The truth is that the trade in sugar and slaves helped build Britain's greatness and create some of our most beloved cultural symbols. It was sugar, harvested by slaves, that generated those great fortunes jockeyed for in the novels of Jane Austen, and helped to finance the splendid houses which provide the model for Downtown Abbey. Nor should we forget that even today, more than 150 years after slavery was abolished, Africans and their descendants remain markedly disadvantaged compared to the descendants of those who promoted the trade against them.*yawn* Oh, sorry! I fell asleep there for a moment...
So why does this ignorance persist, 25 years after Black History Month was launched in Britain?Because BHM is just a gimmick?
When Britain truly acknowledges its history, our society will realise that the brown and black faces in our midst are not interlopers or johnny-come-latelys, but the logical result of British participation in the world – and evidence of its long and intertwined involvement with its exploited colonies. Indeed, much of what we designate as black history is in fact simply English history – stories we should all remember and acknowledge. We minorities are here not as an act of charity but because we belong here, because we worked and starved and died over centuries to build this nation.Most of the minorities here aren't any such thing! They are economic migrants or asylum seekers or illegals!
Slavery and colonialism is a ghost that still haunts modern Britain, because we have never fully exorcised it.And you never will, since it provides so much opportunity for you and your kind.
Like any nation, Britain is what the academic Benedict Anderson described as an "imagined community": its self-image is determined by what it decides to recall and what it decides to disregard. Thus abolition is warmly remembered and commemorated as the heroic action of a civilised society, and the hundreds of years of barbaric slavery that preceded it are conveniently forgotten.And just who was it, Andrea, who sold most of those slaves into their awful bondage? At least we abolished it, unlike some countries!
It is the duty of a mature democracy to not just celebrate its triumphs but to acknowledge its miscarriages. Instead of the jingoistic version of history championed by the likes of education secretary Michael Gove, we should aim to create a narrative for our citizens that tells the whole story, warts and all.But 'the whole story, warts and all' is exactly what you don't want to hear, much less tell.
We will know Black History Month is successful only when it is redundant – when our history is understood by us all, and young people gain the pride and self-assurance that a genuine account of it would afford.I look forward to that genuine account. But I'll never, ever hear it from your lips.