What is Black History Month?
Black History Month is a celebration of the achievements and contributions made by people of African and Caribbean descent in the UK. This is significant as black achievements and discoveries of great African thinkers, philosophers, scientists and architects and social planning helped shape the UK, but are overlooked by society. This is extremely evident in the UK curriculum which teaches ‘British History’ but excludes Black British History when the two are indistinguishable. Black history is British history.
In 2020 alone, black people have been disproportionally affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. 1 in 4 young black men were stopped and searched in London during the coronavirus lockdown. George Floyd was tragically murdered by Minneapolis police. There has been no justice for Breonna Taylor who was killed by police in her own home. The global #BlackLivesMatter protests. The world has been forced to see the reality of racism that black people face. Whilst this has sparked conversation about black history as part of understanding racism, Black History Month 2020 is vital in continuing the conversation about overt, covert and institutionalised racism, and continuing education on British history, from black achievement and contribution to the current barriers to progress.
How law firms can get involved?
Law firms can recognise and celebrate Black History Month through education and this should be viewed as an opportunity for engagement. This could include:
- A weekly newsletter, blog post or email featuring different segments on black history. For example, the Windrush scandal or the Bristol bus boycott. There are people in Britain that have heard of the Montgomery bus boycott but not the Bristol bus boycott. There could also be a segment detailing different books, podcasts and documentaries which provide education on black history. Individuals are less empowered to make a difference if they are ignorant of the history underlying these issues.
- Providing webinars recognising and celebrating black individuals and their contributions to the legal landscape. It is necessary to showcase the importance of continuing to build on these achievements while recognising that firm action is needed to eradicate the barriers of racism and discrimination in law. The webinars could discuss celebrating the black community, particularly those in the legal field. Actions needed from individuals, organisations and institutions to increase black representation and break down barriers for black people in the legal field. Educating on how ensuring a more inclusive community for black legal professionals is better for all.
- Panel events. Hosting a series of panel events is a great way for black people to share their experiences, raise awareness of racial issues that occur in a variety of settings and discuss the importance of diversity in the workplace. Being aware of the experiences of black people at work and in society contributes to understanding the isolation that black students, employees and professionals feel in environments where they may be the only or one of few black people. This opens a dialogue where everyone is part of the solution.
Who’s responsible for the education on black history?
Law firms must understand that it is not the responsibility of black people to educate others on black history or racial injustices. There are a multitude of resources available. By celebrating Black History Month through education and engagement, it opens the dialogue for individuals to continue educating themselves.
Beyond October, firms should focus on the actions necessary to promote year-round change, equality and opportunity. This will avoid feelings of tokenism. The beyond-October actions should continue education and may also include proactively committing to diversity goals and creating a task force, creating diversity networks, encouraging diversified recruitment by partnering with organisations such as RARE, providing opportunities for underrepresented groups by partnering with organisations such as PRIME, The Sutton Trust and Aspiring Solicitors, and speaking on racial injustices. However, this list is non-exhaustive.
When Black History Month is done right, it should act as a pillar for year-round diversity commitments which provide opportunity, understanding and support for black, and other underrepresented, groups in society and the legal setting.