It’s time to celebrate Black History Month! While many prominent narratives you’ll see during this time focus on Black history in the Global North, we’d like to add to this with a wider focus on the many lived realities and accomplishments of Black people around the world, and in Black-majority countries specifically. We would be remiss to not mention how the 2020 uprisings after George Floyd’s murder acted as a springboard for the resource allocation for Diversity and Equity Initiatives and the D&I roles necessary to take this work forward.
As you engage with the following timeline of global Black history and resistance (which is by no means exhaustive), think about what role colonialism has played in the oppression of Black communities through slavery, dehumanization, and arbitrary divisions of ethnic groups across African nation’s borders. Ask yourself which of these names and events you are familiar with and which are new. Why is this? What history gets taught and emphasized and what is deprioritised?
Oppression must be visualized in order to disrupt it. We are focusing on resistance movements to create room for us to engage with the incredibly important work of Black communities to rebalance power, decolonize, and resist oppressive structures. This history reminds us both of what anti-racism needs to look like and the power Black communities hold beyond systemic oppression.
BLACK HISTORY OF RESISTANCE
- 1521- The first recorded slave revolt occurred in the Spanish colony of Santo Domingo.
- 1739- Runaway enslaved Africans who formed their communities, called the Maroons, forced the British governor of Jamaica to sign a peace agreement.
- 1804- The Haitian Revolution destroyed slavery in the most profitable French colony, creating the first independent Black republic in the Americas.
- 1896- Ethiopian warriors, farmers, pastoralists, and women defeated a fully-armed Italian army at the Battle of Adwa, ensuring Ethiopia’s independence from colonization.
- 1905- In response to Germany’s oppressive colonization of Tanganyika, Maji Maji warriors attacked their colonizers, and forced Germany to institute reforms.
- 1945- Trinidadian-born George Padmore organized a Pan-African Conference in Manchester, advocating for Black people across the world to link in solidarity.
- 1954- Dr. David Williams was born in Aruba, where he went on to become a social scientist and Harvard professor, studying how race relates to health inequities.
- 1960s- The Afro-Asian Writers’ Conferences brought together literary figures from Asia and Africa to denounce imperialism and establish global cultural contacts.
- 1970- Assata Shakur joined the Black Panther Party in the U.S., after organizing for Black liberation movements and against the Vietnam War.
- 1984- Cape Town’s Archbishop Desmond Tutu won the Nobel Peace Prize for his activism against South Africa’s apartheid regime, which helped increase the international boycott of trade with South Africa.
- 2006- Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the first woman to be elected head of state of an African country, served as the President of Liberia until 2018 when she brought steadiness to the country after many years of civil war.
- 2011- The Senegalese rap group Y’en e Marre started a political movement fighting government corruption.
- 2019- After many protest movements, Angola removed a colonial-era law prohibiting same-sex relationships, which was instituted by Portuguese colonists.
As always, while we celebrate Black history this month, we must also ask how this is prioritized for the rest of the year at our companies.
- What are we doing to ensure we are listening to a plurality of Black voices and ideas?
- How are we elevating and valorizing Black scholarship and knowledge production?
- How are we learning from and supporting Black protest and resistance?
- How are we resisting colonial ideas about Black communities?
- How do we change our policies to meet the needs of folks who have not only been historically marginalized but continue to face the compounding effects of racism today? If our workplaces are to be truly equitable, they will account for the significantly large systemic disadvantage many Black people start with.