Why decolonising the city and the curriculum matters
As part of our agency focus on Black History Month – account executive Fiona Grezda has presented in a lunch and learn session to the wider team following her experiences as a history graduate, reflecting on education in the UK.
This month marks Black History Month in the UK, a time to reflect on the contribution that black communities have made over the centuries, whether it be through literature, art, music and beyond.
Alongside this, we must continue to challenge Eurocentric national narratives that dominate history to gauge a better understanding of the roots of empire, and why this remains relevant today.
Decolonising our city and our curriculums is crucial in doing so. There is no doubt that our education system is riddled with imperfections to say the least, meaning that young people subconsciously leave school with a limited and glorified view of empire. Problematic as it is, we must take it upon ourselves to educate and learn about the realities of empire.
Why should we do this?
- Serving justice can be done through the returning of artefacts to their origin countries. We see this with the Benin Bronzes being housed in the British Museum in London rather than their country of origin, the Kingdom of Benin, which is now modern-day Nigeria. Can we fully say that we acknowledge the past without returning stolen artefacts which were almost always performed violently?
- Decolonising our curriculums ensures a greater representation of marginalised groups, who have historically been silenced within historiography and national narratives. Granting agency to these groups is important to understand the different perspectives and experiences which form a huge part of our global history.
- The UK is a multiculturally rich place which should celebrate the positive impacts of diversity. However, this is tainted with constant reminders of colonial imagery and symbols within our cities. Whether it be the grand statues of prominent slave owners, or the infamous buildings often named after these figures such as the Wills Memorial building (in Bristol), we must acknowledge the trauma and pain that they represent for so many communities. The toppling of the Colston statue in 2020 is a great example of a city actively decolonising itself, despite the controversy that permeated the media thereafter.
Whilst toppling statues is probably an inaccessible way of constantly engaging with decolonising ourselves and the city, there are several simple ways that we can decolonise our minds, and our younger generations who may be taught from the perspective of white-dominated histories.
Engaging with literature by non-white authors on the theories of empire and race is one way of doing so. Books ranging from the likes of Akala’s Natives, W.E.B. Du Bois’ The Souls of Black Folk and Orientalism by Edward Said provide some great insight into how we have not progressed much at all, as they carefully demonstrate the parallels that can be drawn with today, and even 500 years ago.
Finally, continuing these debates and open conversations with colleagues, friends and family assures that these issues do not disappear from the spotlight, determining that they are not just issues that are brought up in October, or when they are trendy in the media, and that they are maintained as constant live and real issues.