Former Vice President, Geeta Lal, talks about the importance of Black History Month
Why does Black History Month matter?
Black History Month for years has been a controversial topic. It shouldn’t be but it is. Why?
Because Black History Month (BHM) has been exactly that or sometimes even less. A day or a month about Black people followed by 11 months about White people and then nothing is heard until the following year again. A constant cycle of pretending to care about the Black population. I wanted to ensure it is clear this month is not some tokenistic attempt to make myself or the Union look better but the catalyst.
I wanted to do something different. I wanted to ensure that these blogs talk about BAME experiences all year round. Black students will not be forgotten after October!
During BHM last year, there was a list of events on the Union’s website
that we put together to celebrate #BlackExcellence
The events included screenings for 'Black Panther
' and 'Us
'. I chose these films in particular because of their importance and relevance in today’s culture.
‘Black Panther’ came at a time where no big superhero had ever come to the big screen and represented the Black population in the magnitude it did. This film exuded #BlackExcellence from its’ cast straight through to the African cultures the tribes represented.
"T’Challa provides a Black role model to many young Black boys and girls who have never seen anyone look like them in superhero films."
BAME cultures are not known for empowering women but this film had an army led my beautiful, Black women who were beautiful, not because of their marital status or the children they bared but because they were Black women in powerful positions through-out the film.
In a time where we synonymise Africa with poverty, this film showcased a Black population that had not been colonised and so was in fact the richest in the world because of the Vibranium that enriched the land. The people are so intellectually advanced that they used this to develop material the outside world had never seen.
T’Challa provides a Black role model to many young Black boys and girls who have never seen anyone look like them in superhero films.
The best part? ‘Black Panther’ isn’t a Black film, it’s a superhero film that represents Black people in a magnificent way.
Representation is also why I chose ‘Us’. This is an amazing film directed by Jordan Peele, who previously directed ‘Get Out’; the film that highlighted the issues in Western societies around race. The film ‘Us’ showcase Black characters in a horror film where the Black characters aren’t there to add a shade of Brown and don’t die in the first 10 minutes. It showcases a Black family to further display Black representation on screen.
These films are both excellent at showcasing #BlackExcellence in all its forms and I can’t wait for you to see all the exciting plans students, staff and myself have created to not only have an excellent Black History Month but an outstanding Black History Year.
Why do I care about this?
As an Indian-British Woman coming from a ‘deprived’ background, you’d think I’d be born knowledgeable of the social and economic disadvantages I may have received due to my ethnic origin. However, I was very naïve, ignorant and oblivious to all of this.
I grew up ignorant. Ignorant to the racial injustices around me every-day and being wilfully ignorant to the problems my BAME friends faced on a regular basis, even daily at times.
"I had all White, male lecturers and so everywhere around me reflected the image that a person like me had no place in an industry like film"
As I got to know my Black friends even further, I got to learn that Black culture was far more than weaves and darker skin. It was more than Sean Paul and having rhythm. I learnt how I was a part of the problem, the problem that put Black people in boxes.
I put a façade on to make myself feel better by pretending to listen and care about the issues they faced whilst refusing to stand up to their every-day injustices because I could. Because I was and am privileged. It’s a privilege to be able to live my day-to-day life and not have to care about these injustices because they didn’t seem to negatively affect me.
Oh, how wrong I was.
Coming to University, I became less ignorant. My naivety began to wash away as I realised I wasn’t being represented in my course, my University and my community and this really started to effect my sense of belonging.
I had some phenomenal lecturers as a film student. However, out of the top 100 Directors, only one was female and she had only won an Oscar in 2010, after 82 years of Oscars. Within this top 100, there were not a single ethnic minority. I had all White, male lecturers and so everywhere around me reflected the image that a person like me had no place in an industry like film.
The reality is, in education in particular, if you don’t see yourself represented in your lecturers, how can you believe you, a BAME person will be able to ‘make it’ in the industry you aspire to work in.
It’s unfortunate that I had to face some of the much more minor issues my Black friends were facing in order to open my eyes and start caring about it and it’s something I still regret to this day.
This is when I began to become woke about these issues. I quickly realised that amongst my White peers, these every-day lived experiences were either outright denied or just a complete lack of care was given. It was almost like looking in the mirror to my past self but even I couldn’t deny privilege for that long because sooner or later, my Brown skin would have consequences when White skin did and does not. I have many privileges that I have to choose to acknowledge daily but White Privilege is not one of them.
What is ‘BAME: The Social Impact’?
BAME stands for Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic.
As a British Indian, I have come to realise BAME voices and stories are less heard of than White voices and stories. I don’t see myself or my BAME peers represented very often and when they are represented, it’s often not in a good light in any form of western media. So, I wanted to provide a platform for these voices and stories to be heard and allow BAME students at Staffs to feel a better sense of belonging.
Consistently, you’ll be hearing from students, alumni and staff of all backgrounds about BAME heritages and experiences. People from any heritage are welcome to write any of these blogs but the topic has to remain about BAME heritage.
In Black History Month (October), the blogs released will be about Black heritages and experiences as part of our #ProudToBeBlack campaign to empower Black students by seeing that, just like their non-Black peers, they too can attain jobs in any sector.
How do I get involved?
Geeta Lal now co-runs IN.Society which advocates "for racial equality, promoting activism and informing you of your rights in the UK". Find out more here
This article is part of our Black History Month Game Changer. Join the discussion on social media using #ProudToBeBlack and #WeAreStaffs.