At present, the national history curriculum in England paints a heroic and courageous picture of the British Empire. The words “slave” and “colony” are decidedly absent from the subjects outlined for Key Stage 1 and 2 (primary school age) students. When they are highlighted as topics for Key Stage 3 (Years 7 to 9), the subjects are noted as “non-statutory”. Africa has one namecheck across the entire national curriculum. It’s in reference to Benin, West Africa, between the dates AD 900 and 1300 – a convenient 597 years prior to the British invasion of 1897. Windrush is missing. The words Black History do not appear once.
Petitions calling for change in the Welsh, Scottish, and wider UK education systems have been gaining traction over the past two years, but it’s not the first time these concerns have been brought to parliament. In 2014, a petition titled “Introduce Black History to the primary curriculum” was published. The petition ran for six months and gained over 40,000 signatures. The response from the government was telling:
“The content and structure of the new history curriculum provides plenty of scope for black history to be covered. However, this is not prescribed in detail within the statutory programmes of study. Instead schools have the flexibility to deal with these topics in ways that are appropriate and sensitive to the needs of their pupils.”
It’s just one example of the sustained systemic racism that Black people experience in the UK today. Until Black History and the true impacts of colonisation by the British Empire are made compulsory learning in schools, the UK government is by default telling our young people that they just don’t need to know.
Social enterprise The Black Curriculum has been working to address the gaps in our education system since 2016. Their commitment to teaching Black British History all year round has seen 1000 students attend workshops since September of 2019 alone, with goals of providing a sense of belonging and identity to young people across the UK, as well as raising attainment and improving social cohesion. It's a mission that The Black Curriculum founder Lavinya Stennett hopes to expand across the country, highlighting that one month a year isn't an alternative to providing students with a comprehensive education on Britain’s unconscionable past, or an excuse for excluding the triumphs and trials of our Black British communities from the syllabus.
Below you’ll find a list of books, podcasts, articles, and documentaries geared towards filling in just some of the gaping holes in the UK’s national history curriculum. One book that doesn’t appear below but is worthy of a mention is This Is The Canon: Decolonize Your Bookshelves In 50 Books, which will be released later this month (October 28, 2021). This book – curated by Joan Anim-Addo, Deirdre Osborne, and Kadija Sesay – questions why “required reading” lists in educational settings are so often white dominated and offers readers guidance on how to diversify their book shelf. Although not specifically focused on Black British History, This Is The Canon will help to highlight how narrow syllabuses can be.
These lists are by no means exhaustive, nor are they a substitute for improved education on Black British History in our schools. For that reason we encourage you to also read more about the petitions and organisations working hard to change the current system.
Black British History
As Lavinya Stennett wrote for Huffington Post, an education on Black British History does not begin and end with the slave trade. The below resources speak to the experience of being Black in Britain, the joys, the struggles, the history made – to use Stennett's words, these resources are about "a journey of adaptability, endurance and ingenuity."
- Black & British: A Forgotten History (David Olusoga)
- Black Tudors (Miranda Kaufmann)
- Blackamoores (Onyeka)
- The New Cross Massacre Story (John La Rose)
- Staying Power: The History Of Black People In Britain (Peter Fryer)
- Black British History: Black Influences on British Culture (Robin Walker, Paula Perry, Anthony Vaughan and Vanika Marshall)
- War To Windrush: Black Women In Britain (Stephen Bourne)
- Black London (Marc Matera)
- Black Poppies: Britain's Black Community and the Great War (Stephen Bourne)
- Empire Windrush: Fifty Years Of Writing About Black Britain (Onyekachi Wambu)
- Black History Is Still Largely Ignored, 70 Years After Empire Windrush Reached Britain (April-Louise Pennant and Nando Sigona for The Conversation)
- Black people have had a presence in our history for centuries. Get over it (David Olusoga for Guardian)
- Britain's Black Power Movement Is At Risk Of Being Forgotten (Mark Brown for The Guardian)
- Historian Jade Bentil On Black British Feminism & Doing Justice To Everyday Black Women's Lives (Paula Akpan for Bustle)
- Black People's Day Of Action: Inside The 1981 New Cross Fire March That Brought Britain To A Standstill (Nadine White for Huffington Post)
- Meeting Mama Edwards, Manchester’s Black activist hero (Kemi Alemoru for gal-dem)
- Why Notting Hill Carnival embodies what it means to be Black & British (Meena Alexander for Stylist)
- Remembering Altheia Jones-Lecointe, the UK’s forgotten civil rights activist (Danielle Dash for Stylist)
- Black & British: A Forgotten History (BBC Two, no longer available in full, see clips here)
- Black to Life: Rethinking The Black Presence Within British History (BBC, no longer available in full, see clips here)
- Riots & Rumours of Riots (BFI)
- Britain’s Black Past (Audio, BBC Sounds)
- British’s Music Caribbean Roots (Audio, BBC World Service)
- Black Music In Europe: 1910-1920 (Audio, BBC World Service)
- The Homecoming: A Short Film About Ajamu (BFI)
- Street 66 (Vimeo)
- Witness Black History (BBC World Service)
- The Black Curriculum
- In Search Of Black History with Bonnie Greer
- Tuntimo (Launched by Oriana Gowie, this is an educational platform where children can learn about Black History in the UK & around the world.)
