Celebrating Our Sisters
For me, Black History Month is a time to reflect, a time to educate myself further, but also (and maybe even most importantly in my eyes) celebrate Black culture. I have often found that when it comes to BHM a lot of people and/or organisations focus heavily on the reflection and education aspects and not so much on the celebratory aspect. For many years BHM was reduced to slavery, Jim Crow and Segregation with imagery centring around chains and resistance fists with dark and dreary colour palettes. While it would be amiss for me to say that these things are not of importance, these things do not comprise the sum of Black history. There is truly so much more to Black history that should be celebrated: historical events, contributions to art, life and culture and just generally expressing Black joy.
That’s why this year’s BHM UK wonderful theme, “Celebrating Our Sisters”, resonates with me in so many ways. First of all, it puts Black women at the front and centre where they truly belong, a group so often misrepresented, victims of targeted hate and disregarded while being some of the most integral people to so many movements including both Black and Queer liberation. Natural hair, tribal markings and all the wonderful shades of Black and brown are things that have often been seen as undesirable and shameful but themes like this give us a chance to acknowledge the individual beauty of each and every Black woman and Blackness as a whole, beginning the process of deconstructing and unlearn Eurocentric ideologies. And once again the word “celebrating” resonates with me so strongly as it shines such a positive light in times like these but, despite everything, we can celebrate Black women, Black music, and all the things that make up Black culture.
On the theme of celebration and reflection it is only right that we acknowledge the incredible amount of work done by universities, students unions, organisations, charities and individuals that makes Black History Month happen each year as well as the work done to promote and raise awareness about Black History. Growing up I didn’t even know there was such a thing as Black History Month until I reached university. I think how differently my life may have been had I been exposed to such things growing up. It brings me so much joy to see so many schools and charities now exposing more of Black history to the younger generation - but across the board more needs to be done. I would like to thank everyone who took time out of their month towards Black History Month. You may never know the impact that you had on someone's life.
Source: Southwark College
Although it would be impossible to name everything that happened for BHM in the student movement, there are some examples and trends I’d like to highlight. There’s a positive move towards more hands-on and interactive activities that centre Black experiences from a local perspective, like Winchester SU who invited students to make a pledge for BHM to support local black-owned businesses, or Southwark College which highlighted Black professionals with a panel. There’s also more events centring Black bodies and material culture: Nottingham Trent SU organised a Black Culture Fair, including a workshop on Afro-Caribbean hair (as Kent Adult Education did), while Warwick SU invited students to a relaxed bead making session.
Another trend I’d like to highlight is the growing focus on collective wellbeing, with Aberdeen SU curating a Girls Pamper Night, described as self-care, enjoyment, and good vibes space, on top of a program full of big names and academic events. Likewise, Falmouth and Exeter SU created a website with resources for Black wellness and wellbeing. Since recognising Black students’ labour is an essential part of wellbeing, I’d like to also highlight Strathclyde Union, where they hired an intern to lead the team on BHM, securing a month of activities centring Black experiences. Also in line with celebrating our sisters and highlight excellent contributions towards wellbeing I want to highlight Toluwa Atilade an ex-sabbatical officer and Bournemouth university graduate who attends multiple universities delivering her incredible ‘Black Girl Detox’ sessions which is a space where Black Women and their allies gather to unlearn misogyny, learn to cultivate safe environments and to connect with others.
Beyond Black History Month
I think it is very poignant that I am writing this in November partially due to the business of my own BHM but also because I think it is vitally important to remember that Black history (and by extension Black people and liberation) is not just for October. The celebration and remembrance shouldn’t stop at 11:59pm on the 31st but be all year round (See for example Royal Halloway 5-year partnership with Black Cultural Archives). True liberation and anti-racism is recognising the unique position, opportunity and platform that Black History Month provides and aiming to maintain that momentum all year round. Too often we have seen that as soon as November begins and the major corporations change their logos back to normal there’s almost a sense of “good job, same time next year?” mentality, and that simply isn’t good enough anymore.
With that in mind, I’d like to invite Black and other racialised students to join the two projects we’ll be working on in this year’s Black Students Campaign. Firstly, three workshops where we will build an agreement to update our name as it’s been discussed for years now that we want an alternative to using Black and political blackness to encompass all racialised people’s experiences. Secondly, a series of articles/guides (like this one) as well as resources on Cultural appreciation, not appropriation, aiming to support students’ unions in recognising cultural days and events in a way that’s sensible and fair with students with lived experience and don’t make them carry all the burden of making things happen. Keep an eye on the Liberation Collective website for updates.
I want to close this by reminding you all that Black History is not only something that we reflect upon, but it is happening right around us all day every day. As you are reading this, Black history is being made right now! And many of us will find our own names in these history books at some point down the line, and so I’d like to pose to you this question; how do you want to be remembered?
By Aaron Campbell
Black Students Rep at NUS Liberation Campaigns Committee