As part of our Black History Month celebrations we will be highlighting contemporary and historic figures, hoping to share characters both familiar and lesser known. Alongside our featured stories, these profiles hope to reinforce the richness of BAME figures throughout history.
Anti-apartheid revolutionary, political leader, and philanthropist
“For to be free is not merely to cast off one's chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”
How can we tell the story of Nelson Mandela in just a few hundred words? The truth is we can’t, there is just so much to say. We will instead reflect on the stories we shared and think about his legacy in relation to our current climate. Everyone we’ve interviewed gave us a short list of BAME figures, both historic and contemporary, who have inspired them. One name which kept coming up was Nelson Mandela. His impact on world history is vast, having achieved the impossible in South Africa and becoming a beacon of hope for racial equality and peace. It seems pertinent to remind ourselves of what he achieved and what he stood for as we are living in a growingly intolerant climate, where polemic views are dividing us and tearing apart longstanding national and international relationships.
With the recent Windrush scandal it can be hard to acknowledge an inherent change in constitutional British acceptance of its citizens of Afro-Carrabean descent. We ask: how in an age of tolerance, where the long erased impact and importance of BAME communities in British History is finally seeing the light of day, can something like this happen? Do we live in an age where historic racism, political and cultural biases, and a shift to nationalism and individualism, have overturned much of the past positive progress? The dichotomy of our society is ever stoked by an insatiably hungry media and new politik; gorging on division whilst spouting visceral hyperbole driving us apart in order to manipulate our votes and content consumption.
Even against this backdrop of uncertainty we find there are positive movements of change in our businesses and schools. British youth are overcoming socio-economic boundaries, embracing forward thinking social issues including climate change, gender equality and diversity and inclusion, even if they are still negatively pigeonholed by policy makers and marketers (see knife crime chicken boxes). There’s still a lot for businesses and educational institutions to do to open communications and bring positive role models to both the young and those trying to grow their career. The narrative of Black British History is beginning to break the shackles of its historic forebears, but there is some way to go. Through our recent interviews we have shared some wonderful examples of positive changes in businesses and you can read about these here [Loraine Martins] and here [Gavin Lewis]. Please add a hyperlink to Gavin’s article when live
In 2019 we are seeing headlines like ‘One in four BAME people in Britain want ‘name-blind’ university applications.’ [Independent, June 2019] ‘Windrush scandal continues as Chagos Islanders are pressed to ‘go back’. [Guardian, July 2019] ‘'Humble and sweet' boy, 15, is named as latest victim of Britain's knife crime epidemic’ [Daily Mail, September 2019]. These headlines bear some uncanny similarities to the climate of the 80’s & 90’s. But even with this negative shift there are huge positives. Some of the biggest changes can be seen in the arts and advertising sectors, as an exaggerated optimism is depicted, at odds with the collateral that the ‘news’ media would have you believe. The numbers of BAME faces depicted in advertising now far outways those in Westminster, at tech conferences, or in CEO positions across the nation. What we need are real stories of success. We are seeing change and we hope that in sharing the stories throughout Black History Month we can ignite some positive change. However, we must continue to do so everyday and it’s been wonderful speaking to so many people who are enacting positive change on a daily basis.
This is part of the reason we set out to share these stories with you. To showcase the rich and wonderful talent within the BAME communities and show that we all have more in common then we are often led to believe. One thing that has shone through from almost all of the stories we shared is the importance of strong, loving and successful role models. For many these are parents who support and prepare their children for a hostile world, whilst instilling the importance of community, paying forward and hard work. Others have found resilience and inspiration in public figures, and Nelson Mandela is indeed one of the most recognised and lauded. The other common factor in our stories is the importance of education, as highlighted here in the words of Mandela:
“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”.
Not only is it important to study hard and be the best you can be, it’s also about cultural intelligence. Learn about your identity, learn about those around you and understand the complexities of our global cultures. Ignorance leads to fear and distrust, whereas cultural intelligence gives us the uniquely human gift of empathy. I think Mandela sums this up perfectly.
“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”
We’d like to thank everyone who took the time to share their stories with us. And for those who weren’t able to take part or be featured we encourage you to tell your story through as many channels as you can. If you’d like to read some of the stories we’ve shared this October please follow the links below:
Hear My Story:
Donna Fraser / Samir Domah / Sychelle-Katrina / Reggie Nelson / Melanie-Marie / Savin Sanyathan / Olukayode Alao / Oyin Talabi / Jacqueline Onalo / Donald McCartney / Loraine Martins / Gavin Lewis / Shifali Saini / Dionne Rose
In The Spotlight
Wangari Maathai / Malorie Blackman / Olaudah Equiano / Katherine Johnson