Izin Akhabau expresses why she wants to ban Black History Month, as she believes that everyone should celebrate it “however they would like to, if they would like to [and] whenever they would like to”.
I would love it if this month was not Black History Month. Yes, I am Black British. No, I do not hate being black, but it’s ridiculous to even try to celebrate the massive spectrum of black history, even in a whole lifetime of Octobers.
I’m a hybrid of sorts. A Nigerian-English fusion. I am completely British and completely Nigerian, but at the same time, I am not entirely either. I hope that if I can explain the complexity of my culture, you can understand why Black History Month is a laughable way to celebrate me or other black people.
I’m reminded that I’m not fully British through both big things and little things. Things like the rising popularity of parties like UKIP. They can say they have no problem with foreigners, but I remain unconvinced. After all, if you have issues with people from the EU supposedly taking your jobs and they are white like you, how do you feel about me and my black parents and my black friends working?
There are also other things. During political work experience, I spoke to voters over the phone about their concerns, and one lady told me, “There are too many black faces” – in order to avoid embarrassment I said I understood her issue. Then there are small, niggling things like how I find it impossible to find skin colour tights or plasters.
Then there are moments when I see how I am not quite Nigerian enough. The limitations I experience during phone calls with my grandmother in Nigeria. Her English is restricted and so is my understanding of the Nigerian dialect she speaks.
Last month, I wore Nigerian clothes to celebrate Culture day at my college. On my way in, a Nigerian lady stopped me and discreetly told me that I was wearing my skirt wrong. I’ve only spent three weeks in Nigeria during my seventeen year life. Here in England, I am sometimes called an Oreo, a bounty or a coconut (black on the outside, white on the inside).
Regardless of these things, I am convinced that these two cultures somehow form two halves of me. After all, Nigeria was a British colony and both of the nations have left marks on each other. And I think that’s where the problem lies with Black History month.
I am meant to celebrate an entire half of my history during a twelfth of my life. And alongside Nigerian history, the history of the entire African continent, the Caribbean and all African-Americans should also be celebrated. Some suggest we should celebrate Asian culture and heritage in October too. Whilst I agree that all these cultures should be celebrated, I think it’s patronising that we try to celebrate them all in one month.
Benjamin Zephaniah agrees too. During an interview with my editor (Tobi Oredein) at blackballad.co.uk, he said ‘I am against Black History Month’, and he had good reason. When he asks to work in schools, they often tell him to come during October. White poets, I suppose can visit all year round.
Not only does Black History month separate us, it’s a meaningless token where we peddle the stories of Mary Seacole, Martin Luther King and Olaudah Equiano year after year. Their stories are special, no doubt, but they in no way represent the history of the many black cultures represented in Britain. No month ever could.
Let all people, of all races, celebrate Black History however they would like to, if they would like to, whenever they would like to. Don’t dictate to them when they should celebrate it and what aspects of it they should celebrate. Don’t make it into a chore that stresses teachers in schools, making them prove that they support diversity through superficial displays and meaningless assemblies.
Ban Black History month and work to appreciate what diversity and multiculturalism in Britain really means – people who appreciate the influences other lands have had on their cuisine and language.
Others like me, who are made up of two, three or four or more parts of a messy, but wonderful whole. People who have grown up here, or attended school here, or work here, but have skin tones and relatives who highlight their connections to other cultures.
Whether we are Nigerian, Chinese or Irish, celebrate us all, all year round, as part of a messy, but wonderful whole.