The word which encompasses much of what Black History Month focuses on is racism. This “ism”, although certainly contained in the ideologies of other oppressive “isms”, such as Fascism, is probably the most disturbing of them all as it illustrates our nature as a species. It is the habit of placing oneself above others, considering some ubermensch and others untermensch. For some time this worldview was excused by the deliberate misconstruing of scientific theory. After Darwin published his The Origin of Species in 1859, the foundation of biological evolution, its thesis was sociologically adapted by British imperialists to give scientific support for the idea that Africans were an inferior sub-species. Due to this social Darwinism they saw it as their job to invade their lands and rescue them from their barbarity. Whilst taking vast quantities of diamonds, gold, oil, cotton and many other valuable raw materials in the process.
Fortunately, biological history has now disproved any rational basis for racism as scientists have been able to trace back all non-sub-Saharan human DNA to one African woman. Because of this, whether you are from London, Beijing, Mumbai, Jerusalem, Berlin or Washington DC, we all share a tiny genetic mutation which reveals our universal heritage. There may not have been an Adam, but there was an Eve.
Unfortunately, xenophobia itself probably has a scientific basis also, though the cause of it is now a largely irrational one. It makes sense that throughout our early history being suspicious of others would aid one’s own survival; they would be less likely to be ambushed and killed by rival Homo sapiens, thus able to pass on such behavioural traits to their offspring. Therefore, racism, or certainly fear of “the Other”, is perhaps evolutionary; we are naturally alienated by the alien and comforted by the familiar. However, as our own vibrantly multicultural and largely tolerant country proves, through the education and spreading of certain values (crucially, equality and openness) this “ism”, which has plagued our history with abhorrent oppression, can be eradicated, or at least greatly pushed back. Open-minded, critical thinking kills prejudice and ignorance. Consequently, an honest, open perspective upon Black History which exposes the good and the bad committed by all peoples is highly important.
Often it is thought that the oppression of other peoples has been performed by the white man, with the coloured man - usually the black man – as the victim. This is due to our education system’s focus on certain historical occurrences’ such as the civil rights movement, the transatlantic slave trade and European imperialism. That’s not to say that these events aren’t entirely valid as historical topics, or that every western child shouldn’t be taught about the crimes against humanity which our nation partook in since its modern formation in 1707. And that the transatlantic slave trade was not done on a scale which had never been witnessed by humanity before, outdoing all other slave industries which came before it. Yet despite the stereotypical image of a slave and slave owner is that of a chained African man stood next to a white man, not all victims were of colour and not all oppressors were white.
Sources: - http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/africa/6445941.stm
Image: See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons