Nahjae is a dedicated educator who, at the age of 19, has already racked up six years teaching children for free.
I can’t breathe.
These words, immortalized by #BLM icon George Floyd, have dual meaning. They not only expressed his suffering of asphyxia which ultimately led to his demise, but they encapsulate the daily lived black experience- like suffocating; stifling at the knee of a society whose systemic structures make finding stable employment and housing, accessing education and healthcare – and now added to the list, breathing – difficult.
The last year has not been easy for anyone, but it was particularly challenging for the Black community. As though the emergence of a pandemic wasn’t enough, we also witnessed police brutality and white supremacy at its apogee, through the horrific killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Daunté Wright and several others. But the celebration of Black History Month this year provides respite for the demographic that retains great significance within an increasingly diversified world
Black History Month is not just a month to commemorate the sustained achievements and contributions of Black people to the UK and the world. It’s also a time for renewed action to challenge racism, reclaim (un-whitewashed) Black history, and make certain Black history is represented and acknowledged all year round. As 2020 showed, and 2021 continues to exemplify, Black history is being made every day, in all arenas from Racing and Track & Field, to Music, Poetry and Television & Film. We must pause to recognize this breath of black excellence, that despite efforts to extinguish, continues to blow.
The month also presents an opportunity to reflect on what more can be done. To this end, I echo the words of Professor Angela Davis, “In a racist society, it is not enough to be non-racist, we must be anti-racist.” Asserting that one is “not racist” does not compel anyone to contemplate how they should obstruct racism. Conversely, to be anti-racist means actively developing a philosophy that directly opposes racism.
Racism maintains that certain racial classes are superior/inferior to others, while anti-racism purports an egalitarian viewpoint: all racial groups are equal. There is no middle ground and there is no side-line. You either support systems and policies that stimulate racial inequity with fervour, or through passivity, or you actively fight them. Thus, the term ‘not racist’ not only has no meaning, but it also implies that there is some sort of safe space in-between that a person can exist within when there is no neutrality. We all are either being racist or anti-racist. The question then is, “How do I be anti-racist?”
The United Nations identifies 3 ways we can fight racism:
Engaging means avoiding being silent, but whatever you espouse must not only be grounded in passion, but in fact as well. You must engage content on the subject, learn about the many ways racism can impact all aspects of our societies but also about the concrete solutions to eradicate it.
You need to call out and report racism and hate speech, in real life or cyberspace. You can also start open and constructive conversations within your social circle that allow for concrete solutions to be explored. Additionally, sharing means help change the narrative around black people, look out for our stories of people who decided to fight racism and spread the message that racism can be eradicated from our world.
Educators must create environments conducive to racial discourse and anti-racism activism. This can be done using the ABC model. Awareness: teach students how to recognize behaviour that may reinforce racism. Befriend: Invite people of different races to speak about what they do as individuals to fight racism. Curriculum: include stories of people who have fought against discrimination and cite contributions made by people of African Descent to the common stock of human knowledge and experience.
As exchanges surrounding Black History and excellence escalate this month, I ask, will you help the Black community breathe? Or will you stand idly by as the knee of injustice continues to impede our rights and freedoms? There is no in-between.