2013 started with much consternation in the Black community, when it was revealed that the Education Secretary Michael Gove planned to remove Black heroes Mary Seacole and Olaudah Equiano from the National Curriculum of English Schools. A petitions was started to ensure that Seacole kept her place in our schools’ history lessons, promoted by pressure group Operation Black Vote, website Black Presence In Britain, and The Voice Newspaper. High profile figures like, author Zadie Smith, playwright and theatre director Kwame Kwei-Armah, Lib Dem counsellor Lester Holloway, and comedienne Angie Le Mar added momentum to the campaign. But I didn’t sign it. Why not? Because I really don’t care what history they teach my kids in schools. For me the clue is in the title of the subject – ‘His Story’. As the saying goes, “until Lions learn to write, tales of hunting will always glorify the hunter”.
I feel that most of the things that I see my two teenage sons being asked to study in school, are irrelevant to their success in life. (And that is coming from someone who has successfully passed through this country’s educational system from ‘O’ levels to ‘A’ levels to degree and Master’s degree). Having spent so many years in education, I can see that all these subjects and the qualifications that are attained at the end of them, are simply hoops that our children have to jump through so that they can add them to their CVs, to display when applying for jobs. The really relevant skills needed to succeed in life, like how to win friends and influence people, communication skills and gaining and utilising contacts, are things that they must gain through life-experience or from the family. Never once in all my years of education did the names of Malcolm X, or Marcus Garvey, or Elijah Muhammed, or Nelson Mandela, or Kwame Nkrumah ever appear on the lesson plans. As Public Enemy rapped ‘Most of my heroes don’t appear on no stamp”, and neither are they taught in UK history lessons. If I want my children to learn about these great historical figures, I must teach them myself.
And herein lies the greater point. We as Black people have a damaging culture of dependency, a slave mentality if you will, where we rely on our former masters in every aspect of our lives, including to teach our children the knowledge and skills we should be teaching them ourselves. How lost are we as a people, when we rely on our oppressors to teach our children?
As KRS-1 rapped on the track ‘Higher Level’
“For some reason we think we’re free/ So we will never be, because we haven’t recognised slavery./ You’re still a slave, look at how you behave/Debating on where and when and how and what Massa gave.”
Some Black activists argue that our children need to have more Black figures on the curriculum, in order to give our children a sense of self-esteem, to let them know that we did contribute something to this country. Black educational underachievement, they argue, is partly due to the fact, that Black children feel that the curriculum doesn’t relate to them. But I would ask, ‘how come Indian and Chinese children do not have the same problems, when they are equally ignored by the curriculum?’ Chinese children infact have the best educational outcomes from the UK school system, despite their being very few Chinese teachers, or Chinese historical figures on the curriculum. Could it be that Chinese children are not relying on the UK school system for their sense of self?
Our Black activists will argue that it is not just for OUR childrens’ benefit, that Black heroes should be acknowledged in the school curriculum. It would also benefit the white kids to know that Black people have contributed something to this country, and achieved things outside of sporting success. But I would argue that this would be better demonstrated by our achievements in modern-day Britain, rather than harking back to historical figures from the Crimean War.
As we know, the Caribbean immigrants who came to the UK in the 50’s and 60’s came here looking to work for the White Man. Three generations later we are still completely reliant on ‘Mr White Man’ for our very survival. Conversely, many of those Asian immigrants who came from India and Africa in the 60s and 70s were self-reliant entrepreneurs servicing their own communities, not dependent on ‘Mr White Man’ for a job. When the Ugandan Asians were expelled by Idi Amin in 1972, they were only allowed to take two suitcases and the equivalent of £50 in cash out of the country. Though they arrived in Britain virtually penniless, they still had their entrepreneurial spirit and business sense intact. As one Ugandan immigrant supposedly observed to another at the time, “Don’t worry doctor, we will become rich here. They close their shops at 5pm!” Once in Britain these Asian-African immigrants built up many successful businesses, and it has been estimated that 30,000 jobs were created by 1000 Ugandan Asian immigrants who settled in Leicester. By the 1990’s several of these ‘poor immigrants’ had made it onto the Sunday Times Rich List. They clearly carried with them a very different mind-state than those Caribbean immigrants who came to Britain hoping to eek out a living as ‘beasts of burden’ working for the Post Office, or on London Transport, or in the NHS.
