“…the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination…”
“….Those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening…”
“….The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation…..”
If I told you that the above battle cry was uttered in the 1960’s by a black American civil rights leader whose name began with a ‘M’ it would be an easy guess to whom I was referring to, right? After all, he was well known for his radical and often confrontational speeches. So, if you guessed Malcolm X, you’d be wrong.
Those were, in fact, the words of Martin Luther King and more shockingly these words came from his famous ‘I have a dream’ speech, and yet these words which form the tone of the majority of that speech are mostly unknown by the very masses MLK wished to inspire all those years ago. How this has been hidden from most of us is perhaps even more important than why. How have these words been hidden in plain sight from the vast majority of people? As we ‘celebrate’ Black history Month we must be mature enough to ask these questions, listen to the answers and act.
So, what was essentially a war cry had been effectively watered down to a rhetoric filled cry for racial harmony. We all know why. Tensions between black and whites had been rising for decades, and the size of the followers of leaders like MLK and MX, combined with their discipline and organisation meant that for the first time since the slave revolts, blacks in America were seen as a threat to the status quo. If this war cry were broadcast, recorded and replayed, the powers that be felt revolution would be the outcome. The ‘how’ is oddly far less complex, whites had total control of the media and to this day maintain an iron grip on taught history. You’ve heard the saying ‘the victor takes the spoils’? Well the victor also gets to write history as they see it, and if the victor also controls the news media, the newspapers and the publishing houses, guess what, history will reflect their viewpoint or simply the messages they choose.
Funnily enough, they’ve done it before. When I went to school, my history teachers told me and my fellow students that slavery was ended because of the benevolent actions of the likes of William Wilberforce. I was never told of the economic damage that constant revolts in Haiti and Jamaica did to the slave owners, forcing them to reconsider direct slavery as an effective economic model.
Control of the story of the abolition of slavery meant that for decades black youths (and white for that matter) were lied to and blacks meant to feel gratitude to a white system which a) should never have enslaved us in the first place, b) should never had kept us slavery for so long and c) should never have conned us into Slavery v2.0. Meanwhile, UK whites have felt pride that at least some whites forced the hand of slave owners and ended slavery against the odds.
Each year as October approaches you will see the inevitable discussions about the value of Black History Month. Why is it in October and not February to match the USA? Why just a month and not all year long? Why is there no White/Asian history month? And of course the far more developed question, which is, why not just teach world history? It’s this last question, which truly intrigues me. What is the true need for a Black History Month? In my view, there is really only one real reason, and that is because history has been so whitewashed that creating a polar opposite is seen by many as a first step in redressing this long-standing deception.
Make no mistake the whitewashing of history is the standard modus operandi of the British and their American offspring. This is not a crime specific only to African history. Read a British account of the split of India and the formation of Pakistan, and you’d be forgiven for thinking the Brits were merely innocent bystanders, rather than the key catalyst.
World history would by definition highlight the highs and lows of all races and their path through history. World history would tell of the glorious empires of Africa which reigned while much of Europe still lived in caves. World history would show that it was Africa that was the centre of learning of the world until it was attacked and plundered by the Europeans.
World history would help instil a true sense of identity in black youth struggling to fit into the world and understand their true worth. World history would highlight the debt owed to Africans by the rest of the world and put to bed the doubt surrounding the validity of the call for a global apology and the payment of reparations, not just for The Transatlantic Slave Trade, but also for Colonialism and yes, the creation of Racism which continues to oppress Africans worldwide.
So, whatever you do this Black History Month or the days and months to follow, never forget to consider the source of the information offered to you and the intent of those responsible for penning that information. Unite and Rule.
Paul Lawrence MA, is a founding member of the 100 Black Men of London, Trustee & Trainer of Urban Synergy, Author, Columnist for The Voice, Coach and philanthropist.