Why do we need to learn about Africa if we are not in Africa?
In recent times there has been an increase in the number of students in higher education institutions calling out their curriculum for being ‘White’. This means that most of the thinkers and authors studies are white, the theories are ‘white’ and the histories are taught only from a Eurocentric perspective, that places Europe/USA at the centre of everything. Essentially in compulsory courses among the social sciences, arts and humanities all are centred around whiteness.
If you look back to your compulsory education from ages 4/5 to 18, it seems as though all we have been taught is about white people, from the Tudors to WW2, white people are always at the centre. Even when we learnt about ancient Egypt they somehow manage to affiliate it more to the West and at a young age you do not realise that Egypt is part of Africa. We start to attribute their high intelligence and praised civilisation with its proximity to whiteness rather than realising that Egyptians were (and still are) black Africans pre-invasion.
But what is the problem, we are in a majority white western nation so why should we learn about African nations?
Which is what many (white) people ask and it is a legitimate question, we should know our own history before we start learning anyone else’s. But when we are learning a twisted and untrue version of our history every year till we finish secondary – essentially it seems to be more brainwashing than education. We learn that at a point in time Britain had the largest empire, they said it was an empire ‘where the sun never set’ – Britain had a colony in every time zone (let that sink in).
Despite having such a large impact on many nations, we barely learn about their influences, actions and most importantly consequences within these nations.
We are taught about the slave trade but not about the slaves that the UK had, just that the UK were more of a transportation service for the US. We do not learn about the struggles and the fights that occurred for freedom from the UK, but we learn about the US civil rights history. We learn that Britain was way ahead of the times by abolishing slavery in 1833 yet most African nations didn’t get their independence till the mid-20th century. When African nations started declaring their freedom from the UK, we are taught that it was out of the goodness of their hearts. Not because they could no longer afford it and the ‘tide of the times’ were changing.
In the fight against the USSR how could one stand on the side of ‘capitalism and freedom’ if you essentially stolen the freedom of multiple nations and basically did the same thing that your opponent (the USSR) was doing, yet you claimed to be different?
Some of our parents and grandparents were alive during a colonised Africa – it was that recent. Yet we do not learn about the savagery and dehumanisation that occurred in these British colonies. Alas, we are taught about how the UK was ever so kind to bring civilisation to the uncivilised. Despite there being a pretty good history of ‘civil behaviour’ within Africa pre-colonisation.
In more recent times we learn about how poor Africa is, and how it was (still is) the white man’s burden to bring wealth, prosperity, and development to those nations – but they do not say that it was the same white man who put Africa in that position to begin with.
This is not about being anti-white or anti-western, it’s about being fed up of only learning half-truths and one perspective. Can you imagine, paying £27,000+ to be told that Africa is poor and following the West’s advice is the best way to develop (basically some international relations modules). It is unfair and unjust that only one side of the story ever gets told. All because something is uncomfortable to talk about does not mean that it should not be taught. I would really understand the way history is taught if we were a country like Poland (no offence to Poland) who never formally colonised any country and in fact were under the control of a greater entity (the USSR). But we are in the UK, who wanted to have their hands everywhere because they are such busy bodies(!).
If the argument is that we are in Britain so we should learn British history then let us truly learn British history –
let us not be fed this watered down, rosy tinted, twisted version of history that over emphasis the white man’s contribution while erasing the ‘mistakes’ and atrocities.
This black history month, let’s make a greater effort to shed light on parts of history that people have tried to hide or bury. Many black people are making strides, setting their own narratives and making space for black stories. But honestly, we cannot do it alone, with time we will change the mindset of our brothers and sisters for the better but changing the minds of the oppressor is a bigger task that I believe is not our job to do.
Leonie Mills TWN Editor @_LeonieMills