We see many examples of more recent ethnic immigrants to both the UK and US, after only 1 or 2 generations leaving the indigineous Blacks far behind, strangely unimcumbered by the racism and descrimination that indigineous Blacks complain prevent them from progressing. This was beautifully illustrated in Spike Lee’s masterpiece Do the Right Thing, when he showed the hostility of the neighbourhood’s Black residents to the newly arrived Korean shop keeper and his thriving business.
After relying on the host community to provide our childrens’ education, we then rely on them to provide their jobs. And if no job is forthcoming, then we rely on them for state benefits. And if we don’t feel we are getting our ‘fair share’, like spoilt children we are quick to scream out in complaint. Our Black Community Activists keep themselves very busy looking in every nook and cranny pointing out how, when and where White people are being racist. Black people are quick to cry racism, and in truth it’s understandable. We rely on the generosity of white people for our very survival. If white people don’t give us jobs, then we can’t work. If white people don’t feed us, then we can’t eat. Yes we know some white people are racist. Lets get over it, move on and prove them wrong with our stunning achievements and self-reliance, rather than constantly begging to be treated fairly. There is now a community organisation in this country called BARAC, which stands for Black Activists Rising Against Cuts. Their raison d’etre is to highlight the fact that the swathing cuts in benefits and services that the Coalition government is imposing on the country will disproportionately affect the Black communities and workers. Yes I’m aware that the Black community will be disproportionately affected by benefit cuts, but is it something we want to shout about? Something we want to campaign about, like living on benefits is a lifestyle choice for Black people? Surely their time and energy would be better spent setting up an organisation to help Black people get OFF benefits, rather than one which seeks to ensure they can continue to receive them? This dependency culture is something we should be working to eradicate, not working to perpetuate.
Recently I came across the most shocking example of this Black dependency culture. According to reports from South Africa, there are pregnant Black women who are deliberately drinking alcohol to excess, in order that their children will be born deformed and/or disabled, so they may claim disability benefits.
It was way back in 1968 that James Brown released ‘Say It Loud (I’m Black and I’m Proud)’. On it he sang “We demand the chance to do things for ourselves, /We’re tired of beating our head against the wall, and working for someone else.”
But too many Black people, rather than do things for themselves, would rather ask the white man to do it for them. The energy that we are expending, trying to convince Michael Gove to include some of our heroes in History lessons, would be better spent, setting up Saturday schools, or our own Free Schools. But no, we go begging to ‘Mr White Man’ to do it for us. ‘My Black children need to know their Black History, so please Mr White Man will you teach it to them, because I cannot do it myself?’ ‘My Black children need positive role models, so please Mr White man will you employ more Black Teachers because I cannot provide the role models for them myself?’ ‘Please Mr White Man will you give my children a job, because I have not been able to give them the skills to start their own business?’
By constantly begging the white man to do things for us that we should be doing for ourselves, we are not empowering our children, we are disempowering ourselves. As Angie Le Mar so artfully put in when I was engaged in a Twitter conversation with her about her new internet only sitcom, “Must we keep wishing and hoping? So much time has been lost, thinking people might do the right thing. Lets just do it ourselves!”
Angie Le Mar’s new Web-com The Ryan Sisters is available to view now on You Tube. “http://<a href=”http://www.comedylately.co.uk/?p=2625″ rel=”bookmark” title=”Permanent Link to The Ryan Sisters”>The Ryan Sisters</a>
For more historical information about Black Britain check out www.blackpresence.co.uk
For a daily update on where, when and how white people are not giving us our fair share, there are too many organisations to mention!