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WE-Hope through Black History Month

Our WE-Hope project is all about social inclusion, of celebrating and welcoming diversity, and sharing different stories that enrich our common humanity. Here at the University of Lincoln, we have a great programme of activities to mark Black History Month, a way of focusing on untold and neglected stories, just as our whole Creative Europe project seeks to do.

Iyamide Thomas preparing the Krio exhibition
Iyamide Thomas preparing the Krio exhibition, 2019.

On 7 October, for example, we hosted an online talk by Iyamide Thomas and Melissa Bennett on an exhibition currently on show at the Museum of London Docklands. Its theme is the Krio people of Sierra Leone. In origin, many were ex-slaves who were resettled in Sierra Leone in the 19th century and developed a distinctive language and culture. We had attendees from Sierra Leone and the US, as well as the UK. One has already written a blog about it. This experience was a reminder of one aspect of inclusion and exclusion: while hosting discussion online enables more diverse audiences, we should never forget the digital divide. Many of those whose stories have been neglected are the ones without access to the means to participate in our new online world.

Black History Month is indeed a time to reflect not only on neglected and untold stories but also to consider how our conventional ways of thinking continue to exclude these stories: in school and university curricula, museum displays and outreach activities, the statuary in our streetscapes, the naming practices of city streets and buildings and employment practices in the creative and heritage sector. The Black Lives Matter movement, which had already been around for some years, has sharpened the focus on these important matters since the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May.

How should we in WE-Hope respond? An anti-racism agenda means acknowledging the stress, hurt and even physical threats that people of colour live with every day in societies across Europe. In her book Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race (Bloombury 2018), the British writer Reni Eddo-Lodge points out that the ‘problem’ of talking about race in majority-white societies is the refusal to acknowledge structural racism. Too many of us tend to be in denial.

All these issues are close to us in WE-Hope. We have had several partner meetings over the past months, trying to understand how best to practice inclusivity and respect, for example in our use of language and how to ensure we protect the identities of those who tell us their stories and continue to feel very vulnerable. These are not easy matters at all, and to reach positive outcomes, they take time, reflection and consultation with many stakeholders. Our project depends on getting these important processes as safe and secure as we can, for everyone.

This article was written by the University of Lincoln, coordinator of the WE-Hope project.

Image Credit: Iyamide Thomas.

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