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Black History Month Year: A conversation with Dr. Wayne Dooling

By Naaz Hussein, BA Politics and International Relations

A discussion with Dr. Dooling: Education and action does not end in October.

Black History Month was initiated in 1969 in the United States, permeating into a yearly tradition to celebrate black achievement and recognise the systemic oppression faced by Black individuals in day to day life. Coming from a culture where things are often swept under the carpet, the conversation of oppression being one, moving to England has allowed me to understand the celebration of such months to a fuller degree. The protests on the streets, petitions to sign, books to read, people to speak to, learn, learn, and learn. In order to further my knowledge on Black History Month and its multifaceted nature. This week I interviewed Dr. Wayne Dooling, the chair of the African Studies department.

What does Black History Month mean to you?

Dr. Dooling had a very simple response and one that I could not contest, “I am ambivalent towards Black History Month because every month is Black History Month.” Dooling continues to discuss that the recognition of Black History Month is now nationally present, signifying the interest in African history and a shift towards a structural change. However, he explains to me that his ambivalence towards the celebration of the month stems from his view on the very nature of Black History Month, “The concept itself comes with some problems. There is a chance people will forget about Black History Month. It is not a project, it’s cyclical, a constant struggle, but it’s not mentioned every day, and that needs to change”. When asked about what other problems are faced due to Black History Month, he states “They are ghettoizing it” he explains that mass corporations and companies have begun to treat the historic month as if it was Christmas, latching their corporate greed onto the stories of Black individuals that deserve to be heard. Creating this distinction and capitalizing off a month of pride only causes Black History to be perceived as the ‘other’ when in reality it is the ‘us’.

Dr Dooling sees many ways in which the nation can further recognise the upheaval faced by Black individuals in the country. His primary notion is to integrate the study of African history into school curriculums; “In this case, you could say Black History Month has almost failed us due to this not being changed, the education system must make African history integral to the general history curriculum as at the moment it is entirely peripheral.” Moreover, he explains that the average young person leaves high school with little to no knowledge of Africa as well as South Asia and East Asia, leaving a gap of information in young minds when understanding the history of minorities in this country.

Nevertheless, Dooling notes that SOAS’s approach is different, “I think virtually all that we do here at SOAS is Black History Month, as far as Black history goes, we engage with it every day during the academic year”.

Dooling, alongside Professor Ida Hadjivayanis, were integral to the re-establishment of the BA Africa and Black Diaspora studies. “This is a step in the right direction,” he says, the relaunch of this course encompasses the appreciation of African culture and history, placing Africa at the centre rather than a case study to discuss; “We wanted to give people taking the course an appreciation of the diversity of African language and cultural diversity.”

We are lucky to be attending one of the most diverse universities in the world. The resources we have at our fingertips are abundant. Use them. Take this time to educate yourself on African History and the Black experience in the UK. What does Black History Month mean to you? What does it mean to SOAS? What does it mean to this country?

If you or anyone you know feels as if they are being treated differently due to the colour of their skin, please contact [email protected]. And remember, words of hate are not tolerated here at SOAS.

Photo Credit: Nancy Jouwe on Twitter. 

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