By Marthe van der Wolf
After the Black Lives Matter protests in both North America and Europe last year, there has been an ongoing push to include more black history into school curricula in Britain and elsewhere in Europe. But despite Europe’s complicated past of slavery and colonization, some complain that much is missing from the school program.
Last year’s Black Lives Matter movement in the United States also sparked mass protests in many European countries. While the protests have ended, there is an ongoing push for change behind the scenes.
Lavinya Stennett is the founder of the Black Curriculum, a group in Britain whose aim is to have Black history taught year ‘round, not only in October when Britain marks Black History Month.
She says that except for a little on slavery, Black history was not something she learned in school. Stennett says she has seen a huge increase in interest from schools that want to work with her organization since the Black Lives Matter protests.
“Before when we were running the organization, there would be opportunities for us to work with schools, but it kind of seemed like the only schools that were doing it were the ones that were already during this kind of work, right,” said Stennett. “So I think after that Black Lives Matter, what we saw was just an outpouring of all different types of schools from across the country, rural areas as well, who understood that point that they could not progress without going forward with this.”
Britain, after establishing dominance over many black people over the centuries, still hasn’t included Black history as mandatory in its schools.
France has a similar program going, but some complain the process of introducing Black history in schools has been slow. Maboula Soumahoro, a French scholar in African studies says the only black history she was taught at a school was while she was studying in the United States.
Part of the problem, she says, is that France does not officially recognize racial identities. She hopes things will be different in the future.
“There will be changes because the demography is evolving, because the protest is growing more accepted by the mainstream” said Soumahoro. “And there will be more public conversations needed and also a need for the evolution of the institutions including school curricula. So yes, there will be change, but it’s going to be long and difficult.”
Despite a 2001 law requiring slavery to be discussed in French schoolbooks, advocates say the impact was minimal because the role of France in its African colonies was mostly overlooked.
They point to how schools in Germany – which in 1904 carried out the first genocide of the 20th century in what is now Namibia – rarely mention that history.
Amarachi Adannaya Igboegwu is a doctoral student whose focus is on preparing teachers for working in classrooms where students are of diverse backgrounds – something that is becoming more common in Germany. She thinks it is important that teachers themselves are educated before they can teach parts of history that have been ignored in the past.
“We have to recognize that Germany is a very diverse country, right. And how to identify, you know, implicit biases and how implicit biases can impact the teaching,” said Igboegwu. “The importance of critical self-reflection about their own history and personal narratives and how their background also impacts the way they teach.”
Other European countries with histories of African colonization, slavery, and repression include Portugal, Belgium, and the Netherlands. Most initiatives to change the curriculum in Europe to include Black history in a more critical way have come from organizations and individuals pushing for change and inclusion.