Black History Month was another roaring success this year, with celebratory events taking place across the country. But what is it all about? Dr Paul Hutchings and Katie Sullivan explain…
Black History Month (BHM for short) has been celebrated every October since 1987 in the United Kingdom, but many people are either unaware even of its existence, or don’t have a great understanding of what it is or why it is celebrated; and I would include our own psychology team in the latter group, at least up until this year.
BHM was set up to celebrate the achievements and accomplishments of African British people and over the years has expanded to celebrate and highlight diversity across the UK, as well as injustices and issues that still face Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) members of the community (see here for information on BHM).
As part of Psychology at Yr Athrofa we have a strong research focus upon attitudes toward immigration, racial outgroups, etc., and so from an academic point of view we are experts on the issues of prejudice and discrimination faced by members of the BAME community; but theory is nothing if it doesn’t have any application, and so we wanted to have far more involvement on the ground as it were.
This year in particular, as the 70th anniversary of the arrival of the Windrush generation (and the furore regarding their treatment as British citizens this year), the 50th anniversary of the Race Relations Act in the UK, and also the 50th anniversary since the assassination of Dr Martin Luther King, combined with issues of immigration and the uncertainty that Brexit has brought for many migrant groups, we felt it was important for us to go out into our communities with what we know, and to learn from those communities in return.
Through one of our former students who now works with Race Council Cymru (RCC), we held discussions on how to get more involved with what is happening in Wales. We approached University of Wales Trinity Saint David (UWTSD) about sponsoring BHM events across Wales and they agreed to do so, and so we set off to these events not really knowing what to expect; two white academics attending BHM events and throwing themselves right into the heart of it, giving talks, presenting awards… would we even be wanted there?
The answer, of course, was a resounding ‘yes’. Issues of inequality, injustice, diversity and celebration will not be resolved by one group, but by all of us working together. As Simon Woolley, Director of Operation Black Vote, said in one of his talks at the BHM events, everyone in the room who had an interest in equality is a child of Dr Martin Luther King.
Over the course of the month, BHM events took place across Wales and were important in terms of the message that they sent out, and were also great fun to attend. The opening event in the Pierhead Building of the Welsh Assembly was attended by AMs such as Mark Drakeford and Vaughan Gething, Lord Herman Ouseley from the House of Lords, Beverley Humphries from the BBC, and many more; but it was the people and their stories that were the highlight of the event; their achievements, their struggles, and their views on our society were incredibly informative for all and really made the day.
The following day we were at the National Museum of History at St Fagans for the cultural arts event. This was a wonderful combination of the history and the contemporary all brought together with fantastic performances from some of our most talented musical artists in Wales and really highlighted the diverse nature of our modern Welsh society, with many of the visitors to the museum stopping to join in with the celebration.
The BHM events continued across Wales in many different locations: Aberystwyth, Newport, Bangor, Swansea; but in all of them they brought the same air of celebration, reflection, and a passion to achieve an equal and prosperous society for all. We are very proud of having been able to have even a little input into the celebration of BHM in 2018 and look forward to further involvement in the future.
We hope that you will seek out some of these events happening in your local area next October and encourage you to go along and get involved; our society needs that involvement and, as a real bonus, I promise you’ll enjoy it!
- Dr Paul Hutchings and Katie Sullivan are Social and Political Psychologists in the Psychology Academic Discipline in Yr Athrofa. Their research field is in the area of attitudes towards ingroup and outgroup members