Black History Month is a time to celebrate the achievements and contributions of Black people. Here, four Black women from the student movement share their stories.
(Clockwise from top left: Barbara Ntumy, Jemmar Samuels, Beatrice Carey, Esohe Uwadiae)
Black History is an integral part of the fight against racism
"In the wake of the Brexit referendum we are seeing racism, Islamophobia and the scapegoating of immigrants become increasingly mainstream and acceptable. Our history is full of examples of united African, Arab, Asian, and Caribbean communities challenging this. Thirty years ago, this year the Labour Party Black Sections propelled four MPs of African, Caribbean and Asian descent into Parliament - this historic breakthrough came from unity between our communities.
"Black History Month is a very powerful tool at looking back at how far we have come and it also serves as an educational tool as our contributions are often downplayed. There have been recent controversies in the student movement regarding the inclusion of Asian and Arab communities in the celebration of Black History Month. That this is done to deliberately undercut or co-opt the struggle of people of African and Caribbean descent. Yes, African and Caribbean history should be given due regard this month. However, a look at the BBC archives from 2003 shows the inclusion of Asian communities in the celebration of Black History Month.
"Given the common history of our struggles – from throwing off the shackles of empire, fighting together in the civil rights movement and for parliamentary representation to name a few, this should not be controversial. Now more than ever we need unity against the racist oppression we face."
- Barbara Ntumy, a Sexual Health Promoter for one of the UK's leading BAME sexual health charities and former Deputy President of London Met Students' Union and represented the Black Students' Campaign on the NUS NEC.
The black experience is a beautifully complex one
"Put simply, being a black woman who is a student is quite difficult. I am sexualised when I don’t want to be and judged for owning my sexuality. I am sometimes seen as no more than ‘another’ black girl with a nice bum, who can dance, catch whines off without permission, loud ghetto and hood.
"When I do feel empowered it’s usually because I’m around other people like me, I know that no one is going to joke about those negative stereotypes about black women which in reality can hinder what I want out of life.
"Research shows that as a black person I am less likely to get a First than a white student. Such statistics are somewhat unsurprising but they are hurtful. In many ways, being black does define my experience, but this shouldn’t be one of them.
"The black experience is a beautifully complex one, the black student experience is no different."
- Jemmar Samuels, Politics and Sociology student and course rep at Brunel University, and the Liaison Officer for the African Caribbean Society.
Black womanhood and the pursuit of knowledge
"As a Black woman, I am often told in various forms that I am indeed too much for the environment that I exist in. So I try to fit in or tone it down, but realize that whatever I shrink myself to, the people I am surrounded by remind me that parts of my existence, my hair, my body, my mannerisms, and especially my personality are just too much.
"In the pursuit of knowledge, my eagerness to learn is met with hostility, as my being challenges the stereotype that Black women are uneducated. My reaction to constant microaggressions, built up insecurities, and pain from oppression is instantly mistaken for an attitude and I am quickly categorized as an “Angry Black Woman”.
"Despite knowing that the odds are never in our favour, I push and press to find the resilience to fight on. Black women are above all else, too essential to everyone’s existence. We are the resistance, providers of life, resilient to adversity, and above all else critical to the change we must see in our communities."
- Beatrice Carey, International Students' Rep on NUS Black Students Campaign
You have a voice. Use it. Share your story
"On my first day of school, my parents dropped me off. My dad was dressed in traditional clothing and all the children laughed. This was the start of many years of pretending, suppressing and working to come to terms with my blackness, with accepting myself.
"Coming to university was, for many reasons, a breath of fresh air. For three years I surrounded myself with women of colour, people who echoed my concerns and who I didn’t have to explain myself to. It was a bubble within which I could be comfortable, be myself. But it was a bubble nonetheless.
"But what has made all the difference is the knowledge that I’m not imagining things, that other people see it too and are doing their part to right it. That makes it easier to get through it.
"After I was elected as Education Officer at LSE Students’ Union, my biggest worry was whether I would actually be able to achieve my priorities. Surprisingly, this has been the least of my problems. The university has been really responsive to the changes I want to make and I’m looking forward to getting things done.
"For those experiencing the same thing, I would say keep going. It is so hard but you are doing amazing to have come this far. You have a voice. Use it. Share your story."
- Esohe Uwadiae studied Law at the London School of Economics and is currently the Education Officer at LSE Students’ Union.