In her speech in the Westminster Hall debate on Black History and cultural diversity on Monday evening 28th June, Bath MP Wera Hobhouse, who is the Liberal Democrat Spokesperson for Equalities, called for the school curriculum to be enriched with the teaching of black history and the histories of other ethnicities and cultures.
Wera drew on the panel discussion she chaired for Bath Abbey on Friday 26th June in which the Abbey examined its historical connections with slavery and Empire.
In her speech, Wera Hobhouse said:
“History is written by the winners. However uncomfortable and however painful it is, we have a responsibility to confront the whole history of our nation, not only the things that are easy to celebrate. We must learn from the parts about which we are disturbed and ashamed. Most importantly, we need to recognise that the history of the transatlantic slave trade has thrown a very long shadow and that we are still living with the legacy of the injustices committed both long ago and not so long ago. Learning from our past should create a better future. We cannot hope to reach a place of true racial equality without having the difficult conversations about our colonial past.
“Education is a valuable tool to empower young people to make change happen. We have a duty to ensure that the next generation better understands historical injustices and the way in which those injustices still play out in our society today. Teaching black history and the histories of other ethnicities and cultures adds an important layer to our overall understanding. That does not mean erasing someone else’s history—far from it. Including more in our history books can only be enriching. I find it hard to understand why some people feel threatened by that.
“Last Friday evening, I had the honour of chairing a discussion panel exploring Bath Abbey’s historical connections with slavery and Empire. The event coincided with the abbey’s exhibition on the same topic—I encourage anyone visiting Bath to see that fascinating exhibition. Bath Abbey has more monuments than any other parish church in our country. Some of those monuments praise the achievements of people connected with the slave trade. I commend Bath Abbey for bravely confronting the legacy of its history and demonstrating how we should respond sensitively today.
“The speakers at that moving and thought-provoking event last Friday taught us so much. Two speakers recounted their and their parents’ lived experiences of arriving in the UK from the Commonwealth and the indignities they were subjected to. Sadly, they were not alone. Irvin Campbell, Chair of local charity SARI (Stand Against Racism & Inequality), told us that the only time black history was mentioned when he was a pupil was when the diagram of a slave ship was shown. The richness of black history has been left out of our school curriculum. We need to rectify that. Irvin taught me to use the term “enslaved”, instead of slave. To call someone a slave robs them of their innate dignity. He has spoken in schools about the proud history of African culture, their kings and queens, and he has watched young people swell with pride as they learn about their history.
Concluding her speech, Wera said:
“Education has a hugely important role to play in ending institutional racism and in closing inequalities in the UK. Our curriculum must be broadened and, where those topics are covered, reviewed. We must ensure that teachers have the resources and training they need to deliver an honest, open and inclusive curriculum, so that we see real progress in schools. One of our Bath Abbey speakers read a poem by Steve Turner, which still echoes in my mind:
‘History repeats itself.
“Let us have the courage to share all our collective history. In doing so, we have the opportunity to show that we listen and that—maybe—history does not repeat itself.”
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