10th October 2020

Black History Month

‘This Black History Month we will celebrate and shine a light on the many untold and underrepresented stories of black individuals throughout our history. We’ve created a programme of activity throughout October, which includes events, discussion panels, film screenings and collaborations with student groups and representative committees.

At Sheffield Students’ Union, we have committed to becoming an anti-racist organisation, actively tackling racism and structural inequalities. To achieve this we still have much work to do, including carrying on our work to implement structural changes on campus and curate materials for students and staff. We’re hosting weekly online forums for black, asian, and ethnic minority students to come together, feedback questions, concerns and queries, and find out what work is being done to make our Students’ Union a more accessible and inclusive environment. BAME forums takes place every Friday at 1pm - 2pm.’

Lily Grimshaw, Women’s Officer

Chapters
  1. Inspirational black women & literature
  2. Remembering windrush
  3. Off the shelf events
  4. Decolonising the curriculum

Inspirational black women & literature

Here we explore the achievements of black women throughout history. The stories of three historical figures illuminates the strength and determination within their political activism, and reflects an unrelenting dedication to social justice and liberation for the black community. Also in this section are book recommendations by black female authors, whose writing have shaped both fiction and non-fiction genres in the last sixty years.

Claudia Jones:

  • Jones' was committed to highlighting the unique oppression experienced by Black women. The ideas in her 1948 essay, “An End to the Neglect of the Problems of the Negro Woman!”, formed the foundational basis of intersectional feminism.
  • Following her arrival from New York in 1955, Jones worked closely with members of London's Afro-Caribbean community to create the UK's first Black newspaper: the West Indian Gazette.
  • In response to the brutality of the 1958 Notting Hill Riots, initiated by Oswald Mosley’s White Defence League, Jones used the opportunity to regroup the community through a celebration of their culture and heritage. Dubbed the 'mother of Notting Hill Carnival', Jones reminds us of the historical roots of the Carnival, the celebrations of which have become increasingly gentrified and appropriated over the last decade.
  • Jones' strength, pride and work remain a legacy as a force for change and instrumental role in liberating Britain’s Black community lives on eternally.

Daisy Bates:

  • Daisy and her husband,Christopher Bates, set up the Arkansas state press, a weekly African American newspaper. In 1952, Bates became the president of the Arkansas chapter of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People) and the couple used the newspaper to champion the ongoing civil rights movement.
  • Following the landmark ruling of Brown vs. Board of Education, which found school segregation to be unconstitutional, Bates played a pivotal role in enlisting nine african American students (known as the little rock 9) attend the all-white central high school in little rock.
  • The desegregation was fraught with fierce opposition, with President Eisenhower sending the national guard to ensure the students' safety. Bates offered her continual support throughout the desegregation process, despite both herself and family receiving harassment and death threats.
  • After the publication of her autobiography, 'The long shadow of little rock' in 1962, Bates maintained her involvement in various community organisations. her contributions to the civil rights movement were invaluable.

Marsha P Johnson:

  • Moving to Greenwich City in 1966, Marsha became well known in the diverse gay community for Her iconic appearance of flowing dresses, high heels, wigs and bright accessories. She was photographed by Andy Warhol in his 1975 Polaroid series, ‘Ladies and Gentlemen’.
  • Marsha was among the first drag queens to frequent Greenwich Village’s Stonewall Inn. She was a central figure in the Stonewall uprising, a series of demonstrations that began on 28 June 1969 in retaliation against violent police raids. The event is widely regarded as a historic milestone in the battle for LGBTQIA+ rights in the US.
  • In 1972, Marsha and her friend Syliva Riveria (a Latina American gay liberation and transgender rights activist) Launched the STAR (Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries) house, a shelter and safe space for gay and trans young people who found themselves lacking security and safety elsewhere. She became renowned as the 'mayor of christopher street' and continued to champion the gay liberation movement in her work as an aids acitivist.
  • Marsha's Body was found in the Hudson River in 1992. Although ruled as a suicide, Transgender activists Mariah Lopez and Victoria Cruz have been among those who fought to get the New York police department to reopen the case as a possible homicide. The unsolved case remains tragically relevant today, when trans women – particularly Black trans women – are still disproportionately affected by acts of violence.

