It’s October, which is Black History Month in Scotland. Black History Month is a concept that started in the United States with the African American scholar Dr Carter G Woodson who pointed out the lack of education about Black American history and culture. Since the history and culture here in the UK differs from that in the US, this created the need to adapt the concept that emerged across the pond. The first Scottish Black History Month was celebrated in October 2001 and aimed to capture the history of African, Caribbean, and Asian people living in Scotland, some of whom are linked to Scottish history through slave trade and colonialism, others through migration.
Black History Month is a month during which we are invited to sit with the uncomfortable history and its impacts on today and elevate the voices of those who have been silenced for too long. This month is meant to celebrate the history that is mostly omitted from educational materials. It’s also an opportunity to shed light on the ongoing issues minorities face: Systematic injustice, racism, and discrimination that intersects in various different constellations.
Where are we now?
Remember the hopeful sentiment of spring 2020? When people around the world gathered to protest systematic discrimination, racism, and police brutality after George Floyd’s death, who was killed by the US police – a killing that was captured in a viral video that shocked the world. Where are we two years later?
Have we grown tired of being (labelled as) “justice warriors”? Has the word “woke” lost its appeal by its association with cancel culture, performative activism, and hypocritical virtue signalling? Will being “woke” go out of fashion as a result?
In an Edinburgh Futures Institute organised conversation titled after their book “His Name is George Floyd”, authors and journalists Robert Samuels and Toluse Olorunnipa talked with Shola Mos-Shogbamimu about (among many other things, highly recommend you give it a listen) the rise of “anti-wokism” and the shifting of the momentum we saw in spring of 2020 during the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement.
Olorunnipa talks about his observation regarding the backlash the BLM movement received: “When there’s progress, something triggers change, and people get excited and animated. And then people who are not happy with all this change start to create a backlash, they start to push back on the progress, and say ‘this is all happening too fast’, ‘this is all too much change’, ‘maybe the status quo wasn’t so bad to begin with’, ‘do we really want to open the door to all this change so quickly?’.”
The real danger seems to lie in not challenging this backlash and losing the momentum of what started as a hopeful and promising movement in the US as well as here in the UK. Olorunnipa adds that now is the time to re-strategize: “This is not a clean story. There is no hero in this story. It is not a story of complete redemption. It is not a story of a country or the world coming together. […] A lot of the time change does not happen as a straight line. Sometimes you take two steps forward, and you have to take one step back and regroup”.
It might have been naïve to expect the spring of 2020 to absolve us from all injustices. One thing the BLM movement surely did was raise awareness about ongoing issues, especially among those who are lucky enough to not have to experience them first-hand. It will be interesting to see the historic significance of this eventful spring and the chain reactions it has caused and will continue to cause. But in order for that to happen, the momentum cannot be completely lost.
Happy Black History Month everyone.