Thirty-one days of tokenism

History provides an insight into who we are within the context of the world we live in, and an understanding of key events and trends that have shaped humanity helps us develop a greater appreciation for the present, and more importantly we can prevent a repetition of previous misdeeds. However, knowledge is a source of power and as seen in most academic disciplines, the voices and contributions of the oppressed are often marginalised and omitted from public knowledge, which ultimately paints a subjective, ethnocentric picture of human history. This is a problematic projection of society’s unequal distribution of social status, and until there is reform (particularly in the way in which black history is taught and portrayed), the systems which perpetuate racism will continue to thrive unchallenged.

Growing up under the English education system, I remember the curriculum being inflated with knowledge published by, and about the achievements and discoveries made by white, middle class, European males in the arts, sciences and humanities. For many years I passively absorbed the racist colonial assertion raised by some of the most respected academics such as David Hume (1711 – 1776) and Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770 – 1831), that European countries are inherently the most civilised, and they helped facilitate the enlightenment and modernisation of the supposedly inferior, uncultured and barbaric masses from around the world. Therefore, any global history prior to European intervention was deemed trivial, and the curriculum was distorted to the extent whereby the truth about the violent and incriminating atrocities committed by the Imperial British Empire such as the Jallianwala Bagh massacre in India (1919), or the Mau Mau concentration camps in 1950s/60s Kenya were deliberately concealed, which is presently still the case.

Romanticising colonialism, by portraying “Britain as a beacon of liberty for others to emulate” (as expressed by former education secretary, Michael Gove), undermines it’s destructive force, which has resulted in countless deaths, and a devastating displacement of entire cultural histories and practices. Furthermore, emphasis is commonly placed on the observable physical impacts of colonialism, but seldom on the psychopathological trauma, which has consistently rippled for centuries, and continues to systematically pervade every social sphere. In a process which Frantz Fanon (1952) defined as ‘Cultural Assimilation’, generations of black lives have collectively and individually been victims of an internalised negative self-perception, whereby blackness is equated to sub-human status. Therefore, this creates a sense of alienation and erosion of identity because black people (particularly youth) are unable to recognise and celebrate their cultural heritage or achieve equality, but instead negate and reject their blackness, whilst aspiring to achieve an unreachable sense of whiteness. The struggle of conforming to a white world view (embedded in negative beliefs about blackness) results in harmful repercussions on psychological development, which in turn undermines mental wellbeing and other life chances as illustrated by the Race Disparity Audit (2018).