Hey Gove, Leave Seacole Alone

Education Secretary Michael Gove, is preparing to axe Black British History figures from the School Curriculum, it emerged last week.

Despite the recent pronouncement from the Coalition Government that they want to engage with minority communities, a leaked government document makes it clear that Black British Historical figures such as Mary Seacole and Olaudah Equiano are to lose their slot in the British Schools History Curriculum. With the Education Secretary preferring more “British figures” such as such as Oliver Cromwell and Winston Churchill.

Whilst I personally do not object to Churchill and Cromwell, they are already featured in most decent history lessons anyway, I do resent the fact that Black British History is being axed alongside, prominent figures from working class struggles and Women’s movements.

Changes to the History Curriculum

The new curriculum has been put together by a group handpicked by Michael Gove under conditions of secrecy with no outside consultation. Schools that are still under local authority control will be forced to adhere to the new curriculum.  The new curriculum, set to be announced in January,  will replace the existing one which did at least have requirements to teach the continued diversity of Britain, precolonial civilisations, resistance to slavery and decolonisation.

Given that it took so very long to get any form of Black contribution into the history books at all, why Mr. Gove thinks that it is somehow appropriate to remove key minority figures from what should be the common knowledge and learning of Britain’s children completely defies logic.

Surely any Government that truly wants to foster greater cohesively in society, and form stronger community links via “The Big Society” would want to include minority groups in that vision.  Surely, ensuring that all people are fairly represented in the teaching of the nations history would enable children of all ethnicities appreciate and understand each other better?

Hiding Black British History

By removing black historical figures from the curriculum, you remove the questions from the minds of pupils, like “There were Black people in Britain in 1750s?” and “When did they arrive, how did they get here?”. Eventually we will  revert we back to the supposition that Black people are all recent arrivals, invited here by an act of British altruism toward the former colonies.  We run the risk of  hoodwinking children into believing that the history of Britain was completely white, and that any interaction with Africans and Asians was about educating and “civilising” them. the truth is that Black history and British history are intrinsically interwoven.  The tyres you drive on, the sugar in your coffee, the wealth of the banks and cities, Gold, Diamonds, Cotton,  all products of Empire, of which Africa and the Caribbean was central.

The current curriculum may not be perfect.  Yet, it is actually closer to the truth than any curriculum in living memory. Patrick Vernon of “100 Great Black Britons” points out that the current curriculum was:

Teaching world history that recognised advanced Black civilisations existed before the slave trade and the European empires. It taught history of Britain would include Roman Africans, 18th century Indian entrepreneurs, 19th century  Black activists at the forefront of movements for social change and Indian fighter pilots in WW2; and that the Black population of cities like London, Cardiff, Glasgow and Liverpool was numerically significant and influential long before Windrush.

I grew up in the 1980s when black people were conspicuous by their absence from the school history books.  Back then it was taught that Africa had no history, Black people arrived arrived in Britain after World War 2, and were always moaning, were lazy, oversexed and predisposed to crime.  I was terminally bored by school as I was constantly reminded that I had no place in Britain unless I wanted to be an entertainer or a sportsperson.

Today Britain has made some considerable steps toward combatting such stereotypes, but complacency may quicken a return to the bad old days.  We are already seeing an increase in racism within football, and an increase in Stop and Search of black males under the section 60 rules. Not surprisingly the Conservatives were in power back then too, and it seems as though the main objective of their tenure is to turn back the clock to a time when “blacky knew his place”.

When Tony Blair’s government took office in 1997, Britain began to show a willingness to  tackle some of the deep rooted inequality in society that was a hangover from our colonial past.  The Macpherson report told of “Institutional Racism, not only in the Police but in all the major institutions”, education included.  The report recommended that steps be taken by government to address the massive inequality Black people faced within society.  Of course such changes could not have ever have come to pass without the tireless work of equality campaigners such as Doreen and Neville Lawrence, Lee Jasper, Zita Holbourne and the Late Bernie Grant MP.

There are those commentators who believe that Gove’s moves are just the tonic Education needs. How short their memories are, have they forgotten about the Macpherson reports definition of Institutional racism?  Probably not, but you can bet they are hoping that we have.

“The collective failure of an organisation to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour, culture, or ethnic origin. It can be seen or detected in processes, attitudes and behaviour which amount to discrimination through unwitting prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness and racist stereotyping which disadvantage minority ethnic people.”

The Machpheson Report

Responding to those who seek to remove Seacole & Equiano


“BOTH Mary Seacole and Florence Nightingale played an important role in Helping Troops in the Crimea. So why should Seacole be hidden away for so many years without a mention whilst Nightingale receives ALL the plaudits?  Afterall some 80,000 people turned out to pay homage to her at her benefit concert, organised by the troops she served”.

Phil Gregory,

Today, it falls to us, Britons of every colour and creed to take a stand and say “enough is enough”. Each of us can take a stand against this attempt to drag the country back to the days of “cap doffing” and “forelock tugging” deference.  Teachers, Historians, Bloggers, Tweeters and Facebookers, stand up and be counted.

I don’t know about you, dear reader, I want to see a history taught in schools that is representative of the people who live and have lived in these islands, a history that notes Celts, Romans, Saxons, Vikings, Normans, Huguenots, Jews, Africans, Asians and Eastern Europeans, the men and the women,the rich and the poor,  the straight and the gay. I don’t want to live in a society where part of our contemporary history has been sanitised to fit in with the fantasy of a privileged politicians vision of  “1950’s Little England”. That England, that Britain never really existed.

It is purely a mythical construct used to divide and rule.

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3 thoughts on “Hey Gove, Leave Seacole Alone

  • 15th January 2013 at 1:37 pm

    I was wondering if any readers had had the opportunity to take action on this matter, I wrote blog posts and shared them on Social media. Has anyone else done anything more pro-active?

  • 28th August 2013 at 8:19 pm

    Yet Seacole wasn’t black, identified with black people or even helped them. She itentified as creole, saw blacks as lazy and helped injured white people. If this is the person you want black children learning about, then we are doomed.

  • 10th September 2013 at 4:28 am

    I think it’s fair to say that Seacole was operating at a time when it was hard for a woman to get on , let alone a woman of colour. We have to ask ourselves whether blackness is ethnicity, culture or a state of mind.


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