Council Accused Of 'Watering Down' Black History Month

With 'shameful' rebranding to Diversity Month

Black History Month - the annual commemoration of the history and achievements of black people in the UK - has been rebranded as Diversity Month in Wandsworth borough.

Black History Month was first celebrated in the United Kingdom in 1987. It was organised through the leadership of Ghanaian analyst Akyaaba Addai-Sebo, who had served as a coordinator of special projects for the Greater London Council (GLC) and created a collaboration to get it underway.

Local borough libraries have celebrated the month over the years with events for all age groups. However this month the event is being referred to as 'Diversity Month'. Labour Councillor Candida Jones told this website, "For the first time in Wandsworth, rather than focusing on the experiences of black residents, according to the 'Better' website, this month will be a celebration of 'the many and varied experiences and cultures within our borough', including Polish, Indian, Spanish and Chinese as well as African and Caribbean cultures."

The rebranding exercise has also drawn criticism from representatives of the black community. Dawn Butler, Labour’s equality Shadow Equalities Minister, responded to the rebranding exercise by saying “it is important that [Black History Month] remains focused on the contribution of African-Caribbean people. It makes a huge difference to hear black history spoken about positively.” Marsha deCordova, Battersea’s MP, described the decision as 'shameful'.

Cllr Maurice Mcleod

Wandsworth Labour Cllr Maurice Mcleod, one of only two black Councillors in Wandsworth, echoes these sentiments. He believes that in an ideal world, there would be no reason to celebrate Black History Month, because the history taught in schools would be representative of all cultures but, he says, “We do not live in an ideal world. In terms of the teaching of history in schools, the default power is the default story and that means the story of upper and middle-class white men, which is why Black History Month remains an important way for teachers to offer their children new ways of thinking about their past.”

Cllr Mcleod points to rising knife crime in the borough – and across London – which disproportionately impacts the black community, as an important reason why now is not the right time to dilute the message of Black History Month. “One of the factors in rising knife crime is a lack of self-worth generated at least in part by the absence of an alternative narrative. Without that alternative narrative, there is little wonder why young black kids feel erased – their experiences and their cultures are not being reflected in the good stuff that has happened – and by rebranding Black History Month that alienation will continue.”

He continues, “If Wandsworth were doing a great job at supporting the back community then it wouldn’t matter, but Wandsworth’s black community feels there is little for them in the borough. They feel marginalised by Wandsworth Council – it’s evident if you look at any part of civil society in the borough, from Residents Associations and the borough’s Residents’ Forum, to the Council itself where only two black councillors out of 60 are black; white men dominate all these structures.” According to the most recent census, 11% of Wandsworth’s population is black and 11% is of Asian origin.

The social commentator Patrick Vernon, who edits Black History Month magazine, told The Guardian newspaper this week that rebrandings of the event were “shameful”.

He said, “Black History Month was established 30 years ago because the black experience in Britain was not recognised in the national curriculum and in mainstream society. Unfortunately we do not live in a post-racial Britain. If we did, perhaps we would not need Black History Month.”

Cllr Mcleod sees a parallel in Wandsworth’s rebranding exercise with the changes that were made to the Commission for Racial Equality. The CRE was established in 1976 but disbanded in 2007 when its functions were taken over by the newly created Equality and Human Rights Commission. Mr Mcleod says, “If we don’t actively make sure that black voices are heard, our voices get lost – my fear is that by watering down Black History Month and rebranding it as Diversity Month, it will end up meaning less, or meaning nothing.”

We have asked the Council to comment.

October 2, 2018