October

Black and British

Daphne Xulu, second year Creative Writing and Film and Screen Studies student, discusses the importance of recognising and celebrating Black history.

Over the course of October, I'll be working alongside the Student’s Union as a Black History Month Content Creator. As a mixed-race student, I'm very excited to be on board. I recommend everyone to attend Bath Spa’s Black History Month events, and to reflect with me on how as students we have the power to write our own history, a history of diverse and cultured achievements.

Black History Month – a cause for celebration

Black History Month is a time to reflect, a time to feel and to learn. What is it to be Black? Why is Black Pride so important? How can we learn from the past in order to create an inclusive, diverse and accepting society?

When I think of Black History Month, I think of recognition; recognising the ambition, achievements and strengths of the Black community. When thinking about Black people it is often easy to find yourself thinking about the discrimination, racism or injustices they have faced. Black History Month is a cause for celebration because it encourages us to see beyond this. October is a time to appreciate the courage of Black people who have stood up and rewritten history. I want to remember those who fought for a better future, fought to be heard and fought for their rights.

A lot is known about American Black History – we’ve all heard of Malcom X, Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks. Although their achievements are definitely cause for celebration, I'd like to share with you some of my Black British heroes. For us to have a better understanding of ourselves we must better understand our national history.

My top three Black British heroes

Olaudah Equiano
Writer and abolitionist (1745-1797)

It's surprising that we don’t learn about Olaudah Equiano in school. His impressive life saw him as a slave, a freeman, activist and importantly, Britain's first Black civil servant. I hadn't heard of Equiano until I was a student on the Your World; Your Media module in my first year of the Creative Writing and Film and Screen Studies course at Bath Spa. It shocked me how I could know nothing about someone who helped shape Britain.

A former slave, in 1766 Equiano bought his freedom and, after being a merchant for some time, settled in London. Whilst living in London, Equiano was a member of "Sons of Africa", a small group of 12 Black men who campaigned for abolition. "Sons of Africa" even tried to persuade Parliament to abolish the transatlantic slave trade – this was achieved in Britain ten years after Equiano's death with the Slave Trade Act of 1807.

After being intrigued by his story, I did some digging and came across his autobiography, which is one of the earliest published by a Black African writer. He writes about his life, from being kidnapped at 11 and sold by slave traders, to his dedication in later life to anti-slavery activism.

Mary Seacole
Nurse and businesswoman (1805-1881)

This might be a name you're more familiar with. I'd always known the name, but never truly knew much about Seacole. In my experience, British education skirts over her, favouring fellow Crimean War nurse Florence Nightingale for the history books.

Mary Seacole was born in Jamaica to a Black mother and white father. It is undoubtedly important to recognise Seacole’s mixed ethnicity. As a young woman of White British and Black African heritage, I don’t have many mixed-race heroes to look up to. I can often celebrate white heroes and Black heroes but when I discovered Seacole was a mixed-race woman like me, I felt even more pride – I had a hero of my own.

Seacole was a significant nurse, healing those affected by cholera and later the injured soldiers of the Crimean war. Seacole’s dedication to her profession was admirable; she put her life on the line to heal the wounded men, riding into battlefields on horseback in order to tend to them. Mary was inclusive and valued people, so much so that she even nursed the allies and enemies of the British. Seacole also used her entrepreneurship to set up the British Hotel. This was a place where the hungry soldiers could buy food and rest. Seacole’s compassion earned her the nickname "Mother Seacole".

Seacole wrote about her life and travels in her autobiography, Wonderful Adventures of Mrs. Seacole in Many Lands (1857). Seacole’s book is significant in itself as it was the first autobiography to be published by a free Black woman in the British Empire.

John Agard
Playwright and poet (1949-present) 

As a Creative Writing student and aspiring poet, my list of Black British heroes would not be complete without John Agard. I remember being introduced to Agard’s work in secondary school. I studied his poem, Checking Out Me History, for GCSE and chose it for the Poetry by Heart competition

This poem will always have a special place in my heart. It spoke to me and it told me what no one else had; it told me of Black history and the efforts of the educational system to keep Black history hidden. For me, it encapsulates the message of Black History Month. Black history is local, national and global, it is all of our history and Agard advocates this in his poetry. 

Checking Out Me History was published in 2005 as part of Agard's Half-Caste poetry collection. The collection explores themes of identity and race, whilst challenging societal preference for white history. John Agard is important because he uses creativity to deconstruct discrimination and brings awareness to indoctrinated racism. Agard defies the traditional laws of poetry and addresses the lack of black and mixed-race representation; he received the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry in 2012.

Who is your Black hero and what makes you proud of Black Britain?

Disclaimer: The Bath Spa blog is a platform for individual voices and views from the University's community. Any views or opinions represented in individual posts are personal, belonging solely to the author of that post, and do not represent the views of other Bath Spa staff, or Bath Spa University as an institution.

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