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How Black Literature Can Fill The Gaps That Our White History Lessons Miss Out

When I think of my history lessons in primary and secondary school, I remember a lot of repetition in the periods that we covered. I was taught the Tudors twice – in primary and in secondary school, the peasants’ revolt of Medieval England, World War One, the rise of Nazi Germany, and the Suffragette movement of the early 1920s. There have been countless recounts of these times in popular media, including in literature, film and television. These are all periods that have arguably shaped European and White history.

But the teaching for these periods do not touch on the lives of black people at all, and there is hardly anything in our history syllabuses taught to us that does. There was a great public response to the “Cheddar Man” article published earlier this year that portrayed the first British man as a black man, yet the existence of black people in the UK prior to the 20th century is not taught to us. Black people are documented as living in the UK since at least the 1500s, and even earlier, but this has never been acknowledged in most history curricula. Even in the depictions of British period dramas, of which the majority is costume drama reflecting the social classes of the times, are inexplicably white despite the fact that it was not uncommon for royal and noble households to have black household servants, and to encounter black people as merchants.