delivered 20 October 2020, London, England
[AUTHENTICITY CERTIFIED: Text version below transcribed directly from audio]
Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I'm pleased to be standing here at the Dispatch Box to close this much needed debate on Black History Month.
And I'd like to congratulate the Member for Erith and Thamesmead [Abena Oppong-Asare], who's managed to be both a Front Bencher and a Back Bencher today; it's quite a feat; and also the Backbench Business Committee for granting this debate and giving me an opportunity to speak on an issue that's very close to my heart. And also thank you to all those Honorable and right Honorable Members who have made thoughtful contributions.
I will speak as quickly as I can, and I am afraid I won't be able to reference every speech, but I think that this has been a fantastic debate.
This year, more than it has been for decades, race has been at the heart of our national conversation. Black History Month remains an opportunity to shine a light upon those whose contributions to our national history deserves [sic] to be better known. This month, the Government has taken the opportunity to celebrate the contribution of black Britons who enrich our collective national life and form an inseparable part of our national history -- women like Yvonne Conolly, who in 1969 became the UK’s first black female headteacher. Throughout her 40-year career, she has inspired and mentored generations of educators.
Mr. Speaker, the work of Ms. Conolly and her fellow heads is key in the topic we are debating. Education is the key to our mission as a Government to level up and spread opportunity to everyone, whatever their background.
Many Members have said they want more black history taught, but they don't seem to be aware of what is actually on the curriculum. Our curriculum is not the curriculum of 50, 40, or even 20 years ago. Children today are able to learn about the British empire and colonialism, about the transatlantic slave trade and its abolition, and of how our history has been shaped by people of all ethnicities, as well as having the opportunity to study non-European cultures such as Mughal India or the Benin Empire, which is where my ancestors decided to have their own opportunity to take over the world in their own way.
Pupils -- Pupils can currently study migration, empires, and the people in the AQA history GCSE [General Certificate of Secondary Education], for example. The Member for Ilford North [Wes Streeting] is quite wrong to say that that's the only place that it can be learned. There are many other exam bodies that do offer -- that do offer this.
But our curriculum does not need decolonising for the simple reason that it is not colonised. We should not apologise for the fact that British children primarily study the history of these islands. And it goes without saying that the recent fad to decolonise maths, decolonise engineering, decolonise the sciences, that we have seen across our universities -- to make race the defining principle of what is studied -- is not just misguided but actively opposed to the fundamental purpose of education.
The curriculum, by its very nature, is limited; there are a finite number of hours to teach any subject. And what we haven't heard in this debate, from those Members who want more added to it -- on both sides of the House -- is what necessarily must be taken out. Perhaps we'll get to that on another day.
Members such as the Member for Islington North [Jeremy Corbyn] and many others have raised the Black Lives Matter movement. The Member for Streatham [Bell Ribeiro-Addy] raised the educational guidance and believes that we're trying to stop children from becoming activists. I believe another Member -- apologies, I've forgotten who it was who mentioned it. However, what we are against is the teaching of contested political ideas as if they are accepted facts.
We don't do this with communism.
We don't do this with socialism.
We don't do it with capitalism.
And I want to speak about a dangerous trend in race relations that has come far too close to home to my life, and it's the promotion of critical race theory, an ideology that sees my blackness as victimhood and their whiteness as oppression. I want to be absolutely clear: This Government stands unequivocally against critical race theory. The -- Some schools have decided to openly support the anti-capitalist Black Lives Matter group, often fully aware that they have a statutory duty to be politically impartial.
Black lives do matter -- of course they do -- but we know that the Black Lives Matter movement -- capital B-L-M -- is political. I know this because, at the height of the protests, I saw white Black Lives -- I've -- I've been told of white Black Lives Matters [sic] protesters calling -- and I'm afraid I apologize for saying this word -- calling a black, armed police officer guarding Downing Street "a pet [n----]." That is why we do not endorse that movement in -- on this side of the House. It is a political movement, and what would be nice would be for Members on the opposite side to condemn many of the actions that we see of this political movement, instead of pretending that it is a completely wholesome anti-racist organisation.
There is a lot of pernicious stuff that is being pushed, and we stand against that. We do not want to see teachers teaching their white pupils about white privilege and inherited racial guilt. And let me be clear: Any school which teaches these elements of critical race theory as fact, or which promotes partisan political views such as defunding the police without offering a balanced treatment of opposing views, is breaking the law.
