What is Black History Month? And when is it celebrated?
Black history month began as a way of appreciating important events and people in the history of the black race. Black History Month is usually celebrated in October in the UK and Ireland, whilst celebrated in February in Canada and the United States. The event was formally acknowledged in 1976 by the US government, and celebrated in the UK for the first time in 1987.
Why is it so important?
Black history month is an opportunity to understand the achievements of Africans and Caribbeans over the centuries. It allows us to comprehend their value, which is often ignored or overlooked. More crucially, the importance of the Windrush generation has recently been acknowledged as well as the Black Lives Matter movement, particularly since the death of George Floyd on May 25 2020.
How is it celebrated at Queen Mary?
One thing that is highly valued at Queen Mary is diversity. It is a university that opens the doors of opportunity to anyone who has the potential to succeed. At Queen Mary, we host a number of events, initiatives as well as communications throughout the month to celebrate the achievements of black people in the UK as well as around the world.
According to The Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide, “More than three quarters of students [at Queen Mary] are from Black and minority ethnic backgrounds (only four UK universities have a higher proportion) and the Black achievement gap is among the narrowest, and therefore the best, in the country.”
One of the virtual events held this year to celebrate Black History Month is the Speaker Series, held during lunchtime weekly slots. In the second webinar, Dr Fiona Bartels-Ellis (the Head of Equal Opportunity and Diversity at the British Council, and was also awarded an OBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours for her equality and diversity work in June 2005) joins Shara Ali, organised by Understanding and Celebrating Race Equality Working Groups. The discussion consists of speaking on Institutional Racism, and whether it is a myth or reality. One of the main points highlighted by Fiona was the struggle to steer conversations of minority ethnic people away from stereotypes, and away from unconscious bias. This comes due to the existing preconceptions of Black people that we struggle to abolish as well as the recurring reality that ethnic minorities face. Discussions like this at Queen Mary not only gives us more of an insight to institutional racism, but it also allows us to delve into the main problems of institutional racism, as well as how we can tackle existing stereotypes and eliminate them altogether.