What Does Black History Month Mean To Me

October 17, 2022

By Chuba Nwokedi

Black History Month to me is about the celebration of the culture,  significance and impact of Black people on a global level.

I was born and raised in Nigeria and  had not spent any significant time in the United Kingdom before I moved here to attend secondary school at the tender age of 13. I was raised in a country where the people were/are black and therefore did not grow up attaching any significance to my skin colour. I was raised to be proud of Nigerian heritage and that I still am and always will be.

The significance of my skin colour was not evident to me until I came to the United Kingdom.  I was reminded, on almost a daily basis, that I was different and that this was because of the colour of my skin.

I met other non-black teenagers, whilst at school whose experience, knowledge  and views of black people were mainly shaped by  what they were fed  by TV and media (and social media); which was  sadly rarely positive and almost always negative.  I remember white students at my school, being shocked and surprised about that fact that I was a strong and very able swimmer; there was a widely held and fixed view among these  students that black people could not swim. They were surprised that I could not run the 100 metres in less than 11 seconds and were disappointed that I was quite the opposite to Will Smith from the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. It was expected of me to be the best athlete within the school just because of the colour of my skin. This was stereotyping at its best and it was a concept that was very new to me.

My naivety and my young age meant that it took me a while to understand that my skin colour put in me into certain boxes. As I developed from a young boy into a man, I became aware that there was a focus on my appearance as a black person and my heritage as an African rather than my other non-physical attributes. People saw my skin colour before the saw me!

It is still surprising that the true history involving black people was not more extensively taught, in school and colleges. After all, Nigeria had been a part of the commonwealth, and it only gained its independence in 1960. Why then, when we were so intertwined, did people in this country and the rest of the world not learn about our history and the stories that helped make the UK what it is today?  This sentiment is shared with other black countries and black cultures  that are part of the UK’s tapestry; our stories do not seem to be taught or celebrated.  Yes, everyone knew of Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks but there were other prominent figures that warranted discussion as well such as Olaudah Equiano and Mary Seacole.

Black History Month to me is, amongst other things, an opportunity to correct errors of the past in terms of education. It is an opportunity to put a spotlight on the history and the positive impact black people have had on the world. This month also allows for the youngest in society who are black to have pride in their origins and be inspired to contribute positively to the black narrative.  More importantly, it is an opportunity for those who wouldn’t normally be exposed to black history to take note and reflect on how it has shaped society.

Most of all Black History Month is a celebration of pride. I am proud to be British and I am also proud to be able to confidently celebrate black culture with other citizens of this country. It is a month of cultural exchange. Though not without its adversity and far from perfect, it’s a month where Britain as a whole can take pride in the fact that there are so many black people who come from far and wide to be part of/create its own culture within British culture.

I eagerly anticipate October of each year. Nigeria celebrates its independence day on the 1st of October so I always start my Black History Month celebrations with a plate of Jollof rice in my hands. To anyone who knows me personally, if you wish to celebrate and share in the pride of black culture within British culture find me on that day and I’ll fix you up a plate too.