Council won’t celebrate Black History Month, faces backlash

The borough of Hillingdon in west London said it will not offer short-term cultural education during October but instead aims to celebrate and educate about various cultures year-round.

A London council faces backlash after sharing that it will neither recognize nor commemorate Black History Month, celebrated in October in the United Kingdom.

According to Yahoo News UK, critics accuse the Conservative-led borough of Hillingdon in west London of retreating to the “dark ages of racism and ignorance” by rejecting the commemoration and refusing renewed calls to reinstate it.

In a joint open letter to the council, the labor organization Lambeth UNISON and Lambeth UNISON Black workers group accused the council of racial discrimination and sought an apology for all workers impacted.

Black History Month London
A London council is under fire for refusing to honor Black History Month, marked in October in the United Kingdom. As part of a 2020 commemoration (above), one of four special-edition mailboxes in Glasgow, Scotland, featured an image of 2nd Lt. Walter Tull. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

The groups said employees felt compelled to leave Hillingdon over the council’s defense that “all staff are the same.”

“This is an abhorrent and obnoxious position,” the groups wrote. “Hillingdon Council has taken the borough back to the dark ages of racism and ignorance and we fully detest and condemn [the council’s] position on Black History Month.”

Hillingdon’s UNISON chapter called the council “shameful,” claiming that it “ignored the momentum of protests that followed the killing of George Floyd in the US” and neglected to issue a statement on the council’s website while other local authorities did.

Black History Month, observed in schools and via public activities, emphasizes and honors the contributions of Black people to the United Kingdom.

The United States has long marked February as Black History Month. In 1987, the UK marked its first Black History Month, designating October to honor, and understand the impact of Black heritage and culture there.

Hillingdon Council said in a statement that it is incredibly proud of the varied populations that make up the borough, stressing that its identity as a borough is the sum of different cultures and nationalities. 

It added that the integration of various groups has produced a strong, cohesive, and proud community.

“In light of this, the council has made the decision to not educate residents on individual cultures for limited time periods, believing that we should celebrate and provide education on all our variety of cultures throughout the whole year,” the statement read, Yahoo reported. 

“However, internally, as part of the council’s equality, diversity and inclusion work, staff have been holding themed team meetings and events during the month to share knowledge and understanding of Black history and culture.”

A worker at Uxbridge Civic Centre, where the council is based, told Yahoo that Hillingdon’s stance is shocking, given the substantial number of residents and employees of Black heritage.

In addition to seeking an apology to staff and residents, the Hillingdon Black History Month Action Group is demanding that the council share details on how reparations to “repair the harm caused,” provide appropriate mental health and emotional well-being support for staff affected by the decision and sign and adhere to the anti-racism charter.

“We recognize the racist agenda is to ignore and deny racism and oppression ever existed,” Lambeth UNISON added in its statement, Yahoo reported. “By denying celebration of Black History Month, Hillingdon Council is blatantly ignorant and attempting to encourage racism, and preventing the next generation to learn from history.”

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