Black History Month in the UK Media

Published: 28 November 2016

Country: UK

BHM_LambethWhat month is the Black History Month (BHM)? If you are an average news consumer in the UK who does not regularly reads the Guardian from page to page, then the answer does not come easily. In many British media outlets there was not enough content dedicated to BHM and the issues of the black community.

One of the positive examples is The Guardian. This newspaper created a special section on their website for the Black History Month, while some other British media did not give the celebration of the black heritage in the UK enough prominence. Some programmes at the BBC were even criticised for racism and stereotyping.

BBC programme Newsbeat released a documentary  “That Black British Feeling” narrated by journalist Nesta McGregor. He investigated what is behind the Black Lives Matter protests across Britain asking why some black people still feel racism affects them every day.

However, BBC Newsbeat was under the spotlight after releasing several video clips including those asking “Black people and fried chicken – is there any truth in it? and exploring myths around “being black and swimming”. Marking the end of Black History month, BBC apparently wanted to address certain stereotypes and myths about black people but instead caused a fury, especially on social media.

“For an organisation that’s usually too steeped in nostalgia to notice any changes in society this sideways jump to openly using racist stereotypes to start a conversation seems a little left-field. What happened to the BBC that never mentioned racism? The stereotypes used are based on the traumatic and ugly history of prejudice and discrimination. The reason many black people in the US can’t swim is due to segregation; they were banned from many pools in their neighbourhoods and never had the chance to swim,” wrote Stephanie Phillips for International Business Times.

The weekly magazine Newstatesman wonders how the videos could have been approved at all when they perpetuate racist stereotypes about black people.

“A lot of black girls that I know, they’re always like, ‘Yeah I eat loads of chicken because it makes your bum bigger’”, says one girl in the video “aiming, presumably, to offend in as many ways as possible. One wonders how the video could have been approved”, reports  Newstatesman.

BHM_Sadiq_Khan_PosterApart from the BBC, some media reported on Kent University Student Union that, as the Telegraph put it,  “became national embarrassment” after picking up former One Direction singer Zayn Malik and Mayor of London Sadiq Khan as poster-boys for Black History Month. Malik and Khan are not black and they come from British Pakistani families.

According to a report from the Equality and Human Rights Commission (2016), which represents the biggest ever review into race inequality in Great Britain, “race remains the most commonly recorded motivation for hate crime in England and Wales at 82%”.

Black History Month is another way to celebrate race in the UK and the coverage of it, is indispensable to stop prejudice and inequalities. “When it comes to who runs Britain, overall ethnic minorities are still hugely underrepresented in positions of power. Ethnic minorities are also more likely to experience discrimination, harassment or abuse in Britain”, states  the report.

British media should be aware of this underrepresentation of black people and cover BHM as much as they cover other events during the year.