Recommended Reading

  • I Know Why Caged Birds Sing - Maya Angelou (1969)
    • Angelou is an acclaimed American poet, author and activist. She also worked closely with Dr Martin Luther King and Malcolm X and served as a professor at Wake Forest University.
    • Written in 1969, Angelou presents her autobiography through a beautifully written piece of literature to explore subjects such as identity, rape, racism and literacy. I Know Why Caged Birds Sing tells the story of Maya, a younger version of Angelou, and her experience of growing up in a male-dominated society. Maya has been called a ‘symbolic character for every black girl growing up in America’. The book was nominated for a National Book Award in 1970 and has been used in educational settings throughout secondary schools to universities.
  • The Colour Purple - Alice Walker (1985)
    • Walker is a feminist and vocal advocate for human rights, and she has earned critical and popular acclaim as a major American novelist and intellectual.
    • The Colour Purple follows the lives of Celie and Nettie, two African American sisters living in early twentieth-century rural Georgia who were separated as girls. The story is told through a series of letters spanning twenty years, and Walker’s writing has been highly praised for narrating the lives of women through their pain and struggle, companionship and growth, resilience and bravery.
  • Heart By Race - Beverley Bryan, Stella Dadzie and Suzanne Scafe (1985)
    • Described as “testimony to the collective experience of black women in Britain”, Heart By Race reclaims and records black women’s place in British history, documenting their day-to-day struggles, their experiences of education, work and health care, and the personal and political struggles they have waged to preserve a sense of identity and community.
    • Watch an interview with Stella Dadzie, one of the authors, on Black Feminism
  • These are some of my personal favourites but other recommendations can be found.

Remembering windrush

Who are the Windrush Generation?

  • After World War Two, the British Government advertised an array of different jobs (in the coal and steel industries, public transport and NHS) to men and women in the Caribbean, in order to help rebuild the economy. Between 1948-71, over 550,000 people from the caribbean travelled to the UK on the promise of a better life.

What happened when they arrived?

  • Once in Britain, many of this generation did not get the welcome they had anticipated. They were confronted with racism, discrimination with many of them were unable to find homes or work. Many companies said they didn’t want black people working for them and their children were bullied at school.

Notting Hill Riots:

  • The hostility climaxed in the 1958 Notting Hill Riots. White working class 'Teddy Boys' gangs attacked members of the local West-Indian communities in a series of assaults throughout the summer. The police repeatedly failed to recognise the racially-motivated nature of the violence and instead, the MET Commissioner at the time publicly claimed that it was the ‘concentration of Colonial immigrants’ who were to blame for the riots. These events both emphasised the racist nature of the British police force and illuminated the discriminatory practices of the housing market which forced members of Windrush generation and their relatives to collectively live in deprived areas.

Why do we need to remember this history?

  • Despite the introduction of reforms in the 70 years since the Notting Hill Riots, the colonial undertones and institutional racism within British policing continue to be identified in practices such as stop-and-search which disproportionately police ethnic minority communities.

Windrush generation and the NHS:

  • The global pandemic has reinforced to us as a society how reliant we are on our public services, most notably the NHS. We must, therefore, commemorate the invaluable work of those from the Windrush generation who have given so much to the British health service. The NHS has depended on the talents of its diverse workforce since its inception in 1948, the same year the HMT Empire Windrush passengers disembarked at the Port of Tilbury on 22 June.

Windrush Nurses:

  • Those first groups of NHS nurses worked long hours, with intensive duties and demanding workloads – just like today’s nursing staff. Despite many of these nurses having the required qualifications, only a very small minority were accepted onto the state registered nurse training and even fewer received promotions or opportunities to move up the ladder and pursue their own ambitions. Systemic and widespread racism placed barriers to advancement and left these nurses subject to abuse and mistreatment. Despite this, the vast majority remained here in the UK, continuing to care for patients and adding to our profession as it developed.

