learning that this is a normal part of British life was a real shock.
Vedasya: I’m inspired by the stories I hear. Hearing about Beverly Ann Johnson’s achievements as the first Black woman on the cover of Vogue magazine or the story of Tracey Norman as a Black transgender model and a groundbreaking choreography of Alvin Ailey gives me shoulders to stand on. Seeing the representation and understanding that it is possible demonstrates the value of people of colour in society as well as the opportunities we can all help to nurture.
What does having a representative curriculum mean to you?
Asha: To me, it’s about perspectives. We need to create different ones even if they don’t necessarily reflect the people we are talking about in a positive light. Our curriculum needs to be factual and not just from a ‘western’ perspective. Being mixed race, I’ve seen and heard the differences in experiences of India’s independence, narratives of enslaved people and the fact that states outside of Britain have histories which are rich and deep. If I could change one thing about our curriculum, it would be that we expand our knowledge of Empire, our understanding of world cultures and successes and recognise that power doesn’t only exist and happen in the west.
Me: What does it mean to you to be an ally?
Vedasya: Being an ally is about actively educating yourself and others. We need to recognise that we will get things wrong but the option of doing nothing isn’t open to us. We have the power to cause ripple effects that will bring other people along the journey. I’m not Black but I am a person of colour and understanding common struggles, along with reflecting on other’s perspectives, is integral to nurturing community empathy.