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Thoughts on Black History Month

With October being Black History Month, a member of our news team sat down with ACS and the Pan African Society

October marks Black History Month and QMUL is celebrating with a host of activities. This year, we’ve interviewed members of QueenMary Students’ Union African and Caribbean Society (ACS) and Pan-African Society, to find out what BHM means to them and their personal experiences.

We sat down with Jada, who is vice president of the ACS and is ethnically from Barbados, Ghana, St Kitts and Nevis. We also caught up with Rhoda, who is ethnically from Ghana and Tessa from Kenya, they are the President and Secretary of the Pan-African Society.

Is Black History Month important to you and why?

Jada: “Yeah 110%. Secondary education doesn’t expose us to a meaningful black history, we learn almost solely about the exploitation of black people; slavery and nothing else. BHM provides opportunities to explore events and figures that we have previously not had exposure to. Learning about Windrush was and still is an eye-opener and that’s why it’s important for figures
like Diane Abbott, to talk about the 70th anniversary of Windrush. I feel as if this is the first time QMUL is having full scale celebrations for BHM.”

Tessa: “It is important but it shouldn’t be the only celebration of blackness we have. I think it needs to be reclaimed, to present a
more dynamic history of black people, rather than an exclusive focus on slavery.”

Rhoda: “It’s really important for me too but I echo Tessa’s point, that it should focus less on slavery; black people exist outside of that narrative.”

Up until now, do you feel being black has held you back in anyway?

Jada: “Societies opinions of you pin you down, outside and within the black community. Everything is scrutinised, your hair, the
shade of your skin etc. Often in school, we were told that we could only have our hair in ‘certain styles’; an indirect way of criticising our braids. Hair and skin are highly politicised issues.”

Rhoda: “I don’t feel being black has held me back but external perceptions of blackness hold me back.”

Tessa: “I feel the same, constant criticism has led to a lot of black people internalising anti-black sentiment within them; we end up criticising our own normalities.”

Do you feel positive about life after uni (for jobs, internships etc)?

Jada: “I would like to pursue a career in law but the 1st female black barrister was only appointed a few years ago and that makes me apprehensive. There is already so much competition within the field, add your skin colour and all the perceptions that come along with it and it makes things a lot harder. I have reservations. I also question BME exclusive job schemes because am I being employed on my merits or just to fill a diversity quota.”

Tessa: “It’s hard to be positive; we can’t be oblivious to the setbacks we can face. I think I’m prepared, prepared for the setbacks… Although the motives behind BME schemes can be questionable, I see them as an opportunity. It’s a space I can fill to encourage other people.”

Rhoda: “I can’t go on believing that my skin colour won’t matter but as Tessa said, I feel motivated to occupy spaces and pave the
way for other people who hopefully will be employed on merit and won’t feel daunted about having to ‘work harder.’”

How do you feel about the representation of black culture in the media?

Jada: “They paint us as a collective, a bad collective. The unfairness seen in the judiciary system is reflected in the media’s language. For example, the back stories they tell in black criminal cases differ vastly from those of white criminals. The black stories capitalise on their negative aspects. White back stories tend to paint white criminals as things like ‘the family man’ and suggest that what they did was a one off , out of the ordinary. And that’s just one example.”

Tessa: “The British media is hard to navigate and there is a frequent use of negatively associated buzzwords; ‘gang’, ‘ghetto’ etc. I feel a responsibility to take these narratives and change them.”

Rhoda: “With the media comes power. We get reduced to a set of stereotypes that are implied to be a part of our innate nature.
Like Tessa, I feel a constant burden to fight against these stereotypes but even when we do that, we [black women], get labelled as aggressive, when we are trying to challenge the narratives that have been pinned to us.”

Is there a black figure that inspires you?

Jada: “There isn’t enough representation of a diverse range of black figures that we can identify with, so it’s hard to have a pivotal figure but I would have to say Leslie Palmer: the man behind the Notting Hill Carnival. He inspires me, he gave exposure and voice to the Caribbean culture and now the carnival is one of the biggest events of the year.”

Tessa: “I don’t want to seem clichéd but Beyoncé, she’s an all-round success. I’m driven by powerful women. I also want to mention director Ava DuVernay; I love her work because she’s dedicated to raising a positive black voice.”

Rhoda: “Malorie Blackman; she inspires me to write. Also Frantz Fanon; he’s especially pivotal, his explanations of the way we
perceive each other force you to decolonise your mind.”

Food you recommend we try?

Jada: “Try Jollof rice with Jerk Chicken; a great fusion of two black cultures.”

Rhoda: “Jollof rice, Puff puff and Curry Goat.”

Tessa: “I think you should try Kenyan chapatti and Mandazi.”


Find out more about the ACS and Pan-African society via their social media.

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