What does Black History Month mean in 2020?
2020 has uprooted the reality of racism in all its guises. The horrific murders of George Floyd and Breanna Taylor, to name a few, have sparked the #BlackLivesMatter protests around the world; coupled with the far-reaching effects of Covid-19, which have shown black people disproportionately dying from the pandemic. It is clear injustice and inequality still persists in contemporary society.
Black History Month has slowly become an established event in the calendar for many people of all races. But it isn’t just an event to be ticked off a calendar or dominated by a white-washed version of history. People know a lot more about black history today in comparison to previous years since literature has increasingly shed light on the Black British experience. However, every year Black History Month is greeted with the disingenuous claim that it is unfair and met with outrage that follows the cynical phrase ‘All lives matter’. Is this because these people find discomfort facing the harsh realities of slavery and imperialism, or are we still living in a racist society?
Black History Month events traditionally remember Rosa Parks’ bus boycott, or Martin Luther King’s social activism and famous ‘I Have a Dream…’ speech, or even the events that sparked the Notting Hill Riots in the late fifties that would lead to the celebrations that take place yearly at Notting Hill Carnival. But what about today? How will the actions of black people today shape the way in which Black History Month will be told, remembered, and celebrated for future generations?
Increased diversity in various industries and sectors, and the positivity of the remarkable #BlackLivesMatter protests shows the BME experience is coming to the forefront of institutions. Here are some statistics to celebrate:
‘Black Pound Day’ recognizes the spending power of black consumers, estimated at £300 billion, according to the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA) and as a result, black-owned businesses have seen significant growth in sales and activity. Spending more money on black-owned businesses will lead to greater investment, generating more profits and can gradually decrease discrepancies in unemployment rates by race.
According to Business Today, the increase in movies that transcend black stereotypes in the media has received a high degree of success. Black Panther, after just 26 days of its release, passed the $1 billion mark at global box offices. Likewise, Get Out grossed $255 million worldwide against a $4.5 million production budget, and director Jordan Peele became the fifth black director ever nominated for an Oscar, the first to win three nominations (for original screenplay, best director, and best picture), and the first African-American to win the Oscar for best original screenplay.
The events of this year have urged every institution and company to express support for the Black experience, including its history. But there is still so much more to be done to achieve real inclusion:
The favoured history of Black history continues to spotlight Black soldiers, sailors and airmen who served in the armed forces during the world wars. The British government has marginalized the Black experience by warning schools not to teach what it characterizes as ‘victim narratives’ that they believe are ‘harmful to British society’.
In light of Covid-19, Black males are 4.2 times more likely to die from a COVID-19-related death than White males, according to the Public Health England report on ‘Disparities in the risk and outcomes of COVID-19’.
The events of the year have made it crucial to encourage social activism against microaggressions and unconscious bias in institutions and educate those who may be naïve or ignorant to the matter. We must take the lead of figures like Claudia Jones, founder of Notting Hill Carnival and political activist prominent in the 1960s, to encourage social activism in all walks of life in order to uncover the unheard voices of the Black experience.
Here at Sussex Innovation, we are committed to creating an environment where differences are not barriers. It is part of our commitment as an organisation to respond constructively to the Black Lives Matter movement and to become more diverse and inclusive. We're hosting a day of thought-provoking virtual events and learning experiences about inclusivity, which you can find details on here.
We’ve recently launched our new #100stories podcast which addresses the personal experience of prejudice and discrimination, of people of colour, as well as their success stories. You can find our first episode with our project manager, Eva Poliszczuk here. If you are interested in sharing your story, get in touch via firstname.lastname@example.org.
2020 had laid the scale and impact of institutional racism bare and demanded real change from society at every level, from business, education, and daily practices, to celebrate Black history, heritage, and culture, both past and present.
Black history encapsulates more than just the past, it is not appropriate to dedicate the duration of a month to celebrating Black history, heritage, and culture. It is a celebration that needs to be embedded within institutional structures and practices daily, to truly decolonize and reclaim black history in a way that is honest and truthful.