Black History Month (BHM) is the yearly marking of achievements, solidarity and celebration of the African diaspora. This month’s BHM celebration, which originated in the US, observed in Canada and more recently Ireland and the UK, continues to serve as a bridge and a way to acknowledge, celebrate and amplify past and present achievements, overcoming trials and illuminating triumphs across the diaspora.
This annual celebration has shifted and grown with the generations and societies it has been observed in: From its creation in 1926 as Negro History Week (USA) during segregation to Black History Month in the 1960s that saw the emergence of the Black Power movement (USA) was acknowledged and celebrated to the late 1900s where this protected timeframe became known as African American history month by our African diaspora cousins in America. Although slightly different to BHM, the UK Black Caribbean experience concerning the celebration of Black communities, from my perspective, contains prominent memories of celebration via the Notting Hill Carnival (created in 1966 by Claudia Jones).
I would take part in this as a child and young person with my family, this event spanning the UK Bank Holiday weekend provided a space for Caribbean African Diaspora celebration, solidarity, including reverence for Moko Jumbie (the ancestral guardians of those from the Caribbean African diaspora, an event where many in the UK Black and Caribbean communities come together in solidarity and celebration), I have many fond childhood memories of this.
The Golden Threads that connect and interlink these two important events are solidarity, and celebration.
2020 saw the pandemic impact across the world, the murder of George Floyd and the rise of the Black Lives Matters (BLM) movement saw the international community unite in the face of deep injustice. Many like myself who exist within the intersections, experienced a new range off challenges and awakenings that spoke to what Paul Gilroy explores within his works which cover the re-examining of the terrain of race, identity, the challenges that endure, Black history and 21st century politics and more; 2021 was where the metabolised societal and personal changes that were integrated and have allowed me to hold space unapologetically as a third generation West Indian, neurodivergent, woman, professional of the African diaspora.
Discourse around bringing one’s whole self to work has emerged, steps towards this are positive and welcomed however more scaffolds are required to facilitate spending less or even better, no time in what W.E.B Du Bois described as double consciousness (and my triple consciousness from an additional neurodivergent perspective) straddling the above whilst also carrying out my role/s as an Equalities Designer Researcher and consultant. This can prove tiring at times and as a result, further integration of cross sector fully embedded work based inclusive and accessible offerings are welcomed. Over the past 18 months and more I have advocated for an embracing of the complexities across the axis of race, age, ability, gender and nationality; in 2021 as Black History Month arrives, I believe now is the time to celebrate the complexities and by that I mean celebrating all triumphs large, small and the elements in between, formal and informal.
I have been working within my fields for some years, spanning special/adaptive educational needs (SEN), research and Equalities Design, traversing sectors and transdisciplinary spaces (online and on the ground) prior and during the pandemic (special measures) and currently as we collectively emerge from the pandemic, new methods of working such as hybrid approaches, greater flexibility, inclusion and access underpinned by movements such as #we shall not be removed, #BlackLivesMatter and more, have resulted in my actively holding space being less of a full time activity as there are fewer barriers due to the illumination of the challenges by the stated movements leaving more time to focus on the role/s and attributed duties in work settings. BHM invites us all to actively acknowledge and celebrate those who broke ground, those who came before us such as W.E.B Du Bois, Toni Morrison, Paul Gilroy, Bernie Grant, Professor Stuart Hall as well as celebrate our champions closer to home such as members of our familial networks, friends and colleagues; I am personally thankful for the familial, friendship networks I am gently held within during the day, and after logging off, they are acknowledged and celebrated during BHM and beyond; the Black Lives Matter movement illuminated that much has been endured BHM allows us to underscore that Black people are not a monolith and we are more than our pain.
What’s next? Spending time with those nearest and dearest, giving thanks to the ancestors, celebrating our bonds, interconnections and sharing Black History Month with the wider world. I do believe that Black History is more than a month, the natural next step would be weaving this into day to day life, listening to podcast’s about the Black British experience is a good start, for building longer term bridges of understanding, embedding this via school curriculum’s is also a positive step and something Wales is about to do, becoming the first within the British isles to make Black, Asian and minority ethnic histories and experiences mandatory in the school curriculum. This demonstrates Black History and the history of those who belong to marginalised groups can not only be celebrated by all for a short time, this can also be integrated into our day to day lives – formally and informally, a way to actively embrace the multicultural society that we are all a part of.
What will you do to observe Black History Month for yourself, loved ones, colleagues and friends this year?
Natasha Trotman is an Equalities Designer and Researcher whose practice explores extending the frontiers of knowledge around mental difference, which includes non-typical ways of being, marginalised experiences in addition to also reframing mainstream notions of equality, equity, diversity, and inclusion. This is done via an intersectional design lens; involving the forming of physical interactions through investigative play and policy design. A Fellow of the Royal Society of the Arts, member of the Chartered Society of Designers, member of the Institute of Equality, Diversity Practitioners (MIEDP) as well as an active committee member of the Royal Society of Arts Decolonizing Design Coalition. Natasha is currently, an artist in residence at Somerset House’s studio 48, consultant for Wellcome, sitting on the WCIT Advisory panel and a Design Expert specialist for the Design Council. Natasha has been selected as a 10×10 emerging Artist by the British council and Named on the Shaw Trust Powerlist Top 100 Influential Disabled People 2019 & 2020.