It was a Thursday afternoon in March, and I was due to teach History to my Year 5 class. Our topic was ‘Our Local Area’ and the area in question was Tottenham.
We discussed the Domesday Book, the early Roman settlers and the origins of the name ‘Seven Sisters’. The children were really into it, and so was I. Though I’m a huge Arsenal fan myself, I decided that I couldn’t teach about the history of Tottenham without mentioning the football club.
I turned on the whiteboard and an image of a man appeared. Once the rustling of books, scraping of chairs and whispers had settled down, a pupil put his hand up. Before I had a chance to let him speak, he shouted, “Miss, is it Black History Month?”
There are many comments that have stuck with me from my days in the classroom and that is definitely one of them. The man on the whiteboard was Walter Tull, one of the first Black footballers to play for Tottenham and one of the first Black officers to lead in the British army. The children were completely captivated by Tull and the lesson gave us a chance to discuss so much: what it meant to be Black in the Victorian era, life in an orphanage, school, football, Barbados, war, peace and so on and so forth.
It was a great lesson, but I couldn’t help but be bothered by the child’s comment. Whilst Black History Month is important and necessary, it should not be the only month of the year in which Black History is taught. Black History is a part of British History and the two cannot be separated.
As educators, we should not be satisfied by doing the bare minimum and begin to treat Black History Month like a tick box exercise. It is not enough to only talk about Mary Seacole or learn a Bob Marley song, never to mention Black people ever again until the next October. It is not enough to do a Black History Month assembly which fleetingly mentions Rosa Parks and Nelson Mandela. We must do more; we must do better.
Black History Month is a time to recognise the contributions that people of African and Caribbean backgrounds have made over many generations. It is also a time to celebrate the success and achievements of Black people- past and present- in our own communities. Finally, it is an opportunity to reflect on and discuss ways in which we can address structural and cultural racism.
Children should not be surprised to see themselves represented in the curriculum. We need to move away from the tick box and tokenistic culture present in many schools and begin to embed Black History and all that it encompasses into the curriculum full time. If you are a teacher thinking about next month, I urge you to do some research. Teach the children about a lesser-known Black person and teach them well. By all means, have a Black History Month assembly and teach about the aforementioned people but do it well, make it meaningful and continue to explore the culture and histories of Black people through teaching and continued activities throughout the year.