What is Black History Month UK?
Black History Month UK is an annual celebration that takes place every October. It serves as a time to reflect on the rich and diverse contributions that Black people have made to British society throughout history. During this month, events, exhibitions, workshops, and discussions are organised to educate the public about the experiences, achievements, and struggles of Black communities in the UK.
This year’s theme is Saluting Our Sisters. This raises awareness of the systemic challenges facing black women and celebrates the achievements of women of colour.
We caught up with Elevate expert Bianca Jones, Managing Director of Empower Develop People (EDP) training. Bianca provides Race Aware and Race Ahead training courses through Elevate. These are a three hour or full day training on race awareness and allyship. Bianca gave us her thoughts on why it’s so important for businesses to get involved with Black History Month UK.
Why do we need Black History Month?
Recognition and Representation
“Black History Month UK plays a crucial role in recognising the contributions and achievements of Black individuals and communities. It highlights the often overlooked or forgotten history of Black Britons, helping to fill gaps in our collective understanding.”
Education and Awareness
“Many people remain unaware of the significant historical events and figures from Black history. Black History Month provides an opportunity to educate the wider population about the diverse experiences and struggles of Black people, fostering greater empathy, understanding, and unity.”
Combatting Racism and Prejudice
“In a world where racial discrimination and prejudice still persist, Black History Month helps challenge stereotypes and dispel myths about Black communities. It encourages open discussions about racism and inequality, promoting a more inclusive and equal society.”
“Black History Month serves as a source of inspiration for young Black individuals. By highlighting the achievements of Black role models in various fields, it encourages young people to pursue their dreams and believe in their potential.”
Promoting Cultural Exchange
“It provides an opportunity for cultural exchange and appreciation, as people from all backgrounds come together to learn about and celebrate Black culture through music, art, literature, and more.”
How can UK businesses mark Black History Month?
Bianca’s driving belief is that “nobody should get hurt in the workplace because of the colour of their skin.” That’s why she created the Race Aware and Race Ahead courses, even before businesses really wanted to hear about them.
Start the conversation
“We can’t fix anything we’re not comfortable talking about. And a lot of people are uncomfortable talking about this topic. Black History Month can be used as a catalyst – a tool to stop the silence.”
It might feel hard to mark Black History Month if you haven’t previously looked at the issue of race within your organisation. But those initial conversations pave the way for future action to “create inclusive spaces where everyone can grow and thrive.” Start with a celebration and then think about how you can use that to dig into those deeper conversations.
Conversations and events shouldn’t just involve people of colour. And you should never call on only black colleagues to speak or run focus groups. Especially if they don’t feel comfortable doing it. “People of colour didn’t create this issue and – at 18% of the UK population – they’re not going to be able to achieve the systemic change we need alone! We need our white British allies to learn about the issues and for everyone to work together to make progress.”
Commit to action long term
“Celebrating Black History Month can be the start of your commitment, a celebration of how far you’ve come, or an open assessment of what you have yet to achieve. Just don’t let it be the only thing you do.”
“Ask yourself how you can continue your commitment throughout the year. It’s great that you’ve done something in October, but what will you be doing in November, December and each month after?” Bianca’s clear that this doesn’t have to involve costly projects or commitments. “Something as simple as a newsletter celebrating black women who’ve contributed to your industry can start the conversation, raise the visibility of black women and challenge stereotypes.”
Make sure you get steering from experienced people outside your organisation, to avoid any unintended consequences. However, for Bianca, “the biggest test of whether your plans are going to hit the right tone is, what follow up have you got? If you’re raising awareness – fine. But ask yourself what you’re doing to make systemic change for people of colour in your team, company or industry. That’s when you know what you’re doing is effective.”
If you’d like guidance to start the conversation about race in your workplace or to find out more about booking Race Ahead and Race Aware courses, please get in touch.
At the Race Ahead course you’ll come away with an action plan and statement of intent. They’re the product of a day’s learning about racial literacy, systemic racism, microaggressions and allyship.