Column: Highlighting diversity of people in our history gives us fresh view on changing society

At the time of writing, we are well into Black History Month, which we are recognising in school to raise awareness of the role ethnic minorities have played in the history of our country, says Mark Cottingham, principal at Shirebrook Academy.

Friday, 8th October 2021, 5:00 pm

In many ways, I think the event is somewhat tokenistic because we shouldn’t need one month in a year to switch our focus to the history of whole swathes of people.

However, it is a step in the right direction.

This year, the theme is Proud To Be and the focus is less on the stereotypical stories of the slave trade and civil rights and more on positive histories.

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Mark Cottingham, principal of Shirebrook Academy.

As a history teacher, I can vouch for there being plenty of those, especially concerning black people who made their contribution to Britain long before the HMT Empire Windrush steamed into London.

It is sometimes forgotten – or deliberately neglected – that black people have lived in this country for centuries. There were black centurions on Hadrian’s Wall, black archers at the Battle of Agincourt, black entrepreneurs during the Industrial Revolution and black soldiers in the trenches of the First World War.

The story of Britain is incomplete without recognising that, or without recognising that civilisations in Africa were creating new technology and trading with other continents while people in these islands were still hunter-gathering.

Why is this important? Because it’s only fair to afford people of colour their rightful place in history and remind everyone that diversity is part of Britain’s DNA.

But for those who still might think “so what?”, I think it says something else: by highlighting the diversity of people in our history, the way we view our history and our society changes.

When that happens, our beliefs become less certain and that leads us to question what else around us might not be as it seems and encourages us to challenge the status quo.

When we do this for ourselves, we learn, and we explore new ways of thinking and being that can change our own destinies, but which we might never have discovered at all if we hadn’t spent a month looking at our history from a different angle.

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