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'Why black history month is still so important'

FAMILIAR FACE: Malcolm X often features in Black History Month celebrations on both sides of the Atlantic

BLACK HISTORYMonth (BHM) in Britain turns 25-years-old this year. It has come a long way since celebrations were first launched under Ken Livingstone's Greater London Council (GLC) alongside activist Akyaaba Addai-Sebo in October 1987.

In the US, Black History Month is observed in February - the month founder Carter Godwin Woodson first marked ‘Negro History Week’ 86 years ago to coincide with the birthdays of President Abraham Lincoln and abolitionist Frederick Douglass. In Britain, however, October was chosen to fit with the start of the academic year.

There is a desperate need to harmonise BHM across the world. I've always thought it to be a source of division that Britons mark an important event at a different time, especially if we are to recognise the African Diaspora across the world.

Some moan that BHM is no longer relevant to their lives with its focus on icons like Malcolm X and Mary Seacole.But Africa has always had a rich tradition of Griots who passed on knowledge through the generations.

We must strive to keep these traditions alive in order to counter centuries of reverse psychology that has led us to believe the all-great civilisations were Caucasian.

History helps us turn the tables on our indoctrinated thinking. For me, the essence of Black history is empowerment; exposing the truth of the hidden and offering a prism through which we can see our journey and present-day condition.

It is important to remind us that we were, and still are, a deeply spiritual people intimately connected to our ancestors, to the earth and the stars. The light of our history shrivels racism and reminds us that all nations can live and compete equally, free from deep-seated notions of superiority and inferiority.


Contrary to Biblical images of white, blond people typified by Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel, many pre-Renaissance paintings from places like Russia depict characters who are unmistakably black. Indeed, Russia had a thriving black nobility during the 14th and 16th Centuries.

Black families in France were the cream of society in the Middle Ages, and wealthy Moors prospered in Spain and Italy. Knowledge of geometry, astronomy and spiritual customs we assume to be Western are, in fact, 'borrowed' from ancient Black civilisations. The calendar, for example, can be traced to Egypt as far back as 4800BC.

ANCIENT CIVILISATION: History points to a thriving Nubian society in Mexico at the same time as the Pharaohs ruled Egypt

Author Dr Runoko Rashidi has traced great African societies of China, Japan, Indonesia, Cambodia and across the Far East. He argues that most have disappeared, or been wiped out, but their statues and temples have survived.

Rudoko claims the Spanish Moors, originally from Africa, have been downplayed in history because they were black and also because they were Muslim despite their prominence in the 8th Century.

The importance of this cannot be underestimated. It is a statement that our story did not begin with enslavement. Neither did it begin with the ancient Egyptians of Kemet. Nor did it begin with the Benin peoples who fashioned the bronzes around 1,000 AD, or the 15th Century mosques of Mali, but goes back much further.
Bristol University built a reconstruction of the first European from 40,000-year-old bone fragments to reveal a man with ‘negroid’ features.

And a recent study by the University of Manchester uncovered new evidence that Kemetic ruler Imhotep, from the 27th Century BC, oversaw a civilisation who were masters at medicine.

Contrary to Darwinian myths linking ancient Africans to monkeys - racist theories that underpinned slavery and the missionaries - history teaches us that the Twa, African's first civilisation, dates back almost 150,000 years.

An advanced agrarian society who were masters at astrology, the Twa respected women as queens and had collective decision-making systems that puts our modern-day democracy to shame.

And when the great Pharaohs ruled the Nile there is some evidence of an equally developed Nubian society in Mexico, called the Olmec, who also built pyramids and heavily influenced the later Mayans.

In addition to such chapters, BHM is a reminder that we were not just 'there' in Africa, but also 'here' in the West longer than we imagine. And we were also in the East, in Australia, and in the Americas long before the white man got there.

Beyond inventing traffic lights, African peoples set the very foundations for architecture, education and medicine that we take for granted today. Our DNA holds the memory of past customs, a deep spirituality, music and creativity.

We've got so much further to go that Black History Month, all year round, has only just begun.

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