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Black History Month in Northern England

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Heritage months are a time for the public to learn, celebrate and focus on various, often marginalized populations within their communities. As a cultural studies major and more importantly, an African American woman, Black History Month holds a significant place in my heart. In the UK, Black History was launched in the 1980s, not surprisingly in London. It was largely a community effort that worked to challenge racism in British society and the Eurocentric version of history taught in British classrooms. October is Black History Month in Britain; while participating, I made sure to take notice of the racialized activities happening around me. Here’s what I noticed:

Universities have dedicated Black History Month Programming

Chloe is a Leeds student who has been elected to be the Equality and Diversity Officer of the student union. Her job is to “make sure the Student Union, University and further afield are accessible and inclusive to everyone. They fight to make your time at Leeds fair.” She put together a Black History Month guide for all students that included Black Owned businesses students could eat at, shop at or support. Additionally, the guide included a map with the campus buildings renamed to significant Black Brits and a brief history of their significance. Every Monday the university would host an Afro-Caribbean eatery. Additionally, the first week of November is Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic Creative Week (BAME). My favorite event was an interactive workshop with a female graphic designer. ACSshowcase; black history month

There are many niche cultural societies to seek support from

At the University of Leeds there are 10+ different societies across the foci of culture, media, welfare and politics that are dedicated to African and Black identities. I didn’t need to be a member of all or any of them to seek advice or support. About a month into my study abroad experience, I wanted to get my hair done and possibly purchase hair extensions. All I had to do was message the Black Feminist Society or OnBeat Student Magazine (for POC and Queer women) and my inbox was met with recommendations. A screenshot of text messages recommending the best place to get hair done

Britain’s BHM is more diaspora inclusive

This goes along with my first point but something that pleasantly surprised me was the inclusivity and equal promotion of Afro-Caribbean, African and Black British identities when discussing Black History month. In the U.S. I feel as though we forget all the different places you can be from and still identify as black. It was uplifting to see all groups get recognized.

However, Racial Tensions STILL lie under the surface

With the all the great events to keep me occupied, I couldn’t help but notice that outside of most rooms, no discussions about race relations were taking place. When you think of England you think of London, a diverse cosmopolitan city. However, London can’t speak for the entire Kingdom. The general theme I saw outside of Black History Month events was people not talking about the racial inequality in the country. The assumption that since Britain is generally more progressive than most developed nations now, that we can forget its colonial past. This is not unique to Leeds; I’ve interacted with various people from all over the United Kingdom and it seems to be a part of the national conscious.


While the country as a whole is still slowly working to accept and discuss their pasts; universities are doing exceptional work on their campuses to dismantle systems of oppressions and celebrate their Black and African identified students. The work these institutions are doing will prepare their students to go forth and engage in critical national or even international dialogues about race and many more subjects. Chioma Uwagwu is a double major in Communication and Cultural Studies at the University of St.Thomas and is studying abroad with IFSA at University of Leeds in England in Fall 2019. She is an International Correspondent for IFSA through the Work-To-Study Program.