Restoring black history to its place

Black History Month provides us with the opportunity to celebrate the achievements of the black community in the UK. Hopefully one day we will celebrate them all year round, writes Dawn Butler MP

This month is the 30th anniversary of Black History Month in the United Kingdom.

October is traditionally used to celebrate the remarkable achievements of the black community in the UK, who are often underappreciated. Ideally I would like to see black history incorporated into the history books, so that it is taught daily. Without a doubt black history has been partially written out of history and replaced with the incomplete story of slavery.

I am pleased that schools, universities and workplaces across the country take part in highlighting the positive contribution of black men and women in this country. It makes an enormous and fundamental difference to have your history told in a positive way.

Every achievement should be celebrated, the unsung heroes, people who achieved the same as those who are recognised and celebrated. Or those who were denied an education or certificate but were extremely talented in various fields. I was very pleased to be present at the unveiling of a statue of Mary Seacole which was erected last year outside St Thomas’ Hospital in London, making her the first named black woman to have a statue in the UK.

Seacole was born in Jamaica but came to England and made a massive contribution, looking after wounded soldiers. Seacole was ahead of her time, yet some complain that she was not qualified, failing to accept that it was racism not her skill that stopped her from acquiring a nursing certificate.

History is full of similarly great contributions and we must do more to ensure these stories are heard, particularly in schools. We all know the historic disadvantage which black people have faced in this country, a problem which continues today.

Progress has been made; I was proud to be the first ever black female government minister to speak in the House of Commons and I am pleased that following the general election in June parliament is the most diverse it has ever been. Yet more progress must be made.

That is why I am supporting the Bernie Grant Initiative, named after another hugely important black figure Bernie Grant, to increase the number of black and minority ethnic people in elected positions in the UK. We must ensure that these communities have a strong voice within the Labour party.

I passionately support increasing diversity on boards. After all according to the Sir John Parker Review, only 1.5 per cent of directors in FTSE100 boardrooms are UK citizens from a minority background.

The Baroness McGregor-Smith Review found that people from black and minority ethnic backgrounds are being held back in the workplace and the Lammy Review exposed the extent of racial bias in our criminal justice system. Report after report in the past has continued to highlight disadvantages faced by many communities.

I have set up the Westminster Black Caucus to raise awareness for issues facing our diverse communities, and to bring parliamentarians and global leaders together in pursuit of the advancement of people of colour. We will provide a strong and much-needed voice for those who often feel ignored or unrepresented.

After all it is this diversity in our society that allows us to view the world through different lenses. The more diverse our boardrooms, government and positions of leadership become, the more knowledge it will bring to the table to shape a better fairer society.

I have made no secret of the fact that eventually I want Black History Month to end. Not because I do not want to celebrate our achievements, but I want to get to a place where it is not needed. We need to live in a society where everybody’s achievements are recognised no matter what your race, colour, disability or any other characteristic – and it should be celebrated all year round. That should be our ultimate aim.

Our country is at its best when we do not shy away from uncomfortable truths and that each and every person has the opportunity to fulfil their full potential.

But in the meantime I recognise the great importance of this occasion and I hope others will join me in celebrating Black History Month.

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Dawn Butler is shadow secretary of state for women and equalities. She tweets at @DawnButlerBrent

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