Maurisa S. Coleman is a British–Trinidadian entrepreneur, currently working as a Parliamentary researcher. She is also an ambassador for the Notting Hill Carnival.
Today, a debate will take place on Black History Month in the Commons. Black History Month is dedicated to recognising the contributions by people of African and Caribbean origins to this country. This Parliamentary debate is essential for the recognition of these contributions, and as a reminder that Black History is not limited to slavery.
Despite Labour’s attempts to own the debate, it’s great to see a Conservative MP, Theresa Villiers, co-sponsoring it with MPs from other parties. Theresa called for the inclusion of Black History in the British History curriculum last month.
As an ambassador for the Notting Hill Carnival, this is a topic for which I am a passionate advocate. I have no doubt the issue of slavery will be raised today. I hope that it can be discussed openly and honestly, without hate and malice.
It is a most difficult thing to do – discuss the sins of our fathers without blaming their descendants. I fear that time and time again, slavery is used, not to cast light and wisdom on the darker experiences of humanity, but to portray black people as perennial victims, and to foster a culture of resentment.
This is incredibly unproductive. With reference to recent events, there is no need to pull down the great British men and women who made this country. None of us are without sin. The focus should be on the achievements that paved the way for our nation as it is today.
I look forward to the day that emancipation from slavery isn’t masqueraded as the highest achievement of Blacks and especially those who originate from the Caribbean. The contribution of both black people and other immigrants into this country is so much broader than that, encompassing soldiering, arts, music and politics.
I hope this debate achieves the following.
First, please can Conservative MPs stop allowing the Left to hijack a debate that is important to all of us? Black history is not an appeasement to ethnic communities, but a critical component of modern British history and experience.
Second, let’s make the argument that lots of histories can live harmoniously on the pages of our books, whether through scholarship about ‘traditional’ history as described through political events, or other histories: military history, Holocaust history, social histories or the history of new Britons who have come here from different parts of the world.
There is no reason why black history cannot be as intrinsically patriotic, rigorous and questioning as other historical disciplines.
Third, let’s embrace ownership of the Windrush saga. Windrush is the starting point for a free group of black people invited to this country. I have seen the Conservative Party take ownership of the serious mistakes against this generation and make movements to rectify past errors. Let’s keep highlighting what we are doing to make it right.