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Westminster Hall: Black History Month

Rose to speak at 2:53 pm:

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Click HERE to watch.

Kate Osamor (Edmonton) (Lab/Co-op): I thank the hon. Member for Lanark and Hamilton East (Angela Crawley) for securing this debate. Celebrating and raising awareness of black history through Black History Month has been shown to be urgently necessary in the light of the Prime Minister’s recent comments on slavery and reparations. I want to use my speech today to address this issue.

At the end of September, on the first visit to Jamaica by a UK Prime Minister in 14 years, the Prime Minister told the people of Jamaica in his speech to “move on from this painful legacy” of slavery. Such language is disgustingly insensitive and inexcusable. Britain has absolutely no authority to dismiss outright Jamaicans’ reactions to their history. The Prime Minister had the audacity to state of slavery that

“Britain is proud to have…led the way in its abolition”,

propagating a dangerous simplification of history, which is wrong. He inaccurately glorified Britain’s role in abolishing slavery, yet refused to address explicitly Britain’s leading role in the atrocity itself.

The Prime Minister stressed the relationship between Britain and Jamaica as friends since independence, but he failed to address the fact that the fundamental relationship between the two countries has been one of exploitation, which is what Jamaican Ministers were calling on him to address. Using the aid budget to provide locks and chains and presenting that as an act of generosity is insulting. Expressing sorrow over the slave trade, as Tony Blair did in 2006, is not enough. I call on the Government to apologise publicly and formally for the British slave trade. Britain should be accepting accountability, engaging in the reparations debate and providing infrastructure for growth, not for the incarceration of those formerly held in Britain.

The language and narrative of the Prime Minister’s speech and his outright rejection of reparations shows a total lack of respect and understanding of black history. It is totally at odds with the way that the tragedy of the holocaust has been dealt with—a tragedy that is ingrained in European social memory and embedded in the school curriculum. I do not believe for one second that the Prime Minister would have used the same language in a speech to the Jewish community. It is not my intention to rank oppressions; I simply wish to use a comparison to emphasise how unacceptable it is to tell formerly enslaved countries and colonies to move on from a legacy of horrific, state-sponsored, organised violence and exploitation.

We pride ourselves on being a multicultural country, which I am proud to be part of, yet black history remains on the periphery of British historical memory. That needs to change. Black history should be part of the school curriculum so that the young people coming up are aware of and proud of their history. Black people are still less represented in Parliament and positions of power. Black lives matter, not only here but internationally. Our lives are less valued than white lives. That needs to change. Structural inequalities and everyday racism remain as a result of the legacy of slavery. That must be addressed. Openly acknowledging the existence of lasting inequalities and accepting the historical role of the Government in propagating them is the first stage that will help to change the relationship and the power dynamics.

I thank Members for their attendance, but have to second the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr Umunna): this debate should be taking place in the main Chamber, not on the sides, to give it the respect it warrants.

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commented 2015-10-27 07:47:47 +0000
This is an excellent statement Kate. I am sick and tired of the British Government and Quakers warping their history to further their own ends to this day! In doing so they perpetuate the denial of the wrong that was done to so many and whitewash the legacy of inhumanity inherited by subsequent generations that still feeds the culture of racism in Britain and tge Caribbean today.
Ad a Jewish teen living in East London I learnwd about the holocaust and what happened to Jews. It left me and many others of my generation of young Jews feeling shame that Jews ‘let’ that happen to them us and desparate to find pride in our identity. We have only to look at the conflict anf suffering in the middle east to see the legacy of that distortion and failure to give a proper account of those events.
I remembered this when I taught history in Hackney in the 1980’s. We taught that section of the syllabus as a history of resistance by slaves in Jamaica and the Caribbean. It gave a completely tone to teaching that term. Not miserable and depressing, but uplifting. Many students resisted engaging with the ‘embarrasment’ of this period of black history. Students were a little nonplussed to begin with, having little or no previous knowledge of slave rebellions and resistance. They listened to and read Bob Marley sings with a sharpened understanding. I watched many students work towards a feeling of pride that term. and all students explored the idea/fact that even in the most difficult circumstances, people have agency and power to change their- our – world when we work together.
Not only must history be told, but it must be seen from rvery perspective to weigh its real significance and how those events continue to shape our lives today.

Kate Osamor MP

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