Challenging stereotypes, changing mindsets: Black History Month at QE

Challenging stereotypes, changing mindsets: Black History Month at QE

Representatives of Perspective, QE’s new pupil-led initiative, have joined senior staff to highlight the importance of Black History Month.

School Vice-Captains Thomas Mgbor and Ayodimeji Ojelade, of Year 13, have been speaking in assemblies at the School, while teachers have also led assemblies and the academic departments are uploading resources to the eQE digital learning platform throughout the month, promoting discussion and awareness in all the subject areas. Pictured here is a Year 12 assembly on Black History Month themes led by Head of Year Simon Walker.

Headmaster Neil Enright said: “I am pleased that we are doing more to celebrate black history, especially during Black History Month, and I congratulate Thomas, Ayo and our Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Ambassadors on all the hard work they have done.”

Mr Enright added that QE’s forthcoming comprehensive review of the curriculum being carried out in connection with the launch of a new School Development Plan covering the period 2021-2025 will incorporate the themes of combatting racial bias.

The departmental materials, curated on eQE, showcase the work of influential black artists, scientists, poets, engineers and musicians; examine issues such as historical inequality in the protection of intellectual property, or the way in which colonial powers redrew national borders; and consider such questions as the social construction of race, and where our knowledge of black history comes from.

As well as assemblies with contributions both by the Vice-Captains and some Heads of Year and the eQE content, other Black History Month activities at QE include:

  • The release of a list of anti-racism books by The Queen’s Library; and
  • Short videos from alumni that are being used to stimulate discussions on Black History Month in form groups.

Thomas said: “This experience has been really eye-opening for us. The ability to learn more about our own culture has redefined what black history was, especially within the UK. Understanding the contribution of black people within the UK has shown us how black history is British history”.

One of the first Old Elizabethans to respond to his and Ayo’s request to set out their thoughts and experiences on video was Ifeanyi Chinweze (OE 2008-15), who recorded separate films for Years 7-9 and Years 10-13.

In his video for the younger boys, Ifeanyi began by introducing himself, saying that although his family originally came from Nigeria, he has lived in the UK for his whole life. He recounted his personal history of the “hurtful” comments he received as a teenager, as others questioned his love for the performing arts (including debating, public speaking and acting).  “In my teenage years, I became aware of the fact that this choice of passions was unusual for young, black men like me and I was constantly reminded of this by my peers. At the time, I was often called an ‘oreo’, or asked why I didn’t act like a real black guy.” (Merriam-Webster dictionary defines ‘oreo’ as a ‘usually disparaging’ term meaning ‘a black person who adopts the characteristic mentality and behaviour of white middle-class society’.)

“It’s important to understand that racism is not limited to hate crimes or acts of violence,” said Ifeanyi, adding that although such comments do not always indicate malicious feelings towards black people, they could nevertheless be hurtful, whether said as insults or as jokes. And, he added: “They can reveal stereotypes, or skin-deep images that people hold of others….It is these stereotypes that produce prejudices…but if we learn to talk about our experiences and our perspectives, we share things, we can understand each other and challenge internal biases and stereotypes. We can propagate change in our mindsets, starting from our local environment and spreading. So, I would like to encourage you to ask questions, to discuss and to understand why your words might be harmful to someone else.”

Perspective, which was established last term in the wake of the global Black Lives Matter protests, is a forum looking at a range of societal issues, including racism. Black History Month was first celebrated in the UK in October 1987.