To mark the start of Black History Month, the Senior School whole school assembly on Thursday 5 October was led by the History and Politics department, and featured powerful contributions from BGS's own students, speaking about their relationship with their race. Read their words in the blog post below.
Introduction (Ms Davies, Deputy Head, Pupil Development)
Black History Month is an opportunity to explicitly challenge biases in the British curriculum which here at BGS we have been addressing for a number of years. The theme of Black History month this year is to recognise and celebrate the black women who have made huge and too often unrecognised contribution to their societies in all areas from politics to science, art and literature. Now I hand you over to our Head of History and Politics, Mr Pearson, and to Liz and friends to share their thoughts.
Mr Pearson: I wanted to start quickly by drawing your attention to something which, while it might seem obvious to YOU, is not always so clear, in the current feverishly polarised and divisive political climate, to those moving in circles outside of BGS.
This is the fact that Black History Month is NOT competing for attention with the traditional narrative of British history so beloved of those who talk of culture wars and the need not to lose sight of the traditional British historical canon of figures like Winston Churchill, Henry Tudor and Alfred the Great. In shedding light, ALONGSIDE these figures, on the achievements of Mary Seacole, Mary Prince and more recently Diane Abbott, it is enriching and adding nuance, representation and diversity to this narrative. It is celebrating those who have contributed to it, in spite of the hurdles of racial and gendered prejudice they had to overcome.
My message to you is, when you venture out into the free market of ideas that exists beyond the walls of this school, you’ll probably not have to go far to hear someone bemoaning celebrations such as Black History Month as so much woke political correctness.
Please though, when you do, politely and calmly, remind them that Black History Month isn’t about ripping up the picture and starting again, it is about completing it. Inspiration to help you impart such wisdom will now be provided by the singing of Liz who will be accompanied by Dan, and then the personal words written and delivered by the students themselves.
Vocal performance from Liz of 'Stand up' by Cynthia Erivo , accompanied by Daniel (bass) and Mr Guerrini (piano)
To my younger self,
Don’t ever forget to love and accept yourself. People around you may look different but you should love your skin for what it is. Take pride in your colour. Your hair may not be straight or wavy, but remember that being the odd one out is okay. There’s no need to hate what come naturally to you. Just because you are a black face in a white speaker, it doesn’t mean you should be worth anything less. I won’t lie to you, it won’t get any easier; the world just hasn’t caught up yet. But once you embrace who you are, it makes everything just that little bit better.
From, Your future self.
As we gather here to celebrate black history month, let us honour the countless Black sisters who have blazed trails and broken barriers. From Harriet Tubman to Maya Angelou. Let us commit to amplifying the voices of Black sisters, to continue supporting their dreams and aspirations, and to work together to create a future where every Black woman can thrive and be celebrated not just in October but every day of the year. Let us remember that by uplifting and supporting each other, we can build a brighter, more inclusive future for all.
For me, someone who always has to select, “mixed (other)” on surveys and forms, being Black is such an abstract part of my identity, and as complex and multifaceted as any other part of my identity. It connects me with others, makes me feel like part of a community, and helps to break up the undercurrent of alterity that pervades my life.
My Blackness allows me to navigate and make sense of the world around me, and whether this means I feel alienated and fearful of judgement, or gratitude for being part of such a beautiful and diverse community, I’m thankful that my Black roots remind me everyday to be thankful for my life and place in society, and not to take anything for granted.
I’ve always asked myself what it meant to be different and why I was so different from everyone else. People often say to embrace or to tolerate these differences, but I believe we should celebrate them. No matter who you are, where you’re from, your skin colour, your gender identity: you deserve to be celebrated.
Sometimes, inspiration or even motivation can come from those you fear a lot. For me, that would be my Grandad, who allowed me to feel more confident about who I was and embrace the background I come from. He came to visit me while I was on exam leave last year and while I was under the impression that he would be strict (which he usually is) and harsh with his words, he encouraged me to do what I felt was right in my exams. It was the last thing I was expecting to hear but I was and still am grateful for it.
"If you are confident with you put down on the page, you can rest well knowing that you’ve made the best choice and never have to feel worried". It is a quote he shared with me as I started my exams and it stuck with me the whole way through. It reminded me that no matter how we view our parents, they always want the best for us.
Every year it’s the same old story, let’s talk about black history but never black glory.
So, our options are either trauma or slavery,
And it’s not that we don’t appreciate the story told in roots,
But how can you teach us about the African family tree and neglect to mention the fruits?
So, what about the ancient Africans who created medicines, navigations or technology?
Why don’t they teach us about the Dogon tribes in Mali who showed knowledge of advances astronomy?
Why haven’t we ever read a piece of literature or fiction about Cheddar man, one of the oldest skeletons discovered in Britain? He had blue eyes but dark skinned pigment…
So you can teach me about Pythagoras Theorem, what about the Ishango or the Lebombo bones? The world's oldest mathematical instrument?
Is it because it was invented by African women the world's first mathematicians?
Using the bones to track the lunar cycle in villages, they calculated time before your Rolex.
So I don’t mind talking about black history, but let us not forget that black literacy, black ability and black dignity.
Let’s not reduce our history to the pain of fractured pieces.
Black history is the history of our species, and no matter the colour of the skin on your face, there is only one Human Race.
(poem by Suli Breaks, written for the School of New Africa)