Black history is Welsh history – we can’t confine it to just one month
Leanne Wood MS, Plaid Cymru Shadow Minister for Equalities
Black History Month was established in 1926 in the USA, the brainchild of historian Carter G. Woodson and minister Jesse E. Moorland, and its purpose was to recognise and value the importance of people and events in the history of the African diaspora.
Now, every October, we celebrate Black History Month in Wales in order to give individuals and communities throughout Wales the opportunity to recognise the contribution of Black people to the economic, political and cultural history of Wales. It’s also an opportunity for the wider community to learn, celebrate and share our rich national history with the world.
No one would disagree that 2020 has been a turbulent year. It’s been a moment where deep-rooted injustices and social inequality have been brought to the fore.
Covid-19 has highlighted how deep these inequalities run in Wales and the UK. For example, reviews by Public Health Wales and the Office of National Statistics have provided evidence that race has an influence on death rates, financial hardship from Covid-19, and on the impact it has on mental health.
In fact, the ONS research concluded that Black people are 1.9% more likely than white people to die from the virus, research from PHW found that 30% of BAME residents of Wales were feeling very anxious compared to 20% of white residents. Research from the Wales Governance Centre found that BAME people were twice as likely to work in the health and care sector.
It shouldn’t take a global pandemic for people to wake up to the structural racism that is a problem in Wales.
The Black Lives Matter movement has kick-started a global conversation about historic and present day racism. It has shone a light on inequalities and on the lack of representation Black and mixed race communities face.
It is shocking that in its twenty years of existence there has never been a woman of colour sit in our Senedd.
A recent survey by the charity Show Racism the Red Card surveyed 800 teachers and educational staff across Wales, and found that nearly a third of respondents knew of a child in their school being bullied on the basis of their skin colour. A 2019 survey from BBC Wales and ICM Unlimited found that of its 1,000 respondents, 40% felt there was more racial prejudice in Wales at the time compared to five years previously.
We are seeing a rise in xenophobia, in resentment for ethnic minorities, all spurred on by a rise in support for far-right and racist ideologies.
In the England and Wales justice system racial discrimination is rife.
Research from the Wales Governance Centre shows that imprisonment rates among ethnic minority communities are more disproportionate to the population in Wales compared to England, and that Black, Asian and minority ethnic people have the highest average sentence length. White people, however, are underrepresented in Welsh prisons.
The Lammy Review, an independent review into the treatment and outcomes for ethnic minority people in the Criminal Justice System published in 2017, found substantial areas of inequality. Lammy pointed to shocking incarceration rates; young Black people were at the time nine times more likely to be in young offenders institutions than white youths.
This is the landscape of racial equality in Wales, it provides the argument and demonstrates the need to bring Black history into the mainstream. A month is not enough.
For too long the history, contribution and achievements of Black and mixed race communities in Wales have been condensed into one month. Black history is Welsh history, and it should be treated that way.
The Welsh capital city was one of the first multicultural cities of its kind in the world, and this is something that deserves celebrating. But there are also aspects of our history we deserve to be ashamed of and which we take steps today where can to put that right.
An example is Wales’ part in the slave trade. Our history is a mixed bag. We tell the tale of Somali and Yemeni sailors settling down in the docks of Butetown and Barry, and miners from the Caribbean working in the coal pits of the Valleys. We celebrate the contribution of the Windrush generation and pioneers such as Betty Campbell, the first Black headteacher of a school in Wales, and also individuals’ contributions today
It makes sense then that the Race Council Cymru has this month launched ‘Black History Wales’, a yearlong programme, as opposed to a Black History Month.
Education is a valuable asset in tackling the issues of racial equality we face in Wales.
Children in Wales should learn about the British Empire, and the role Wales played within that. Reflecting on the atrocities, they can inform to understand racism and inequality to better combat it today.
Confining Black history to one month a year is insufficient. It can’t continue.
In July, Plaid Cymru led a debate calling for Black history to be mandatory in the new curriculum – the current curriculum draft allows individual schools to decide whether BAME history is included.
This call was reiterated by a report looking into the disproportionate effects of Covid-19 on BAME people, as well as by the 34,736 people who recently signed a petition calling for the compulsory teaching of ‘Black and POC UK histories to be taught in the Welsh education curriculum’.
2020 has been a year of unprecedented challenges, challenges that have disproportionately affected some compared to others; we must make sure we learn from this year, we must change Wales for good.