Black History Month at Trinity

Education and awareness-raising are the themes of Trinity College’s Black History Month celebrations this year. As part of the University’s Black History Month events, Trinity college staff and students are curating and promoting a series of resources on race and inequality. This includes a library celebration with student recommendations organised by JCR President Nadia Hassan, and a month-long initiative circulating resources and reflections suggested by members of college to the whole community.

Now in its 33rd year nationally, British Black History Month raises awareness of the role that black Britons have played in British history and the struggle for racial equality in this country. Starting this week, the college is circulating and soliciting recommendations and reflections from college members about resources on race and inequality that have resonated with them, and which offer a perspective that will variously inform, educate and challenge. These recommendations and reflections could take many forms – suggestions for reading, recommendations for films, music, books, personal essays.

Trinity College President Dame Hilary Boulding says: ‘Our discussions with staff and students about race inclusivity over the past several months have focussed on ensuring that Trinity is a community whose members feel empowered to combat racism and discrimination wherever it occurs. This year, we are adopting an approach to Black History Month that aims to educate and inform, introducing perspectives and resources to promote a better understanding of Black history and highlight the lived experiences of those with Black heritage in the UK and beyond.’

The recommendations will be added below; we hope everyone reading will take the time to engage with them, and thank everyone who has made submissions.

BHME Reflection: Black and British, A Forgotten History (submitted by Head of Access Hannah Rolley)

I recently read David Olusuga’s book Black and British: A Forgotten History. This book provides a comprehensive history of Black African people’s arrival and presence in Britain. This text really struck me as it shows the presence of Black Africans at a time in history that was also explored in my own primary & secondary school education: the Romans, the Tudors, the Egyptians. At no time can I recall being taught about the presence or significance of Black African people or even a reference the great African civilisations. Obviously, it is clear to see the connection between this lack of education and the current debates about racism and a collective or cultural amnesia in Britain. This book has been such a critical starting point for me and has led to other works such as Barracoon: the Story of the Last Slave by Zora Neale Hurston and the fantastic documentary series Africa’s Great Civilisations. presented by Henry Louis Gates Jr . Whilst we are familiar with narratives around the slave trade, this documentary series is a reminder of other vital histories of this diverse continent and all that should be remembered and celebrated, such as the breathtaking discoveries and innovation in science, architecture and art. Along with reading David Olusuga’s book, Africa’s Great Civilisations is must watch for all interested in beginning to fill in the gaps left by their own formal education.

Other recommendations for anyone exploring the difference between ‘racist’, ‘not racist; and ‘antiracist’ is Ibram X Kendi’s book How to Be an Antiracist. Understanding the difference between antiracist and not-racist is key to anyone’s professed commitment to standing up against racism. Again, this book has deeply impacted my understanding that fighting racism is not a passive exercise. It can no longer be enough to simply refrain from or avoid participating in racism. To truly challenge racism in all its forms requires active participation in the challenge against all it’s forms. Not to do so, whether we intend to or not, is complicity. Kendi powerfully argues the only effective stance against racism is antiracism – there can be no in-between stance. Read this book in tandem with White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo to courageously take your personal commitment to a more empowered place as an ally against racism.

BHM Reflection: studies in job discrimination against ethnic minority applicants (submitted by Fellow and Tutor in Philosophy Anil Gomes)

A test for racial discrimination in recruitment practice in British cities

In 2009, the Department for Work and Pensions commissioned a study to investigate the discrimination faced by ethnic minority job applicants. The structure of the study is beautiful. Three fictitious applications were sent to a range of real job adverts. These applications were matched in terms of education, skills, and work history. The only thing that differed was the name on the top of the application. One was sent from a name such as Andrew Clarke. The others were from names such as Anthony Olukayode or Sukjunder Singh. The results were striking:

‘16 applications from ethnic minority applicants had to be sent for a successful outcome in our test compared with nine white. That is, 74 per cent more applications from ethnic minority candidates needed to be sent for the same level of success.’

A 2019 study found similar levels of discrimination. Ethnic minority applications have to work harder even when their qualifications are the same.

There are more interesting and more emotional things for you to read this Black History Month. But studies such as these are helpful in focusing on the facts of discrimination. They are a reminder of the concrete ways in which life can be more difficult for those of us with names such as ‘Gomes’ or ‘Mahadaven’ or ‘Atewologun’. And they are a forewarning of the discrimination that some of you will face once you leave Trinity.

BHM Reflection: Black Panther (submitted by Conor Maher, JCR BAME rep)

The film ‘Black Panther’ is a hugely successful film in terms of both entertainment and revenue, however is also noted for the culture it celebrates, in terms of the afrofuturism themes in the film and the overwhelmingly black cast, director and filmmakers.

I loved this film for so many reasons: the plot, the characters, the cast, the score and the way it confronted negative stereotypes in modern society. Despite this, one part of the movie stuck out to me more than anything: the antagonist, Killmonger’s, final monologue. As he’s dying, having been stabbed by the protagonist King T’Challa after a battle contesting the throne of the futuristic country Wakanda, where Killmonger wanted to use its weapons to arm the oppressed and T’Challa wanted to remain hidden and protected, Killmonger says this: “Bury me in the ocean with my ancestors, cos they knew death was better than bondage”.

Watch the scene here: Killmonger’s Death

These words stuck with me. The slave trade was a horrifying abomination of events. The fact that some Africans knew that a life as a slave was not worth living speaks volumes. Whilst the slave trade officially ended just over 200 years ago, the repercussions still reverberate around the globe on a magnitude larger than some can admit. Black people in both the UK and USA are still faced with an inequality of human rights denied by those benefitting from the colonial regime of white supremacy. They are being killed by those meant to enforce the law. Exploited not protected and tried by those judging it. How is the value of a neighbouring garden valued more than the life of an innocent black woman? Why do we still honour those who disregarded black lives for their own financial gain, having statues of them in London, in Oxford colleges and around the country. Why are black people stopped by police more, have worse educational and employment opportunities and still have to face overly harsh judgement, stereotypes and reactions when living their lives? Why are black people given significantly worse healthcare, a harsh reality that has meant my dad has had to be overly cautious following coronavirus rules compared with others, fearing the worst should something happen? And the audacity that they are criticised for protesting this inequality: in the street, in a dance, and even in a necklace. This shows that society does not view them as equal.

When I think to my heritage, of which I have no trace, no conclusion, although evidence seems to suggest I am a descendant from a slave. How I feel when I learn that the benefactors of these horrific violations are paraded in my life and celebrated by the ignorant and privileged. I am sickened. This percolates through society and is still present when I see or experience these statues, attacks, social media posts, inequalities and microaggressions myself. And I think back to those that jumped from the ships. Because they didn’t want to see a world where the colour of their skin meant they were still enslaved, hundreds of years later.

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