I was minding my own business on a Sunday afternoon yesterday and reading ‘Double Cross’ (the fourth book of the Noughts & Crosses series written by the amazing Malorie Blackman). I initially read these books when I was a teenager, but since she made a TV adaption of the series on BBC earlier this year, I’ve been re-reading the books. Anyway I digress, there I was reading Double Cross when I heard the dreaded words coming coming from the radio station my dad was listening to ‘wE cAn’T KeEp ApoLoGIsiNg FoR oUr hIsToRy‘.
As soon as I heard those words, I had to shut my bedroom door, because my blood was already boiling. However, after I simmered my boil down, I was thinking carefully. Me getting frustrated would solve nothing and me closing doors wouldn’t permanently shut out and stop certain people from having this mindset of ‘wE CaN’T aPolOgiSE FoR wHAt OuR AncEStoRs did‘.
The statement really gave me food for thought. I don’t necessarily want to change the mindset of certain individuals who aren’t interested in embracing other perspectives and don’t even truly understand the so called history they claim to be so passionate about. However, I do want to set out clearly why I believe there are quite a few issues with the crass and ignorant statement of wE cAn’T KeEp ApoLoGIsiNg FoR oUr hIsToRy‘. In my opinion, this statement typically seems to come from a combination of an underlying sense of guilt and denial about racism, a refusal to have an open dialogue about racism and the stubborn mindset that black people and other ethnic minorities should essentially ‘get over it.’
Firstly as far as I know and I’ve seen, nobody is asking you to personally apologise for what your ancestors did. I haven’t asked or expected anyone to personally apologise to me or others for the slave trade, apartheid, the Jim Crow laws, the Windrush scandal, etc. However, what I do expect is for this history to be told in a transparent, truthful and respectful manner. I also don’t expect you to defend the cruel events which happened in the past with foolish excuses and rebuttals such as ‘but the slave trade was already happening before we arrived in Africa‘, ‘it was all so long ago‘ and my personal favourite of the lot which exemplifies white saviour syndrome to a T ‘we did eventually stop slavery though‘. I guess we should be oh so grateful! Also I’d recommend reading the following articles which explain how even when the slave trade was supposedly ‘selflessly abolished’ in the UK in 1833, slaves continued to work for free for 6-12 years and slave owners received the equivalent of millions in ‘compensation’, which taxpayers such as you and I coughed up the money for up until 2015. This is a classic example of selective history, by simply saying ‘slavery was abolished in the UK in 1833’ , this fails to take into account the full and extremely ugly picture of what actually happened historically.
No-one is asking you to apologise for history, but we want the history told and remembered correctly, please refer to the example above. I don’t appreciate learning about what your ancestors did from a one-sided, whitewashed and deliberately diluted curriculum which doesn’t go into the necessary depth and detail about what your ancestors did and the atrocities which happened. I don’t appreciate the fact that what your ancestors did is in some cases still being revered through the display of public statues. I don’t appreciate that the significant contributions of black individuals isn’t wilfully, truthfully and openly taught in schools to allow for a more well rounded concept of history. I don’t appreciate that the acknowledgment of the ‘history’ of black people is confined to just one month (October) in the UK and one month even in the US (February). However, there is a school in the UK which currently teaches black history all year round, this is extremely positive and I hope other schools adopt the same curriculum.
Look in the mirror and realise this isn’t about apologising for what your ancestors did in the past. This is fundamentally about addressing and rectifying what is happening here and now in the present (because I know you’re not even going to try and go down the route of ‘RaciSM wAs iN ThE PaSt aND it’S OveR?‘). So the next time statutes of cruel and inhumane individuals such as Edward Colston and Leopold II are removed, ask yourself why you’re so opposed to the removal and if in fact a part of you glorifies and glamourises this evil aspect of history? We really don’t need statutes to remember history (please don’t bother with that strawman argument, I remember Hitler just fine and there aren’t statues of him dotted about city centres).
So what do I say to the Joe Bloggs that says to me with such indignation ‘We can’t keep apologising for our history’. I say to him or her, ‘don’t bother apologising, however if you can: 1) genuinely be sombre and ashamed of what your ancestors did do in the past and 2) aim for a future where the full picture of history is taught, learnt and understood, then that certainly won’t go amiss – but what definitely won’t result in any lasting change are empty and futile apologies.’ If you can’t do those things above, then please do continue saying wE cAn’T KeEp ApoLoGIsiNg FoR oUr hIsToRy and wE CaN’T aPolOgiSE FoR wHAt OuR AncEStoRs did until you’re blue in the face.
P.S. Whilst you’re here please follow, support and donate to ‘The Black Curriculum‘ a social enterprise formed in 2019 which addresses and tackles the lack of Black British history within the UK Curriculum.