It’s the most wonderful time of the year. No, I don’t mean Christmas. I’m referring to the huge national event that happens every October, year after year, and yet only a small fraction of our student population ever really participates in it. That’s right, I’m referring to Hallo… Black History Month. Don’t worry this is not a diatribe against those who don’t see the point of a Black History Month or would like there to be a White History Month (ridiculous, I know), because thankfully these people are in the minority. Instead what this article aims to tackle is the common problem of the masses, who are constantly consuming Black culture, whilst remaining wilfully ignorant to the struggles of its creators- Black people.
The truth is that for decades a lot of Pop culture spectacles have had their roots in Black culture. For example, in 2016 everyone and their grandmother was dabbing. From your cringey pics on a night out, to the even cringier pics of middle-aged politicians trying to ‘look cool’, you will find one commonality – the dab. The dab is a dance move accredited to the rap group the Migos and can be seen in their music video “Bad and Boujee” featuring Lil Uzi.
Another example is the fact that since the beginning of time Black women have naturally had bigger lips and butts than most and now, thanks to celebrities like the Kardashians and Nicki Minaj, girls all around the world are breaking their backs trying to do enough squats to ‘grow their glutes’. Finally, there’s the recent Fortnite faux pas, where Chance The Rapper took to twitter to criticise the game for profiting of popular Black dance moves, such as the ‘Millyrock’ and BlocBoy JB’s ‘Hype,’ without giving the appropriate credit. Chance wrote, “Fortnite should put the actual rap songs behind the dances that make so much money as Emotes. Black creatives created and popularized these dances but never monetized them.”
Still, despite the mainstream nature of Black culture and the progress we’ve made with civil rights, living as a Black person (and indeed any person of colour) in a Western country remains challenging. Just look at the American news cycle and you will find story after story of police brutality and discrimination. A recent headline was of the Black Yale student who had the police called on her by another student because she fell asleep in her own dorm’s common room area. This is what happens when people who often happily partake in the culture remain ignorant to our issues and so still harbour prejudice. In other words, this is what happens when people aren’t ‘woke’ (literally).
These themes of bias and discrimination were explored by Childish Gambino in the viral music video, “This is America”. But this is not just an American problem. Research by StopWatch in 2014-2015 found that in the UK, Black people are 4.2 times as likely as their white peers to be stopped and searched. Why? I guess because they were driving while Black. It is also no secret that BAME (Black, Asian and minority ethnic) groups are “over- represented” in our prison system, a fact made very clear in the statistics gathered by the Institute of Race Relations.
It’s easy to think solely of America when thinking about the mistreatment of minority groups, because like with many things they tend to make the most noise about it; but they are not alone. It might be hard for some of you to imagine that even our quiet little town of Lancaster was once the 4th largest slave port in Britain, responsible for the transportation of tens of thousands of Africans into slavery, but these are the facts. So just because Brits are generally quieter about these parts of their history and more discreet in their discrimination doesn’t mean these problems cease to exist altogether.
Today, I probably couldn’t stand in Alex square and throw a stone without hitting someone who consumes Black culture in one way or another: through their music, their dance moves, their slang, their clothes and sometimes quite literally through the Jerk Chicken they had for dinner last night. Note: there is absolutely nothing wrong with this, as long you give credit where credit is due and don’t say you came up with it yourself (because that would be appropriation). No culture lives in isolation of itself, especially now with technology and the internet we’re bound to rub off on each other, as it’s part of being global citizens.
Where this article comes in however, is to inspire that same level of engagement when we try to talk to you about the issues plaguing the Black community, and the ways you can help. You shouldn’t just take the parts of our culture you like, whilst ignoring our thoughts and feelings about the society we all share. Join the conversation, follow the Lancaster University Ethnic Diversity Committee on Facebook, get active- Give a little bit! Keep that same energy (you had while twerking) when it comes to Black History Month and Black issues, and not just every October but all 365 days of the year.