We Need More Black History In The School Curriculum

Teacher Nikki Onafuye, 24, believes the next stage of the Black Lives Matter protests has to be making the syllabus more representative.

Black Lives Matter protest

by Nikki Onafuye |
Updated on

Last week, Harry and Meghan Markle called out the Commonwealth, saying it ‘must acknowledge the past’. Harry, whose grandmother is head of the Commonwealth, said, ‘It’s not going to be comfortable, but it needs to be done,’ saying that institutional racism still exists ‘because someone, somewhere, is benefiting from it’.

They’re right; the Commonwealth has a past mired in colonialism and slavery. I hope their words encourage the Government to review the national curriculum and make the teaching of Black history mandatory in schools, because there’s a gaping hole in the syllabus where these topics should have been taught.

When I was at school, as a Black British girl, I couldn’t see myself in the history books; none of my ancestors were there and our stories weren’t told. The syllabus was full of the Battle of Hastings and the world wars. All I remember seeing were white statues and white soldiers. I didn’t know anything about slavery, Black history or the Windrush generation. I didn’t learn about a lot of these things until university, which made me feel ashamed not to know about my own background.

It even made me wonder how British I was. I thought, how important can my culture be if it wasn’t even taught in schools? Now, as a teacher at a sixth form college in London, I notice how students tend to hang around with people who look like them and socialise with people from similar backgrounds. This could be a result of us not knowing enough about the people who don’t look like us. It’s a shame, as equality is about understanding each other and being able to integrate.

I’ve had to show my classes magazines with only white people on the covers.

As a digital publishing teacher, I’ve had to show my classes magazines with only white people on the covers. That’s made me feel uncomfortable and I’ve tried to diversify that as much as I can.

It’s great to see a number of initiatives calling on the Government to help dismantle systematic racism by amending the school curriculums. The Black Curriculum is one of the main groups hoping to see a change. They want Black history embedded in the syllabus to help Black pupils feel more represented. We need to see these changes and show students that talking about race is a positive thing.

Channel 4 show The School That Tried To End Racism has been brilliant when it comes to highlighting how important education is. At one point, students visit a museum with only one prominent Black ancestor on display. It shows how inaccurate our representation of history has been. In a panel discussion, Dr Nicola Rollock, an academic and racial injustice leader who appeared on the show, said, ‘What we’re doing in this documentary is providing a platform for them to talk about their experiences. It’s something we should be doing, we should be encouraging schools and children to talk about their experiences much more freely.’

In the programme, you could see the positive effect these conversations were having on the students: the more they seemed to understand each other’s backgrounds the more they came together. Now, I am more aware than ever of the mix of cultures in my classroom and I’ll be trying to integrate different stories into the content I teach.

Last week, the committee that oversees parliamentary petitions rejected the Government’s reply to the petition to teach colonial history, saying it did not address the point. The fight goes on. History hasn’t been taught properly up until now, but I’m excited to see Black history treated as the important topic it is in the future, and hope it helps us all understand each other more.

Click through to see anti-racism charities you can support in the US and the UK...


Charities To Support - Grazia

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Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust

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Peace and Healing for Darnella Fund

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Justice for Jacob Blake Fund

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Milwaukee Freedom Fund

MFF was started by Black and Brown Milwaukee organizers to support residents' right to protest for justice. Donations help support their work helping protesters and community mutual aid and start a locally controlled and operated Milwaukee Bail Out Fund that is part of the National Bail Out Network. Through this work they will build on ongoing bail abolition efforts, support immigration efforts, work towards Black and Brown Liberation and support Black and Brown young people as they build a new world.

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George Floyd Memorial Fund

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Minnesota Freedom Fund

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Prison Reform Trust

Prison Reform Trust works to make the prison system in the UK just, humane and effective.

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Joint Council For The Welfare Of Immigrants

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Access UK

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Charity So White

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Black Thrive

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The Ubele Initiative

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Women In Prison

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Race On The Agenda (ROTA)

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Show Racism The Red Card

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The Equality Trust

Works to improve the quality of life in the UK by reducing economic and social inequality.

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Stop Hate UK

A service for victims of racial harassment aiming to end hate crimes in the UK.

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Generates intelligence to challenge race inequality in Britain through research, network building, leading debate, and policy engagement.

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National Bail Out

This US charity is a Black-led and Black-centered collective of abolitionist organizers, lawyers and activists building a community-based movement to support our folks and end systems of pretrial detention and ultimately mass incarceration.

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Black Lives Matter

This US organisation (for which there is a UK movement here) fights to end state-sanctioned violence, liberate Black people, and end white supremacy forever.

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Ahmaud Arbery Memorial Fund

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Belly Mujinga Memorial Fund

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