For some, October is a month of ghouls, pumpkins and spurious sexy cat outfits. For others, it’s something more significant. Black History Month - a four week window through which to examine Britain’s racial skeletons.
The period offers a brief hiatus from an overarching white narrative where we hear stories from our ancestors, and understandably, they’re not always that positive.
Colonial history is violent, unfair and badly taught. British school kids spend a few scattered hours across their schooling learning about PoC. Maybe they’ll hear a bit about slavery before going back to studying Elizabeth I for the fifth time, but very rarely will the syllabus mention how complicit the British government were in the crimes committed against black people.
If the UK really respected its BAME communities, Black History Month would be obsolete because our history would be seamlessly woven into the British curriculum. But as it is, BHM is an absolutely crucial space. For many of us, Black History Month represents that kind of chicken soup for the soul because it’s been the only opportunity for seeing any kind of representation. It’s just a shame that there isn’t more space in it Black-white biracial narratives during the month.
BHM doesn’t always feel like a welcoming space for biracial people; many of us are afraid of taking up important space that should be reserved for stories and histories that address the experiences of people who didn’t have any say over their identities. But by disallowing biracial narratives to form part of BHM’s conversation, our Black ancestors - their stories and their struggles - will be also be forgotten.
Mixed race people and interracial couples have played a vital role in Britain’s Black history. When sailors docked at Liverpool and Bristol at the end of the 19th century, they planted seeds in Anglo Saxon soil. What resulted was swaithes of ‘black’ mixed race people who have continued to blend - creating huge multiracial, trans-generational communities.
Mixed race history is Black British history.
I can’t pretend that I’ve experienced the same things as those with darker skin; to do so would erase the struggles of my own ancestors. But Black History Month is both a sacred space for Black experience and political Blackness. It’s about sharing the stories of the diaspora as racial outsiders. It’s about holding the establishment responsible for its past and current racial misdemeanours against people it colonised and then decided it no longer wanted.
Being a biracial Brit involves a lifelong struggle to straddle two worlds; we’re ethnic minorities who are also part of the racial majority
My grandfather came to the UK from Ghana in the 40s to study law at Durham University. When wartime hit, he set about providing lodging and support for Black servicemen who were being turned away from white boarding houses. Following his graduation from the bar, he went back to the Gold Coast to practice law. His history is Black British history. He came here as a product of colonisation, played an instrumental role in supporting the powerhouse war effort that came from African and Caribbean soldiers and after cutting his teeth in the Royal Courts of Justice here, went back to Ghana. His British wife (my grandmother) followed him. The British contingent of his family may have gotten lighter but this is still our history, and it occupies a grey space because the only people who are still alive and living with the ramifications of that journey.
Being a biracial Brit involves a lifelong struggle to straddle two worlds; we’re ethnic minorities who are also part of the racial majority. And it’s a unique struggle that doesn’t exist anywhere else because this island’s colonial and immigration history is unique. We don’t have the poisonous roots of slavery that they have in the USA, which turns every non-white person ‘Black’, for example. Brit-ish mixed race communities have more agency over how they identity - with arguably more of us stating our dual heritages as a matter of fact.
My dad used to drag me to BHM events when I was at school. It was an opportunity to spend time with him and talk about our heritage. Today, we've just started hanging out and talking about race and roots again - this time, in a multiracial capacity (check out the Halu Halo project!). He was my lynchpin to feeling accepted in many black safe spaces; I didn't feel like I was taking up room because my passport to blackness was right there. Without him, is my voice valid in the conversations about things like institutionalised racism when I'm afforded so much lightskin privilege? Those of us who are racially ambiguous have woken up to the fact that can play a (albeit unintentional) role in colourism within the Black community, and steering clear of Black spaces is a misguided attempt to put that right.
If biracial people aren’t welcomed in Black History Month, their Black ancestors - their stories and their struggles, will be forgotten. As mixed race people, we can’t hope to have access to all Black spaces, and we have to recognise issues such as colourism. But, our history is Black British history too, and we shouldn’t be afraid to take up space to share those stories this month.
This article has been edited to correct a factual inaccuracy.