Outspoken

My African Perspective On The Black History Month

   

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It was a day in October 2013 when parents were invited to a workshop with their kids at school. My son was in year one; I was quite interested in attending this workshop because it was the first one that school year plus the letter mentioned it would involve building a model of our house!

The modelling activity was quite intriguing as I listened to my son’s teacher explain to the pupils and the parents present, how they can build their house with cardboard paper securing it with sellotape at the corners to make it strong. I tried to work as a team with my boy who was 5 years old but we did not seem to be making much progress as we argued about colouring the side gate of our model with my least favourite colour-black! As I tried to no avail to talk him out of it, luckily, my attention was drawn away by another mom seated at my desk. She also seemed to have given up helping her daughter when her eye caught something up on the wall of the classroom.

She tapped me gently and made me follow her eyes round the wall until it stopped at some posters with the heading, ‘Black History Month’. Then it dawned on me that indeed we were in October, the month Britain celebrates black history. I had always heard of this celebration but really had never had an interest or the opportunity to be involved in it in any way so I was became quite curious to know what the poster had to say about it. And was my curiosity well fed?

Prior to this day my son had repeatedly asked me some specific questions about Africa and one I clearly recall was “mummy, why are there no doctors in Africa?” I looked at him with utter surprise and managed to answer sharply saying, “There are!” But as though not satisfied, he went on to say “if there are, they must be very few”. “No they aren’t”, I retorted and by this time I was gobsmacked watching him hold on to his argument. But as I usually do with him who is quite a strong character when it comes to making a point, I let it lie but silently pondered over the source of that information.

And so, if I was astounded hearing those words from my little boy days before, I was even more astounded on this day. As I cast my eye balls on the information, they lit up making me throw a stupefied glance back to the mum who pointed out the posters to me. At this point I wish I could have brought out my phone to take a picture but couldn’t due to school policy of not taking photographs on their premises. As a result, I’ll have to paraphrase what I read. The poster said that Africa is very poor and her people are hungry; there was also something along the lines of, there is no rainfall in Africa so they can’t grow their own foods. Again, I am not quoting the information verbatim but these left me feeling like shouting out, ‘and then….? Is that it’?

While I truly admire the efforts made by schools and organisations all over to educate children about Black History month, it must be understood that the information the kids are fed with go a long way to build their impression and appreciation of people and places and hence the need for it to be factual and relevant. It was after this incident that I was forced to believe that the source of the untrue information about ‘no doctors in Africa must have come from my son’s school’.

I went home in rage pondering what I had just witnessed and how best to react. I spoke to a few friends about it to let off some steam and after a while, the feeling naturally died off until come a day in December. I woke up to the tabloids carrying news of the death of Nelson Madiba Mandela and everything in me rekindled. With the news about Madiba, the great man who fought and conquered apartheid for us blacks, I was reminded about who we are and what we stand for and so should be remembered for. I thus picked up my pen and wrote a letter to the head teacher of my son’s school.

In my letter, I said that as parents, teachers and guardians we need to be very mindful about what we teach children because they are like sponges and have such good memories. More so, we need to be careful about portraying what a Nigerian writer, Chimamanda Adichie refers to as “The darkness of the single truth about Africa”. Just because someone reads or hears of a story in some part of Africa does not warrant the person to conclude that that is a representation of Africa. There should not be a single story about Africa or any people, race or tribe because single stories do not define who people are! Using her caption again, Chimamanda advises that a single story creates stereotypes and the problem with stereotypes is not only are they untrue, are incomplete and most times make that one story become the only story.

I have an African friend whose son has apparently been also misinformed by similar single stories about Africa and so he is of the impression that Africans are rejects who are in need of help to the extent that he told his pregnant mom that he hopes she does not give birth to an African! What I am trying to say here is there are multiple positive stories we could educate these kids with about Africa. On the website of Black history month, there is a quote by the Mayor of London which says ‘Black history month is a fantastic opportunity to celebrate the myriad of contributions black people have made to our country and to London’. An MP, David Lammy, rightly said that it is a chance to celebrate the rich and diverse tapestry of cultures and ethnicities that make up our national identity.

I could not have put it better and this brings me precisely to my point: Africa is as we know a continent full of catastrophes but so is it rich in positive stories and achievements that could have been written on that poster to better portray us during such a remarkable month.

It is not enough to want to have just any activity put out all in the name of Black History month celebration nor does it call for anyone to come up with cooked up stories about a people that they obviously know little about because of self gratification. No, that is beside the point; there needs to be accurate information disseminated to not just kids but everyone and if one is unsure about the information, simply speak to people who would know better for example those who the celebration is about! For there is no point in doing something if it is not for the good of the recipients and it is unfair for me to be in a situation where I tell my kids that we’ll be going ‘home’ for the holidays and they are reluctant because they’ve been fed with lies and inappropriate information about their roots.

Africa is blessed with the rainforest which means it has ‘heavy rainfall’ from which several raw materials and food crops are grown. It has vast natural resources like limestone, diamonds which are sourced and exported to western countries thus forming a huge part of the main sources of manufacturing companies which provide a profit margin in these countries.

As this celebration is not just about Africa but the black race, I am proud to say that so much has been achieved by us and continues to be. Very evident in our world today, is the forty-fourth President of the United States. Barack Obama is an African American who’s made history and will leave behind a rich legacy both in terms of his achievements and as a shining example to our young people. He has taught them that they too can achieve their dreams and has given hope to so many people (black or not) who were made to feel their lives are irrelevant because of a shortcoming or limitation. Today they know better to take the lid off their limitation be it colour, background or culture as those do not define who they are!

From the same black race, we’ve had renowned and internationally recognized writers like Doctor Chinua Achebe, religious and political leaders and warriors such as Martin Luther King, Kwame Nkrumah, Nelson Mandela, Malcolm X and Queen Amina of Zaria who changed the course and quality of life for all African-Americans.

Africa has rich cultures that value respect at all levels, this could be a good thing to be taught to kids at schools or need I mention how many talented children have emerged from Africa and who because of their merits attract scholarships to study both in Africa and outside.

I obviously can’t do good justice about the rich and diverse blessings the black populace has but trust that a good google search would help. Regardless, I implore and encourage us all to embrace everyone and let’s celebrate and learn from other people’s culture, history and achievements for this is what makes us truly diverse and one.

Stories matter because they have been known to malign and dispossess but they can also be used to empower and humanize. Stories can break people’s dignity and likewise repair same. In the words of an unknown writer, “when we reject the single story and realize that there is not a single story about any place or people, we regain a kind of paradise.”

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Writer – Esosa is the self published author of her first book titled Not my Spine. Although she studied civil engineering, she has always from a young age, wanted to write books. Having undergone major medical illness years ago and have now come to terms with it, Esosa felt this painful experience was a good story to write about, thus bring her writing dreams to life. She is a wife and mun of two growing men of valour. She is also a self published author, a blogger, a campaigner and a motivational speaker.

To learn more please visit her website at www.esosaikolo.com/tb

For speaking engagements and other inquiries please email esosaikolo@gmail.com

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