Systemic Historical Amnesia

This month marks a year since I started blogging. This one year anniversary has caused me to reflect on the reason why I created this blog. One of the reasons why I started this blog was to reflect on issues affecting Black and Minority Ethnic communities (BMEs). These issues include racism, multiculturalism, identity, culture and history. The last point is important as history is very powerful in shaping the identity and sense of belonging of any community. To reiterate this point, Marcus Garvey, one of the fathers of Black Nationalism in the 20th century said that, “a people without knowledge of the past is a like a tree without roots” (Garvey, 1986: p. 82). If history is important for any people to understand their past so as to inform their present and shape their future, then one can conclude that learning of ones history is very vital. However unfortunately for the Black community our history has some how being marginalised and certainly controlled by others.

One could say that the Eurocentric control of history has led to the historical amnesia of Black people. This control has been in the form of political control of history, imperial constructions of Black pre-colonial historical data and documents, imposition of Eurocentric perspectives on African and Caribbean history and lack of Black history within mainstream historical teaching and research. This control has led to historical amnesia of Black people in the form of lack of knowledge of their history, few published books addressing the subject of Black history, lack of publishing of books written by black scholars and lack of Black scholars within mainstream academic circles.

Micheal Gove’s intentions to axe Olaudah Equiano and Mary Seacole from the British school curriculum can be described as a systemic historical amnesia. This is a case of intentionally attempting to reduce British history to the nicities of the empire and erasing the positive contributions of Black people. Equiano and Seacole are particularly central because their stories need to be told alongside the white heroes of William Wilberforce and Florence Nightingale, showing that Black people are not simply victims but powerful agents of change and justice alongside their white colleagues. Or will Wilberforce and Nightingale also be removed from our history books? I somehow doubt it.

While I am all out for balancing history by revealing the good, the bad and the ugly, I am not convinced that in today’s multicultural Britain the stories of Oliver Cromwell and Winston Churchill alone give a diverse perspective of British history, and certainly do not help Black and Ethnic Minority communities have a sense of shared history. We need to tell the story of Cromwell  and Churchill as well as those of Equiano and Seacole.  Telling the different stories of our culturally diverse heroes and sheroes will help give a wider sense of what British identity is to children and young people learning in today’s multicultural Britain, this is essential for children of all backgrounds.

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About israelolofinjana

Rev Israel Oluwole Olofinjana is an ordained and accredited Baptist minister and has pastored Crofton Park Baptist Church (2007-2011) and Catford Community Church (2011-2013). He is currently the pastor of Woolwich Central Baptist Church, a multicultural church in south east London. He is Nigerian coming from a Pentecostal background. He holds a BA (Hons) in Religious Studies from the University of Ibadan, Nigeria and MTh from Carolina University of Theology (CUT). Israel is the editor of “Turning the Tables on Mission: Stories of Christians from the Global South in the UK” and author of “Reverse in Ministry and Missions: Africans in the Dark Continent of Europe” and “20 Pentecostal Pioneers in Nigeria” He has spoken in a number of conferences regarding reverse mission and Black Majority Churches (BMCs) and has also contributed to academic journals and Christian magazines on the subject of Black Majority Churches (BMC) in Britain. He is currently co-opted as a member of the Baptist Union Council. Israel is also one of the Directors of Centre for Missionaries from the Majority World an initiative design to train and equip pastors and missionaries from the South. He is a member of the Global Connections council. When he is not preaching or writing he is playing with Lego! He is happily married to Lucy who works as an administrator and research co-ordinator for the Evangelical Alliance. She is a graduate of the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), earning a BA in Social Anthropology and International Development. Lucy loves baking and watching movies!
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