Black History Month — it isn’t just a month

Nelson Mandela Illustrated book

Nelson Mandela by Chris Van Wyk

As we arrive in November, you will have recently learnt a lot more about Black History than you will have done since, well, maybe June. 2020, it seems, has been a bumper year. October was Black History Month here in the UK (February takes that title in the US) and Cbeebies has been celebrating by sharing stories and feelings on Black History Heroes, which my 4 year old daughter has loved. She asked me who was my hero and told me who was hers. I found it incredibly touching, and proof of how powerful teaching can be.

There were swathes of programmes, films and series’ celebrating Black History all over the world, as well as talks in schools and articles written too, scheduled to span the month.

The first BHM was in the US in 1970, and over here in the UK in 1987. That’s over 30 years of celebrating Black History for a month, every year. On one hand a wonderful acknowledgement, but on the other, it is rather a long time to be cordoning off just 30 days to parts of our collective, international heritage which, by now, we all know is not just a drop in the ocean of the history we have all been taught.

Are we incorporating literature, language and understanding into the way we raise our children? Have our social media feeds changed, or our book shelves. Do our children raise questions which we have to push ourselves to research, upon race, terminology, the experience of other people and the hardships that many races have endured over the centuries?

It is a lot, of course. But it is worth it. If our children teach us one thing, it is that anything is possible, and change is good (ok, that’s two things!). Their future will be much more balanced in terms of understanding the struggles of Black and Peoples Of Colour, and active in knowing what to do about it.

It took me a day or so to think about my daughters question. Many heroes spring to my mind, such as Ibtihaj Muhammad, Malcom X, Simone Biles, Mo Farah, and Benjamin Zephaniah. But my choice was the venerable Nelson Mandela. His life’s work has had a profound effect on my mother’s life, a South African Cape-Malay woman, and continues to shape ours today. As a young girl, I had the pleasure of meeting him, as he honoured the legacy of my late grandfather and their shared apartheid struggles.

4 females walking in South Africa

Three generations of my family, having just met then President of South Africa, Nelson Mandela

Just a few of my Black History Heroes choices:

Ilyasah Shabazz - Malcom Little

Ilyasah Shabazz – Malcom Little

Mo Farah - Ready, Steady, Mo

Mo Farah – Ready, Steady, Mo

Ibtihaj Muhammad - The Proudest Blue

Ibtihaj Muhammad – The Proudest Blue

Rachelle Burke - Simone Biles

Rachelle Burke – Simone Biles

Benjamin Zephaniah - Funky Chickens

Benjamin Zephaniah – Funky Chickens

How are you finding your approach to your children and family’s understanding of race? Has it changed and what have you learnt? Can you recommend any great podcasts or books you would like to share? Do comment below, so that we may all benefit and strive to be better.

Our wonderful Sydney has written here on books, our lovely Mariam too, over here.

Love and Light

Zainab xx


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