Published on 12 October 2021
Colina Wright is the CEO of the University of Sunderland’s Students’ Union.
An activist, campaigner, and an advocate for change, here, as part of Black History Month, she looks back at her own relationship with African history – and forward to a more positive, united future.
“I asked my beautiful, mixed race four-year old daughter to undertake a mundane task for me and her response was “I’m not your slave.”.
Where had she learnt that, how had this language become so common place within our lives without any thought as to what it actually meant? At what point will that mean something to her, will it ever?
I am black woman with my family immigrating from Jamaica back in the 1960s however I have no idea of our history further back than my grandparents.
I recall an African history workshop organised for BAME students whilst I was at school, although we weren’t referred to as that back in the early 90s.
I purposely chose not to attend, not because African history wasn’t important to me but because I only saw the anger and hatred that resulted from these workshops; whilst knowledge is power I saw black students feel the need to avenge our ancestors, blaming their white counterparts for something they were not personally a part of.
As Dr Martin Luther King said “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that”.
We need to learn to love.
History isn’t necessarily as long ago as we think, slavery did not end with the Act for the Abolition of the Slave Trade in 1807, it continues today but is no longer based on the colour of people’s skin but still very much about people believing they are superior towards another set of people, it is called oppression.
The great Nelson Mandela said “No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate…”
Apartheid, the civil rights movement, the Ku Klux Klan, lynchings, the wrongful imprisonment / deaths on those fighting for equality, these are based on the belief on being better than another set of people, another race of people in this context.
This takes a long time to change… taking the knee in football games won’t bring back George Floyd, Mark Duggan, Stephen Lawrence or the hundreds of other black lives lost at the hands of white people or police; many of whom have never been held to account for their actions, it won’t erase the decades of scores of people wrongfully imprisoned, it won’t remove the stain of slavery from history.
I think it does very little to address such issues … but what else does? There is an irony that players take the knee in football matches where we stand together when we’re winning but are seemingly divided by race when we lose.
More importantly Mandela’s quote continues “… and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”
That’s why I think it’s important to acknowledge black history and continue to work in collaboration as a society, whilst we can’t erase the atrocities of the past, be that slavery, the Holocaust, terrorism or genocide, we can build a better future, together.
Within the world of academia we can start to challenge previously held values and positively attempt to de-colonise the curriculum and institutional norms, we can challenge the status quo and show leadership by respecting alternative perspectives and embedding them within teaching.
We can continue to have a dream…”