FOLLOWING the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25, his name has been echoed by people across the world, ensuring he is not forgotten. The 46-year-old was killed by a police officer after his arrest for allegedly using a counterfeit $20 note, and the subsequent backlash has been monumental. Police discrimination and brutality against African-Americans is a long standing problem in the US, and the global wave of concern around this issue is well overdue.
In the week following George Floyd’s death, many took to social media to voice their outrage and platforms such as Instagram were flooded with posts accompanied by the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag. One social media campaign saw millions of people post black squares on their Instagram accounts for #BlackOutTuesday.
There is no doubt this was largely done with good intentions, however the #BlackOutTuesday campaign quickly gained criticism, with many saying this was simply performative and did not achieve anything. Notably, Emma Watson was slammed for posting three black squares on her Instagram page instead of one, allegedly to avoid ruining the aesthetic of her Instagram grid, which displays pictures three in a row.
These criticisms were valid, for social media posts such as these will not in themselves create change. As many are realising this, attention is being redirected towards education.
A petition currently circulating online, which has gained much support, proposes that the realities of British Imperialism and Colonialism should be made a compulsory part of the British school curriculum. In just one week, nearly 200,000 people have signed their name in support of this. The petition highlights that: “The national curriculum for history aims to ensure that all pupils: ‘know and understand the history of these islands as a coherent, chronological narrative, from the earliest times to the present day: how people’s lives have shaped this nation and how Britain has influenced and been influenced by the wider world.'”
While this petition doesn’t cover Scotland’s devolved curriculum, the sentiment is spot on. Children should not leave school without comprehensive knowledge of the realities of the British Empire and African Diaspora in Britain. While it may be impossible for schools to provide children with an entirely comprehensive history of the UK, this particular element is too important to exclude. How can children understand the world they live in today without knowledge of how our society evolved?
Reflecting on my own experience, the British Empire was something I learned about in reasonable depth while at university. Having studied English Literature, this was relevant to many of the texts I covered. However at the beginning of university, aged 17 and fresh out of school, this was something I had next to no knowledge of. While lecturers assumed students on the course would have a basic understanding of British Imperialism, the large majority had simply never been taught about this.
I am both lucky and likely in a minority of people who learned about the British Empire in reasonable depth, somewhat by accident, due to my choice of degree. This is by no means good enough. This knowledge should not be reserved for further education, but is a vital part of history that everyone in the UK should be well versed in.
Failure to educate children about British Imperialism at school will create a vast gap in knowledge for the majority, and in turn create a society that does not appreciate the roots of the discrimination we see today. To create change, we must start with education.
Mairi Hughes is a Journalist and Creative Writer