We are halfway through Black History Month, some say a kind of dinosaur, a relic and then, certainly and proved, uninteresting to many. Borough Councils who never cared for it are solidly righteous now as red and yellow Borough Councils this year planned to ignore it or spread it out a bit and call it Month of Diversity. There was on Politics Sunday last week a nod to it by bringing around the table inarticulate guests who encompassed nursing and seventy years of the NHS as reasons to be vehement and to raise the black, gold and green flag. BBC Radio 3 did its annual blast of Gershwin’s biography. Other radio shows shakily existing because of funding and borough raised eyebrows were unable to influence deck-mixes with smatterings of massive collections of Black singers and musicians. And no, there was no adulation throughout the year either. What missed opportunities.
It looks like you have to be brave to join in the sparse but deep offerings this year under the Black History umbrella. Eventbrite UK is crowded with images of black entrepeneurs under its events listing “Black History” or” Africa” and Croydon is dominating the scene. Newham is exploring the whys and wherefores of why we do do Black History Month. Up Your Street Caucasian subscribers were worried that they may be too obvious as out of place at Windrush tea parties. Three Indian Jews were not allowed entry until vacant seats were found when other non-ticketed women of colour were allowed through to the buffet. Yes, I obviously made a complaint but the apology was worthless. Black History is for all.
An exhibition at the Darnley Gallery works on the premise that schools do not introduce black women achievers ever. Not so. The Jenny Hammond Primary School was on the case and always is and I would say that schools in many London Boroughs are doing it for their students. And have done. There is a long way to go and that is perhaps why I am vexed that Black History Month is off the calendar as decided by young things in assembly halls and on the beat with officers of the law, all ticking off “reached out to the community” on their mission lists.
And so I was intrigued when the advert for Forest Gate Art Group had the word “diversity” slipped deliciously into the banner headline. Was that a nod to Black History Month when the group’s art works were leaving white Wanstead estate agents’ windows to hang in The Gate, Forest Gate’s flagship community events and library space in Woodgrange Road? Well, I had to see for myself as I was not convinced that Forest Gate Art Group’s stretches of the imagination would include disability and queerness as diverse just yet. Did it all mean that the artists were diverse in ethnicity, that the works were all in homage to Jah, that all the paintings showed some form of appropriation? I slid into the gallery area where pupils were chasing around and enjoying a cultural hub or so we are told. I searched for diversity quite prepared to ignore the blossom trees and the bowls of fruit. Ah, not for sale were some African faces. When I say some I mean three or four. Fine and then some excellent work but hardly diverse in content. I expected full-on black art with colour shouting out at me to be seen and noted, to smash the walls with images not seen in posher galleries. I wanted to know what the instructor’s brief was to encourage what transpired as an almost silent nod to BHM, that shy nod, that hope for a difference. It takes years of being and looking, and absorbing other communities to reflect anything extra in one’s art work. Ask ole Gershwin. He lived in South Carolina singing those Negro-Spirituals.
So as long as it takes ages to reflect all our communities in the London I know then we need a firm explosion of Black arts and culture merging and otherwise in at least one month of the year. We have to address other cultures as visible and as being experienced and step out of our habitual art where we copy others before us. To abolish Black History Month and to lessen it as an area of impact by calling the replacement a celebration of diversity we are doing no favours to all our school-children and to our way forward. Who decided what we celebrate?