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Student Question: Black History Month?


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A student in my College asks:

Why do we need to still have Black History Month in 2004? Why hasn't there been more progress in getting Black history in schools all year round?
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In an ideal world there would be no need for Black History Month. The role that black people have played in history would be fairly treated in our school textbooks. Unfortunately that is not the case. Take for example, the case of Slavery in Britain. Most textbooks still present the image that the trade was brought to an end by the activities of white politicians such as William Wilberforce (in fact he was against the slave trade and not the institution of slavery). The role that black people played in these changes is rarely covered in traditional textbooks. Nor do they point out the role that people like Robert Wedderburn and William Cuffay played in the Chartist movement. Nor are those early black pioneers in the struggle for the vote at the beginning of the 19th century such as William Davidson mentioned. I could go on but instead visit this site to see the role black people have played in British history.


Until textbook authors make full use of the latest research available, we will need to have a Black History Month. While we are at it, maybe we should have a Women’s History Month. After all, they also suffer from the same problem. I would suggest white working-class leaders are others who still suffer from the discrimination caused by the majority of textbooks being written by white, middle class, males.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I totally agree with everything that John says. It is frustrating to say the least that BHM is still needed in 2004. There are a number of issues that need to be addressed, I would suggest, before things move on:

1) greater awareness amongst classroom history teachers of the major contribution that people from minority ethnic backgrounds have ade. Now how this happens is more challenging and it seems to me that there has to be pressure from different areas - pupils, parents, , historians, cultural commentators, the ethnic communities - for teachers to teach this history.

2) An awareness from Heads of History that the National Curiculum is now so flexible that a much wider curriculum can (and should) be taught. In my eyes the 'battle' has been won here, but the 'war' is being lost. Last term we had an HMI inspection that focused on combatting racism in schools. I was interviewed by the two inspectors who were very explicit in supporting my attempts to introduce a multicultural history curriculum at my school. They had absolutely no disagreement with my 'flexible' interpretation of the NC and positively encouraged it.

3) There must be a greater involvement of the minority ethnic communities in becoming history teachers and educators. I have unfortunately only met a handful of black history teachers / academics and I have been teaching in London for 12 years and actively involved in promoting multicultural history for the last 6 years. I have had the pleasure of working with a few black historians but they are in an absolute minority and don't reflect the representation of ethnic minorities in London in particular. I have occasionally been criticised for the BHM events that I have held (particularly as I have renamed it Black and Asian History Month at my school) and I am an easy target as a white middle class male (albeit with a Jewish upbringing which at least makes me an ethnic minority!). I argue that I am on the 'right side' and until someone in my school wants to take ownership of BHM then I am damn well going to make sure that these celebrations take place. this equally applies to the teaching material that I have produced such as The Olaudah Equiano webquest and the The Black Britons webquest.

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The National Curriculum (and not just in History) is indeed very clearly ethnocentric.

- representative of white European culture rather than reflecting the multi cultural make up of the UK.

For instance Modern Foreign Languages taught are almost always European ones, Assemblies by law still have to be “broadly Christian” in their focus, the History taught is British and European with minority ethnic groups only appearing passively as subservient “victims” e.g. the National Curriculum History Study Unit on Slavery. Ethnic minority perspectives are also ignored in Music and Literature.

Coard (1971) in “How the West Indian Child is made educationally subnormal in the British school system” suggests that these processes lead to low self esteem and therefore underachievement for ethnic minority children.

I am concerned that BHM may well be just the sort of tokenism which ultimately does more to uphold the staus quo than to change it.

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Coard (1971) in “How the West Indian Child is made educationally subnormal in the British school system” suggests that these processes lead to low self esteem and therefore underachievement for ethnic minority children.

Thought you might be interested in some background information on Winston Coard.

Coard was born in Grenada on 10th August 1944. Coard studied at the Grenada Boys Secondary School where he met Maurice Bishop. As a young man Coard developed an interest in politics and in 1962 joined with Bishop to form the Grenada Assembly of Youth After Truth. Twice a month Bishop and Cord led debates on current events in the Central Market Place in Grenada.

Coard moved to the United States to study economics and sociology at Brandeis University in Massachusetts. In 1967 he moved to England and studied political economy at Sussex University in Brighton. While in England Coard joined the Communist Party.

Coard taught for two years at schools in London. In 1971 he published his book How the West Indian Child is Made Educationally Subnormal in the British School System. After completing his doctorate Coard moved to Trinidad where he taught at the University of the West Indies. He was also a visiting lecturer at the Institute of International Relations at St. Augustine.

In 1976 Coard returned to Grenada and soon became active in politics and joined the New Jewel Movement (NJM), an organization created by his boyhood friend, Maurice Bishop.

Eric Gairy and his Grenada United Labour Party won the elections held on 7th November, 1976. However, opposition leaders complained that all election officials were members of GULP and that they had tampered with the voting papers. As a result of these elections Bishop became leader of the opposition.

In 1977 Gairy began receiving advice from General Augusto Pinochet of Chile on how to deal with civil unrest. His police and military also received "counter insurgency" training from the Pinochet regime. Bishop and the New Jewel Movement retaliated by developing links with Fidel Castro and his Marxist government in Cuba.

Gairy's state of mind also raised concerns. In October 1977 Gairy addressed the General Assembly of the United Nations. During his speech he urged the UN to establish an Agency for Psychic Research into Unidentified Flying Objects and the Bermuda Triangle. He also called for 1978 to be established as "The Year of the UFO".

In 1979 a rumour began circulating that Gairy planned to use his "Mongoose Gang" to assassinate leaders of the New Jewel Movement while he was out of the country. On 13th March 1979, the NJM took over the nation's radio station. With the support of the people the NJM was able to take control of the rest of the country.

Influenced by the ideas of Marxists such as Fidel Castro, Che Guevara and Daniel Ortega, Maurice Bishop began establishing Workers' Councils in Grenada. He received aid from the Soviet Union and Cuba and with this money constructed a aircraft runway to improve tourism.

Bishop attempted to develop a good relationship with the United States and allowed private enterprise to continue on the island. Coard, the Minister of Finance, disagreed with this policy. He also disliked Bishop's ideas on grassroots democracy. On 19th October, with the support of the army, Coard overthrew the government. Maurice Bishop and most of his ministers were arrested and executed.

President Ronald Reagan, who had been highly critical of Bishop's government, took this opportunity to intervene and sent in the United States Marines. The initial assault on 25th October, 1983, consisted of some 1,200 troops, and they were met by stiff resistance from the Grenadian army. Heavy fighting continued for several days, but as the invasion force grew to more than 7,000, the defenders either surrendered or fled into the mountains.

Bernard Coard, along with Phyllis Coard, Selwyn Strachan, John Ventour, Liam James and Keith Roberts, were arrested on 31st October 1983. The leaders of the coup were put on trial in August 1986. Along with 13 others, Board was sentenced to death. This sentence was commuted to life-imprisonment in 1991.

His wife, Phyllis Coard, was also sentenced to life-imprisonment. While in prison Bernard Coard has developed a programme of education for the 300 inmates of Richmond Hill Prison.


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