Did you know that the first recorded black presence
in Britain was during Roman times?
Black History Month was first celebrated in Britain
in 1987. It aims to enable all people to be aware of and enjoy the
achievements and contributions that black people have made.
If you haven't heard of it before that's because
celebrations have often been confined to areas with larger black
and minority ethnic populations.
For the first time, Norfolk Education and Action
for Development, an educational charity working locally for global
justice and equality, and Norwich and Norfolk Racial Equality Council
have joined forces to promote a programme of events.
So why celebrate Black History Month in white Norfolk?
As the Nigerian author Ben Okri has written, "Stories are the secret
reservoir of values: change the stories individuals and nations
live by and tell themselves and you change the individuals and nations."
If the world we live in - from the history books
to the neighbouring houses - is overwhelmingly populated by white
people and dominated by white culture, the consequence is that black
people and black culture are marginalised, or perhaps, simply rendered
This provides a fertile context for the perpetuation
of the ignorance, exclusions, divisions, misunderstandings, stereotyping
and discrimination of racism.
In contrast, there are other realities, other stories,
that racism works to obscure, that can change the way we think of
ourselves and our society and that can promote the growth of anti-racist
Stories of our common human ancestry in Africa,
of the continuous presence of black people in Britain for at least
500 years; of people such as Mary Seacole, a black nurse in the
Crimea at the same time as Florence Nightingale and, in her time,
also famous and feted; of the first black
British circus owner, Pablo Fanque, born in Norwich in 1798.
All the stories documented in Norwich and Norfolk
Racial Equality Council's Norfolk Roots of the Future Exhibition
show the presence and contribution of black and minority ethnic
groups and individuals to this county.
So where does that leave white Norfolk? And let's
not even talk about the myth, all the more powerful for its unspoken
presence in our lives and minds, of a country or a world shaped
only by white 'civilisations' and achievements, heroes and pioneers.
To create an inclusive, just and non-racial society
we need an inclusive story that does justice to all those who are
and have been part of it.
This is as true in Norfolk as it is anywhere else
in the country or the world.
The task and purpose of Black History Month is
to allow us all to discover, reinstate, highlight, discuss, enjoy
and celebrate some of the missing chapters.