Councils are scrapping Black History Month – but every day the news reminds us why we need it

We have the Bechdel test, for measuring the portrayal of women on screen, and the Riz test, for evaluating the representation of Muslims – now we need to come up with a gauge for diversity. True diversity. Not the ridiculed kind co-opted by defensive white people who appear to see any welcoming of difference as yet another example of diversity gone mad. Lionel Shriver diversity, you might brand it. No, Wide Awoke is talking about actual, complex, intersectional, inclusive, yet-to-be-realised diversity.

Black History Month, which runs throughout October, isn’t perfect but it is a tiny respite from the other 11 months of the year, which could be described as one long, tasteless festival of white history … and, for that matter, white present and white future. Even as the Windrush scandal rumbles on and the individual tragedies of victims – such as Sarah O’Connor, who died last month still facing bankruptcy as a result of being classified an illegal immigrant after living in the UK for 51 of her 57 years – are reported, a number of councils have scrapped the name Black History Month. Or, another way of putting it: black experience has been deliberately erased.

But fear not, because Black History Month is being replaced with something even more inclusive! In the Conservative-led London borough of Hillingdon, for example, it has risen from the ashes as Culture Bite, featuring country dancing (which is, erm, British), wine tasting, Indian classical painting and a screening of … Salmon Fishing in the Yemen – a romcom about white people attempting to take fly-fishing to the Arabian desert. A film selection for a culturally diverse festival doesn’t get more parodic than that.

The rules of the diversity test must be: does it include the diverse cultures it claims to celebrate/describe? Is the person making/curating it from a diverse background? Does it erase the experience of a community? Replacing Black History Month with a vague and tokenistic celebration of all ethnicities would surely fail the test. This is not true diversity. It’s a dodgy, diluted kind, which tends to be dreamed up by straight, white, privileged people. And it has a high chance of leading to cultural appropriation – see the story about an east London primary school that asked parents to send children dressed as slaves in “dirty and worn-out clothes” for a special assembly. The kind of diversity that results in the narrowing of difference as opposed to the embrace of it.

Every day, the news reminds us that we need Black History Month more than ever. And we should all be participating in it. By drumming home the message that black history is British history. By refusing to let the outrage surrounding the inhumane treatment of the black British citizens in the Windrush scandal die. By listening more to black people. By doing all this for more than a month.

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