Britain’s Colonial Past & Legacy
Without real awareness and ownership of the atrocities against Black people carried out by the British Empire, we cannot reasonably expect to progress to a point of racial equality. The below resources only begin to scratch the surface – they are a starting point for continued learning.
- Natives: Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire (Akala)
- The British Empire: A Very Short Introduction (Ashley Jackson)
- How Europe Underdeveloped Africa (Walter Rodney)
- The Interest: How the British Establishment Resisted the Abolition of Slavery (Michael Taylor)
- It’s Time Britain Confronted Its Racist, Oppressive Past (Kemi Alemoru for HUCK Magazine)
- Put Our Colonial History On The Curriculum, Then We’ll Understand Who We Really Are (Maya Goodfellow for the Guardian)
- Britain’s Record On Racism Is No Less Bloody Than America’s (Priyamvada Gopal for Huffpost)
- Britain Has Never Faced Up to the Shame of Empire (Oscar Rickett for Vice)
- The True Story Of Queen Nanny, Rebel Leader and Jamaican National Hero (Marai Larasi for Stylist)
- Addressing Colonial Narratives In Museums (Professor Elizabeth Edwards FBA for The British Academy)
- It’s Not Just Cambridge University – All Of Britain Benefited From Slavery (Myriam Francois for The Guardian)
- The History Of British Slave Ownership Has Been Buried: Now Its Scale Can Be Revealed (David Olusoga for Observer)
Podcasts & Audio Documentaries
- We Need To Talk About The British Empire (Afua Hirsch for Audible)
- The British Empire's Legacy (from In Our Time: History)
- Britain’s Forgotten Slave Owners (BBC Two, no longer available in full, see clips here)
- What Was Britain's Role In The Slave Trade? (Timeline)
- The Mau Mau Uprising with Olivia Windham-Stewart, Susan Kibaara and Mary Njoroge (History Hit TV)
- The Old Corruption (Timeline)
- Colonial Film: Moving Images Of The British Empire (Built by Birkbeck, UCL, BFI, Imperial War Museum, and the British Empire and Commonwealth Museum, The Colonial Film project aims to better illustrate the truths of the British Empire)
The 2018 Windrush Scandal exposed the unlawful detainment, deportation, and denial of legal rights to Black British people at the hands of the UK government. The books, podcasts, documentaries, and articles below highlight the devastation that began with Empire Windrush in 1948, as well as the extended impact that actions by the UK government have had on Black families across the country.
- Mother Country (edited by Charlie Brinkhurst-Cuff)
- Windrush: The Irresistible Rise of Multi-Racial Britain (Mike Philips and Trevor Philips)
- Voices of the Windrush Generation: The Real Story Told by the People Themselves (David Matthews)
- Why The Windrush Scandal Was No Accident (from ‘The British Dream’ by VICE)
- What Does Windrush Mean Now? (from ‘Beyond Today’ by BBC Radio 4)
- Windrush: The Scandal Isn’t Over (from ‘Today In Focus’ by The Guardian)
- The Windrush Generation (from ‘History Extra’ by Immediate Media)
- I'm A Windrush Grandchild & The Scandal Has Taught Me So Much About Privilege (Lollie King for Bustle)
- Why We Need To Keep Talking About The Windrush Generation (Natalie Morris for Metro)
- The Windrush Generation: Fighting To Be British (Simon Israel for Channel 4)
- The UK's Windrush Generation: What's The Scandal About? (Al Jazeera News)
- The Unwanted: The Secret Windrush Files (BBC Two, no longer available in full, see clips here)
- Britain’s Windrush Veterans: The Battle To Be British (Channel 4)
- From Slavery To Windrush: My Family's Story (BBC News)
- After The Windrush Betrayal (The Guardian)
- Windrush Generation: The Scandal That Shook Britain Explained & Debated (Channel 4)
- The Stories Of The Windrush Veterans (Channel 4)
Further resources for self-education:
- Click here for a list of books about race in Britain to build an anti-racist reading list.
- Click here to learn about Black British LGBTQ heroes that should be recognised during Pride and beyond.
- Click here for a list of essays on racism and police violence.
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