October heralds the onset on Black History Month in the UK. This month (or so)-long collection of events, talks, and performances started in the UK in 1987 but has its roots in the American beginnings of this event launched in 1926 as Negro History Week.
Some knee-jerks leap in each year with the reaction 'what about white history month'? This gang are usually synonymous with those who think that all immigrants are getting houses, jobs, benefits etc... Are they kidding? We live in White History Life. Turn to the History Channel, look at the overwhelming majority of any school syllabus, look at government funding of the majority of cultural and artistic organisations look at politics, look at...need I go on? And maybe that's to be expected, that's life, life is eurocentric - or at any rate, those with power are. But when some small-minded people object to one measly month of wonderful activities, mostly for families and many for free, then I've got to defend BHM.
BHM also has its detractors from the 'liberal centre/left' who argue about the further 'ghettoisation' of black people, and that such demarcations continue to mark black people out as different and maybe detracts from where the real fight is - for example, see Deborah Orr's scathing piece a while ago in the The Independent ('Why we should bin Black History Month: It's wrong for all the reasons that multiculturalism more generally is wrong').
Here I'd argue that BHM was started because of a lack of knowledge and understanding about the culture and history of a people. The question is, has that been achieved? Perhaps as soon as black people’s contributions to history and culture have been fully incorporated into text books, and into our national awareness there may no longer be a need for a Black History Month. That time has not yet come and so the need still exists.
And then you've also got the 'what about 'insert ethnicity' month' gang. Sure, one might ask what about 'Asian/Chinese/etc. History Month' - but then, frankly, go ahead and organise something! In London at least we have loads of events including the art, culture and history of different ethnicities and many people enjoy them. Personally, I think that'd be overload. The point about BHM is that it has long and particular roots. Many BHM events, of course, have a wider definition of 'black' that others and do incorporate other cultures, e.g. British-Asian. I know the definition of 'black' is not straightforward. But life if messy - let's enjoy that messiness.
Frankly, if there were a 'white history month' (though I'm not quite sure how that would be conceived, what's the narrative?) that was welcoming to everyone and not jingoistic, then bring it on, I'll be there. After all I'm a member of English Heritage (btw, a part govt-funded organisation...) because I want to enjoy many aspects of history and culture. But I also want to enjoy BHM. There's room for everyone. At the risk of sounding corny, that is multi-culturalism at its best.
So here's the Lewisham and Greenwich programmes for BHM - enjoy.