Opinion

Eunice Olumide: This is why black lives matter to all of us

Education is the silver bullet for rewriting black history – but real action from grassroots to government must follow, says model and activist Eunice Olumide

When they see us

CENTRAL PARK 5

Much of the discrimination and racism faced today by the BME community is down to the lack of education on how Western Civilisation benefitted economically, culturally and socially from colonialism.

The school curriculum that myself and fellow Scots were brought up on does not teach about the many prominent Afro-Scottish, Caribbean and Black British figures who contributed significantly to the UK. Neither does it acknowledge or debate the fact that the British government paid out 40 per cent of the Treasury annual spending budget to compensate slave owners after the abolition, yet nothing to those who were enslaved.

The degradation of African Diaspora has been embedded into hearts and minds. The savage, the illiterate, the worthless, the belligerent, the monster

It is one of the most horrific events in our history, but there is no recognition – this lack of transparency and deliberate omission has led to historic racial profiling, physical and mental abuse, knee-necking and to BME groups being less likely to be recruited after achieving higher education today.

There are a huge number of people we need to learn about. John Edmonstone (1793-1822), one of the most important figures in scientific research, an expert in taxidermy and teacher at Edinburgh University where he trained Charles Darwin, arguably one of the most profound figures in secular British ideology.

Composer Chevalier de Saint-Georges, who in the 1700s played for Marie Antoinette at the Palace of Versailles in France. Black British royalty Sarah Forbes Bonetta, a Yoruba Egbado princess from Nigeria sold into slavery, becoming the beloved goddaughter of Queen Victoria; Philippa of Hainault, the first Black queen of England, or Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, the next black Queen, her name still immortalised at Edinburgh’s Charlotte Square.

Professor Clifford Johnson, a theoretical physicist born in London, who in 2005 was awarded the Institute of Physics’ Maxwell Medal Prize for his work on quantum gravity and string theory; or Dr Maggie Aderin-Pocock, a space scientist and honorary research associate in University College London’s physics and astronomy department.

The degradation of African Diaspora has been embedded into the hearts and minds of not only the BME community but to the wider western world. The savage, the illiterate, the worthless, the belligerent, the monster. Pioneers whose work challenged this narrative, such as Oscar Micheaux, are marginalised on the fringes of history – fated to be discussed on Instagram and Wikipedia.

Films such as Ava DuVernay’s When They See Us and 13th, and Simon Frederick’s Black Hollywood: They’ve Gotta Have Us, detail how representations of African Diaspora have been deliberately manufactured to substantiate ruling negative perceptions on race, exposing the brutal physical and psychological harm of this illusion, until finally we now call the shots.

Hidden Figures, directed by Theodore Melfi, is a brilliant example of the distinction and quality of a story told when black people can represent themselves. It highlights the incredible real-life story of the team of African-American female mathematicians at the heart of Nasa’s space programme.

So how do we move forward? Through positive action of mobilisation and education, my five-point positive action plan includes:

• Reform the curriculum: A commitment and pledge from policymakers for proactive anti-racist action. In recognition of these historic times, a meaningful step that can be taken is the implementation of a thorough and robust account of Afro-Scottish Caribbean history through the national education system.

• African Diaspora Business Support Fund Charity: This is a vehicle for companies and individuals to help entrepreneurs and businesses from BME backgrounds who have demonstrated real business acumen and prowess so that they can grow their existing trades and achieve economic stability.

• One Voice For Freedom Fourth Plinth Campaign: We have already raised £500,000 in donations to find a space in central London for a fitting monument to honour those of Afro-Caribbean descent who aided in making Britain great. Supporters include Ozwald Boateng and Anthony Joshua.

• Black Heritage Museum: To build the first ever BME heritage museum in Scotland that showcases the realities of positive contributions that Afro-Caribbeans have made.

• Black Women In Film: BME women are amongst the most marginalised historically worldwide with little ability to represent themselves on screen. After working in the television and film industry for more than a decade I am seeking funding to direct my first short film on race relations in Scotland.

We can all make a difference, no matter how large or small. What is your positive action plan for change?

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