Today:

  • While it would be nice to think that the prejudices and barriers faced by the Windrush nurses were firmly established things of the past, the reality is that change is painfully slow. The lack of career progression and continued reports of racism experienced by members of NHS staff reaffirms how we are still a long way off from equal and accessible workplaces.
  • Furthermore, we know that people from BAME backgrounds are disproportionately affected by COVID19, and with so many working on the frontline of the pandemic, more must be done to protect, support and uplift these individuals.
  • Recommendation: BBC 4: Black Nurses: The Women Who Saved the NHS - BBC iPlayer - available from 14th Oct

Off the shelf events

Off the Shelf is a festival celebrating books, words and ideas, brought to you by the University of Sheffield. Due to current circumstances, events are being held online, and most are free to attend.

To celebrate Black History Month, Off the Shelf Sheffield are holding a series of talks and interviews with incredible black female authors.

Desiree Reynolds, the curator of this collection, spoke about her inspiration for the strand: “I needed to celebrate, to look up for a moment and revel in what was happening with Black Women’s writing. No one could’ve predicted it. Black Women’s Writing is undergoing unprecedented exposure and being here now, compared to even five years ago is to look at this brilliant, vibrant, eclectic landscape in awe. I wanted to honour this moment’

Tues 13 Oct 6pm

Loud Black Girls

Yomi Adegoke and Elizabeth Uviebinené in conversation with Sharna Jackson

Sat 17 Oct 11am

Write Now

Creative Writing Workshop with Yvonne Battle-Felton

Tues 20 Oct 7.30pm

I’m Not Your Baby Mother

Candice Brathwaite in conversation with Désirée Reynold

Thurs 22 Oct 6pm

Poetry and Prose

Selina Nwulu , Keisha Thompson and Irenosen Okojie

Sat 31 Oct 6pm

Kit de Waal In conversation with Désirée Reynolds

Decolonising the curriculum

‘Decolonising’ the curriculum therefore entails a fundamental re-evaluation of the existing forms of teaching, learning and pastoral support, with the aim of displacing the racial homogeneity in all aspects of higher education.

It is a project that is larger than simply a diversification of courses as it seeks to understand How and why universities reproduce unequal structures of knowledge. This requires reassessing curricula, attainment and representation concurrently.

Our perspectives, behaviours and attitudes are influenced by a Eurocentric world-view which has been shaped by a history of European imperialism and persisting beliefs of racial hierarchies and white supremacy.

This perspective of Western superiority has been produced and reproduced within our educational institutions and still remains within our curriculum and pedagogy (methods and practice of teaching) today.

To decentre white perspectives, we need to ask:

  • What is being taught?
    • Does the module content contain a diverse range of perspectives, authors, voices?
  • How is it being taught?
  • Is the module content being presented primarily from a western perspective?
  • Does it reinforce existing racial stereotypes?
  • Who is teaching it?
  • Are our academics representative of a range of backgrounds and experiences?

What we’re doing at Sheffield:

  • The Students Union are working collaboratively with the University in the creation of a new sub-group to pursue the decolonising of the curriculum. This group has the purpose of reviewing current learning & teaching good practice, and recommending actions to ensure that the curriculum in all undergraduate and postgraduate taught programmes supports the objectives of the Race Equality Strategy. There will be a chance for you to have a voice in these discussions, with regular updates given by your Women’s Officer Lily.
  • We are in the process of organising an event called ‘What does a decolonised university look like?’. This panel discussion will feature a range of speakers from different academic backgrounds, with the intention of facilitating an honest discussion about what our institution needs to be doing to create a curriculum and learning environment that is truly reflective of its student body. This event will also act as an opportunity to update students on the work completed by the Curriculum Sub-Group and the outcomes of the University Learning and Teaching Conference.
  • Finally, your Women’s Officer is working with the University libraries to relaunch the Reading for Diversity Campaign. Keep an eye out for book recommendations and the introduction of our online book club in the upcoming weeks!