Wouldn’t it be great if this Black History Month saw the contributions of the black people in Britain being acknowledged, celebrated and embedded in the curriculum and wider society once and for all? There would be no need for the term, black history, it would just be history like any other accepted history topic in schools.
Many moons ago, before I become an early years entrepreneur, I was a teacher. I recall back in the 1990s and early 2000s, there was a call for schools to do more to challenge negative racial stereotypes of black youth after the 1980s race riots and the death of Stephen Lawrence. Although the teaching about black history and the positive influence of the black presence were seen as a necessity by the black community, it never happened. Instead, it was up to conscious teachers to do all that they could to inject some ‘colour’ into the curriculum. It was relatively easy to have a more inclusive curriculum by adding new topics and literature with strong black themes or characters, albeit it was mostly derived from the African American experience. But what if your teacher wasn’t a black or brown person. What if your school or setting was in a predominately white area?
Fast forward to 2020, there is now an abundance of resources derived from the Black British experience aimed at exposing black and brown children to images of self. This includes picture books, toys, magazines, films, historical figures and people from America and the wider African diaspora. It is also pleasing to see Black History Month 2020 being celebrated more than usual. TV Channels are currently broadcasting a special season of programmes to honour the black presence in the UK. Even the corporate world is supporting Black History Month in the wake of the Black Lives Matter campaign, and to show they are anti-racist too.
But still, black history is not mandatory for schools to teach. It’s up to the school and individual teachers. Although, we know it’s valuing the culture capital that includes the diverse experiences, cultures and languages of children and their families that makes a difference.
This bring me back full circle to the early years. When I had children of my own, I searched far and wide to invest in books and toys that presented celebrating strong black characters from Africa and its diaspora, as well as positive images of self of hair, skin colour and our culture. I basically had to compensate for what they were missing out in their formal education starting in the early years and schools.
It is not just about teaching children. It is also about teachers of children equipping themselves with knowledge about how black people came to be in Britain, as well as African history before slavery.'
As the director of an Ofsted childminder agency, equality and diversity is a priority area for us. A more proactive approach towards including the contributions and images of the black community, as well as other communities and family/gender structures, is often a recommendation for educators at their inspection. Some educators might just have the token black doll or a celebration of Diwali as them ticking the equality and diversity box. We address this by encouraging them to consider their resources, displays, pictures/displays, books and most importantly visibly valuing the diverse cultures and ethnicities of children. If necessary, ask parents for ideas. Black parents will share ideas of books they read at home, food, music they dance to and lots more. This is true of all parents from BAME (Black, Asian, Minority Ethnic) groups but for the purpose of this blog we are focussing on black parents.
However, it is not just about teaching children. It is also about teachers of children equipping themselves with knowledge about how black people came to be in Britain including Windrush, why people in the Caribbean were asked to work and settle in this country, as well as African history before slavery. Only then will you be more informed about black history and recognise the important sacrifices and contributions we made so you can see the relevance of passing on that knowledge to children and celebrating diversity in the early years.
There is a saying in black history, ‘A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.’ Enough said!