Members have mentioned the police. Our history is our own; it's not America’s. Too often, those who campaign against racial inequality import wholesale a narrative and assumptions that have nothing to do with this country’s history and have no place on these islands. Our police force is not their police force. Since its establishment by Robert Peel, our police have operated on the principle of policing by consent. And it gives me tremendous pride to still, in 2020, live in a nation where the vast majority of our police officers are unharmed [unarmed].
On the history of black people in Britain, again, our history of race is not America’s history of race. Most black British people who have come to our shores were not brought here in chains, but came voluntarily due to their connections to the UK and in search of a better life. I should know: I am one of them.
And we have our own joys and sorrows to tell. From the Windrush generation to the Somali diaspora, it is a story that is uniquely ours. And if we forget that story to replace it with an imported Americanised narrative of slavery, segregation, and Jim Crow, we erase not only the history of black Britain, but the history of every other community that has contributed to this society and has also been a victim of racism or discrimination, from the Pakistani community to the Jewish community.
On delivering -- On delivering a race equality strategy, I've listened to Members opposite talk about a race equality strategy. They know that this Government has set up a Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities, but they have not engaged with it. What -- They don't want a race equality strategy. What they want is for the Government to adopt their race equality strategy, and that's not what we're doing.
Mr. Speaker, we won an election just a year ago. (I'm afraid I don't have enough time to give way.)
Mr. Speaker, we won an election a year ago. If Members on the other side want to implement their race equality strategy, they should go ahead and win an election, win the support of the British people, and then they can have their way. But at the moment this is a Conservative Government and we are going to do this in the way that we believe the people of this country want.
(I'm afraid I am not giving way. I've only got three minutes and I...have more than three minutes of context -- of...content.
Mr. Speaker, in her speech the Member for Brent Central [Dawn Butler] said that she hoped I'd learned something from her. Now it's time for me to give her a couple of lessons too, although I don't believe she's in her place.1 She said in her speech we need to look at history and we need to improve it.
Lesson Number 1: You cannot improve history; you can only learn from it. What we can improve is the future, and that is what this Government has been doing over the last 10 years. I won't reel off statistics, in the interests of time. Other Members on this side of the House have already done so.
Lesson Number 2: Black history is not the history of institutional racism. Listening to some Members across the House, it's quite clear that they don't know the difference. It is not true, as the Member for Liverpool, Riverside [Kim Johnson] said, that African history was interrupted by slavery -- also shows an ignorance of geography, because West African history is different from African history. As probably the only Member of this House who actually grew up and went to school in Africa, I can tell you that's not what we're taught.
Much more is taught about the history of black slave traders who existed before and after the transatlantic slave trade. In fact, the most notable statue in the city of Lagos, where I grew up, is that of Madam [Efunroye] Tinubu. It's the biggest one...[the] equivalent of Trafalgar Square. She was a slave trader, but she was also a freedom fighter and a much loved icon. Her slave trading is not celebrated, but her fight against colonisers is. In Nigeria, she is recognised as a complex character, as all historical figures are -- and heaven help anyone who would try to pull her statue down. There is much that we can learn from Nigeria about how to handle the issue of statues.
But why does this issue mean so much to me, Mr. Speaker? It's not just because I'm a first-generation immigrant. It's because my daughter came home from school this month and said to me, "We’re learning Black History Month because every other month is about white history." This is wrong and this is not what our children should be picking up. These are not the values I have taught her. They are instead yet another sign of the pernicious identity politics that looks at individuals primarily as groups of biological characteristics. People often don't realise when it has taken hold, and I know that many of them are well-meaning.
But what I really wanted to finish with is the story of Tom Molineaux. He was a black boxer who freed himself from slavery in the U.S. and he moved to England in 1809. I would have said so much more, but I'm almost out of time, Mr. Speaker. But what his story tells us is that this is a country that welcomes people, and that black people from all over the world have found this to be a great and welcoming country.
These are the values, as a black woman, I'm teaching my black daughter. We must never take it for granted, and this Black History Month, let us celebrate the black talent we are blessed with, the progress we have made in accepting one another, and the contribution black people have made in making us who we are as a nation.
1 Referring to the MP's absence from the Bench in the House of Commons
See also: UK Parliament Debate on Black History Month
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