Wales’ curriculum should reflect the integral part played by black people and people of colour in our history
Leanne Wood MS, Plaid Cymru Shadow Minister for Justice and Equalities
If the Black Lives Matter movement has taught us anything, it is that the history and the contribution of black people and people of colour in Wales is marginalised.
How many of us know about Abdulrahim Abby Farah, known as the “Barry boy that helped free Mandela”? What about Wales’ first black headteacher, Betty Campbell?
What about Elvira Gwenllian (Hinds) Payne, Wales’ first black woman councillor who was elected to the Vale of Glamorgan Council in 1972?
“John Ystumllyn” – the first documented well-recorded black person of the north of Wales who was taken from his family in the West Indies as a slave?
Then there was Billy Boston – who scored 571 tries in his career – making him the second-highest try scorer in rugby league history – who was Cardiff born and bred.
And the Cardiff three – Tony Paris, Yusef Abdullahi and Stephen Miller – three black men wrongfully convicted of murder in 1987.
These are not names that regularly appear as part of the wider historical context of Wales.
But they should be.
They must be.
Good and bad
Welsh history itself as a subject is, of course, marginalised.
A major report written by the esteemed academic Dr Elin Jones for the Welsh Government argued that pupils were being “deprived” from being taught about history from a Welsh perspective in schools – and that the emphasis has instead always been on a more British or Anglicised version of history.
However, even within our current understanding of Welsh history, black history and the history of people of colour is, for the most part, still invisible.
But we do have a chance to change all of this.
With the new curriculum being developed, Wales now has the opportunity to join front runners in progressive education and to teach pupils a wider range of history, including Welsh history, which naturally should be inclusive and cover the lives and actions of black, asian and minority ethnic history makers in and from Wales, because put simply, this history is Welsh history too.
Our history must include all characters who played a part in Wales’ story. And it must include all of it – the good, the bad and the ugly.
For example, huge elements and contributions to modern Wales have come from black and minority ethnic individuals and communities, such as that of Tiger Bay. Often demonised as a problematic and crime-riddled community as a result of cases such as that of the Cardiff three, Tiger Bay had a uniquely diverse community which played a central part in the development of Cardiff as a capital city, with seamen and workers from over 50 different countries settling in the community as a result of the bustling docks.
Tiger Bay’s history has however been largely overlooked. In 2016 the Bute Town Arts and Historical Centre, which held a small museum dedicated to Tiger Bay, closed due to a lack of funding. This year Cardiff Council announced plans for a Military Medicine to be opened not a 5-minute walk from the site of the former Tiger Bay Museum – a prime example of history being whitewashed.
Other untold stories of Black Welsh history include the miners from the Caribbean working in the coal pits of the Valleys, the vast contributions of the Windrush generation who made up for post-war labour shortages in the UK, facing racism and hardship but making Wales their home, and the wider settlement of Somali and Yemeni merchant seamen in Barry and Newport (as well as Cardiff) after transporting Welsh coal around the world.
Many people will not have known about the actions of individuals such as Thomas Picton, who was Governor of Trinidad from 1797-1803, until the Black Lives Matter movement started a worldwide discussion on statues and monuments that commemorate individuals involved in the slave trade.
And we need to be honest and address the part Wales played in the horrors of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. We need to talk about Penrhyn castle’s links to plantations in Jamaica, the copper works in Greenfield Valley in Holywell that produced manillas used to buy slaves, or Swansea’s Grenfell family who were deeply involved in the slave trade in El Cobre, Cuba.
We cannot overlook these uncomfortable elements of our own history simply because they are uncomfortable. Being honest about it and holding ourselves accountable is a valuable and necessary action, one which will not only make us as a nation more aware of elements of prejudice and inequality in our societies that need rectifying, but will also provide new foundations of justice and equality upon which we can build our new Wales.
The importance of the ability to understand, tell and re-tell and shape your own history cannot be underestimated. To know and to own your own history is not only empowering but is a fundamental aspect in the identity, culture and development of a collective.
The curriculum bill sets out that the bill aims to enable pupils to become ambitious, capable learners who develop into ethical and informed citizens of Wales and the world. In order to do this, the history of black people and people of colour has to be a mandatory element.
We truly believe that this new curriculum offers a historic opportunity to right many structural injustices in Wales.
The onus is now on the Labour Welsh government to take specific steps to ensure that the curriculum guarantees a baseline of provision for young people across Wales as a matter of basic human rights and that the history of black and people of colour and the history of Wales should be mandatory elements of the new curriculum.
I hope they embrace this opportunity in developing a new curriculum in Wales to transform our education system into one of equality and progression, and to truly show that Black History is Welsh history.