Whilst the powerful contributions of the Civil Rights and Black Power movements, and of figures like Malcolm X, Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King should be remembered and celebrated, only highlighting these ignores the rich history of struggle and success by Black people all over the world, from long before even the existence of the United States. It ignores that Black History is World History, and should be recognised as such.
On every continent Black people have made unparalleled contributions to civilisation in science, language, maths, politics and culture – and Black people today can learn and draw from all of these experiences and histories.
That’s why this year the NUS BSC Black History Month is focusing on ‘Celebrating Black History in Britain’, to highlight the movements and figures which have directly shaped our experiences as Black people in the UK through organising and resistance.
For UK groups active from the mid-20th Century, self-reliance remained core - with communities organising in defence of their people: from the police, immigration services, discrimination in the workplace and white nationalist groups determined to oppress them.
Services and programmes were also developed to cater to Black people and their specific needs in Britain which were otherwise being neglected by the state.
With many Black communities in Britain formed of recent migrants, and against the backdrop of widespread anti-colonial movements in the Global South, there was also a strong, vocal support for movements for the liberation of Black people worldwide, from what for many was the heartland of empire: ‘Great Britain’.
Black resistance in Britain took a variety of forms, running the spectrum from political organisations, to welfare associations, to cultural celebrations like the Notting Hill Carnival and Black music subcultures, and Black media outlets like The Voice newspaper.
From the British Black Panther Movement, to OWAAD (Organisation for Women of Asian and African Descent), Southall Black Sisters, the United Black Youth League, the Asian Youth Movements, the Kashmiri, Bangladeshi, Pakistani and Indian Workers Associations and much more, there is a strong legacy of Black organisation which can be found woven into the fabric of most major cities in Britain.
Many organised under the label of political Blackness, to reflect shared experiences of marginalisation and racist oppression from the state by African and Asian-descended people, and to build solidarity between groups.
Instead of pandering to politicians or begging for concessions from the state, these groups took direct action to force Black issues on the agenda and create spaces for self-empowerment, whilst also influencing government policy in the process.
2015 marks 50 years since the passing of the Race Relations Act: the first of a series of Acts that sought to outlaw racial discrimination in Britain.
It also marks 30 years since a wave of uprisings in urban centres (including Handsworth in Birmingham and Brixton in London), in response to acts of police brutality. This brought issues of police violence and racism that had long plagued Black communities, to the forefront of the national consciousness.
The significance of Black history in the UK should never be overlooked, and the sacrifices of Black communities here can never be forgotten.
Our long battle for a better world and our belief in equality should always be remembered and celebrated – reviving the legacy of those that came before us, learning from their experiences, and carrying forward that spirit of Black resistance is the best way we can do so; we truly stand on the shoulders of giants.
"A lot of stories were lost, so I think it is really important that those stories are told and told again so that they do become part of our sense of historical self."
- Stella Dadzie, co-founder OWAAD (Organisation for Women of Asian and African Descent)