Written by Helen Maule
As we will all be aware of by now, in the past few months there has been a great deal of media attention on the Black Lives Matter movement with the murder of George Floyd working as a catalyst. George Floyd’s murder hit the world differently because not only was it during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic – a
pandemic that has disproportionately affected people of colour adding another block precariously to the Jenga tower of issues that effect the lives of black people daily – but it was also seen by the world.
Immediately following the murder of George Floyd, I began to hear polarising opinions regarding police brutality with a surprising number of people thinking it was strictly an American issue, something that I know to be factually incorrect. I began to see people opposing and trying to silence statements of ‘Black Lives Matter’ by countering ‘All Lives Matter’ at which point it became clear there was something missing in their fundamental understanding of why black people feel they need to say their lives matter.
I am a black woman of mixed heritage, born in the UK to West Indian immigrant parents of the Windrush generation. I have been through the British education system and was never taught anything that reflected my history or felt relevant to me. However, I was fortunate enough to have parents and grandparents that educated me on my history and emphasised the importance of educating oneself. I have worked with young people for over a decade both in the UK and in the US and I currently work in a secondary school in East London. While working in the US and spending a lot of time over there with friends and family, it became apparent certain education was lacking on their side also. For example, I’ve had people in the States refer to me as African American. I’m not. I realised they were using the term to refer to anyone black. I’ve had black people in America tell me they didn’t know they had black people in England and another admit they didn’t know that (some of the) black people in England were also descendants of slaves.
The more I thought about the issues surrounding the Black Lives Matter movement and wider issues of race, and how people react to those issues, I kept coming back to education. Ignorance is a major issue. Not necessarily wilful ignorance, but ignorance in the fact that there are big chunks of knowledge missing from curriculum. If people think what they learn in school is the sum total of history then they’re likely to remain ignorant to facts that continue to effect the lives of black people to this day, thus not truly understanding why black people feel they have to remind people their lives matter too. Posting a black square on social media is great but what does it change? It’s a pointless act if there is no follow through. So I started writing a PowerPoint presentation to explain to my students why the BLM protests were happening, but as I tried to explain I found I couldn’t fully explain if there were gaps in their historic knowledge of black people. You can’t fully comprehend BLM as a movement if you don’t know what colonialism is, what slavery really entailed, what the civil rights movement was fighting for, what white supremacy is etc. These are things that need to be understood to truly understand the domino effect that has led to black people having to say their lives matter.
Anyone who knows me knows my stance on these matters is generally “it’s not my job to educate grown people on my history. It’s not my job to educate grown people on the history of black people. Let them crack a book and do the work.” Then I thought that’s part of the problem. I complain about people being ignorant of certain information but refuse to be willing to teach. I have no issue teaching kids but for some reason when it comes to adults I’m a bit like “Why should I?” So what started as a short PowerPoint presentation grew and after several people expressed interest in using the presentation within their school or organisation, I decided to split it into sections and share it as a free learning resource for all.
Is it an exhaustive account of these topics? No. Not even close. It’s intended as a jumping off point, providing a foundation which can be built on with further independent reading and research, or to encourage discussion and debate. It’s not intended as a standalone resource on ‘Black History’ because contrary to popular belief the history of the African diaspora isn’t just slavery, civil rights and struggles. I just wanted to do something practical regarding an issue that can sometimes make us feel helpless.
Find the free learning resource ‘Out of Many, One People’ here