October is Black History Month for the UK, so this week we are taking a look at the importance of this month.
Black History Month is perhaps at its most prevalent since the 1960s. With a real breakdown in relations between African American communities and Police in the US and an increase in hate crimes here in the UK, it is important to reflect on meaning behind Black History Month.
So what is Black History Month?
Black History Month is a dedicated time which focuses on the people and events associated to Black History, in particular the communities around the world that have descended from the movement of African and Caribbean people during the transatlantic slave trade between the 16th and 19th centuries.
Most people will have heard the stories of Martin Luther King Jr, Malcolm X, Rosa Parks and Maya Angelou, who are but a few of millions of Blacks who have suffered and endured discrimination. Indeed this month celebrates the bravery, talent and achievements of these individuals but also reminds us that racism and subsequent discrimination continues to be in our societies.
With a Scottish population that is 96% White according to government statistics, some may wonder what role Scotland plays in Black History Month.
It is perhaps often forgotten Scotland had a role in the Transatlantic Slave Trade with cotton and tobacco arriving on the West Coast to be manufactured and sold throughout the world boosting the Scottish economy. Ordinary Scots benefitted from employment in industries such as textiles and maritime. Skilled tradesmen such as carpenters were in high demand. The prosperity of the Slave Trade allowed former ordinary people to become wealthy powerful individuals.
In Glasgow alone we only have to look at street names such as Jamaica Street and Virginia Place to see the role Scotland played in the Slave Trade. All this was achieved on the backs and lives of individuals who were kidnapped and forced to work in horrid conditions thousands of miles away.
With tobacco shipments coming into places like Port Glasgow many wealthy Ayrshire families even employed black servants that were brought over by slave owning companies. Ayrshire Archives hold records of correspondence with Ship Captains and wealthy families such as the Hamilton’s (1754) who owned 3 estates in Jamaica.
Throughout this period the ordinary person in Scotland had no concept of what life was like for Africans on plantations. They did not think about where the tobacco in their pipe or the sugar in their tea came from. Only when Abolitionists brought back evidence and spoke about the cruelty endured by Africans, did people really begin to understand man’s inhumanity to man. It is for this reason that we must commemorate Black History Month – while we may not see discrimination or racism in our daily lives for many it is their daily life.
In more recent history alongside the American Civil Rights movement, the UK also saw a movement for Black civil rights. This has continued even throughout 2016 with the Black Lives Matter Movement protesting earlier this year.
It is important to acknowledge and remember that the horrific and racist way in which many Black people throughout the world have been treated is not that far from our door step. In doing so, we learn to recognise and put a stop to discrimination, racism and general inequalities that people are facing.
This year our HNC and NC Social Science students encouraged by lecturers Una Connell and Alison Gallagher, are sharing their investigations of key moments in and figures of Black History across the College in the form of posters and podcasts. Thank you to all the students involved in this important work as by educating us of the past, we can work together for a better future where acceptance, tolerance and celebration of difference is the norm.
In the current social, political and economic time, it has become ever more important to raise awareness about attitudes and behaviours which are unacceptable.
Inequalities, discrimination, racism and any other forms of intolerance are not accepted or condoned here at Ayrshire College. Shortly we will be introducing our Respect Campaign to ensure all students and staff fully understand the policies of the College and to know who to speak to if they need help and support.
If you are a staff member or student you can visit the Equality and Inclusion Moodle page to view the ways in which Ayrshire College staff and students have marked Black History Month.
If you would like to learn more about Black History in relation to Ayrshire you can access information on Ayrshire Archives online.
The University College London website has a Legacy of British Slave Ownership database in which you can search locations and names to find out how much British families were paid to release their slaves during the 19th Century, when slavery was finally abolished (1833).
Watch Dougie Barnes, Employability and Engagement Officer at Ayrshire College, speak about his unique experiences of growing up in Ayrshire.