Following the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement in the UK and across the world, the Guardian interviewed 50 young black Britons, many of whom have been at the heart of the recent anti-racism protests, to ask what changes they would like to see in their lifetime.

Three demands came up repeatedly: decolonising the curriculum; divesting funds away from police forces in favour of a public health-focused approach to crime; and better representation of black Britons across a wider section of society.

Many of the people the Guardian spoke to despaired at the neglect of black history – particularly black British history – in schools. Several spoke of their frustration at Britain’s general reluctance to confront, deconstruct and come to terms with its colonial past in the national curriculum.

“The curriculum is ridiculous. They just teach you that there was slavery for a little bit and it was really bad, then the slaves were freed and that was that, Martin Luther King did a speech and racism was over,” said 18-year-old Mia Bennett, from Sunderland.

Rebecca Tyler, 19.
Rebecca Tyler, 19. ‘It shouldn’t be a young person’s task to have to learn about black history themselves’ Photograph: Rebecca Tyler

She struggled to connect with what she was being taught: “It’s only from reading black authors that I realised how much of my own history I was shielded from.”

People also wanted schools to move away from solely teaching black history in the context of slavery. “The only thing I was taught about black people in school was that we were slaves, which when you’re 12 is very upsetting,” said Makeda Mawusi, 25, from Newmarket. “We need a wide range of education showing that black people were very successful and very rich as well as what happened after colonisation.”

The teaching of black history was not only important from an educational perspective, many felt it would also help students redefine their voices as black Britons. “It really helps people manifest and grasp their identity,” said Rebecca Tyler, 19, from Nottingham. “It shouldn’t be a young person’s task to have to learn these things themselves.”

Helen Femi Williams, 24, said if learning about the empire was compulsory, people would have a more nuanced understanding of modern Britain – and each other. “Whether we’re here for 60 years or just got here, there’s a sense that we don’t belong,” she said. “Things like the Windrush scandal wouldn’t have been so easy to do if people understood what the Windrush was.”

“The UK is not innocent” was written on placards and chanted on streets across the country after the death of George Floyd in the US in May. While his killing by a white police officer was the catalyst for the UK rallies, young black Britons said racial disparities in policing was a problem in the UK too.

More than 20 years after the Macpherson inquiry into the murder of Stephen Lawrence declared the Metropolitan police institutionally racist, black people are nine times as likely to be stopped and searched as white people.

Helen Femi Williams.
Helen Femi Williams: ‘There’s a sense we don’t belong’ Photograph: Helen Femi Williams

Trey Campbell-Simon, 21, said: “One time, I was in my friend’s car, he was white, and it was a nice car, and it got pulled over. I was a passenger in the backseat and I was dragged out the car.” He has been stopped and searched about 30 times in London.

Lockdown has compounded the issue. After a series of high-profile incidents, police in England and Wales face an inquiry in autumn by the Independent Office for Police Conduct to establish whether forces racially discriminate with stop and search.

Campbell-Simon was one of many to call for diverting funds from the police budget in order to invest in communities, from youth clubs to affordable housing. He said this redirection of funding would cause issues such as knife crime – and in turn, points of tension including stop and search – to reduce dramatically.

Trey Campbell-Simon.
Trey Campbell-Simon. Photograph: Suki Dhanda/The Guardian

“I speak for myself, but there’s an ‘us’ versus ‘them’ mentality when it comes to the black community and the police. The police are seen as the enemy,” Campbell-Simon said. “Invest in the community and it will become more cohesive.”

The youth campaign group All Black Lives, which formed in June, has called for the scrapping of section 60 and abolition of the Met’s gang violence matrix. The group has vowed to march every Sunday until their demands, which also include changing the curriculum and tackling health disparities, are met.

As well as investing in communities, there must be a willingness to invest in individuals. Parity of opportunity and greater representation of black people in higher positions was mentioned repeatedly in these interviews.

Last year, it emerged the number of BAME board members in Britain’s largest companies had fallen to 7.4% since 2018.

Ruben Elendo, 23 from Croydon, cited politicians such as David Lammy and the historian David Olusoga as inspirational. He said he did not know of such figures when he was growing up, adding: “You can’t be who you can’t see.”


Lucy Campbell

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Young, British & Black: the voices behind the UK’s anti-racism protests
The death of George Floyd in the US sparked the UK’s biggest anti-racism protests in centuries. We spoke to 50 young people at the heart of these rallies

Aamna Mohdin and Lucy Campbell

29, Jul, 2020 @1:05 PM

Article image
Many GCSE pupils never study a book by a black author
Exam board AQA features no black writers on GCSE English literature syllabus

Sally Weale and Lanre Bakare

30, Sep, 2020 @5:00 AM

Article image
Hundreds of schools in England sign up for anti-racist curriculum
Grassroots groups, teachers and councils helping to update syllabus after young people demand change

David Batty, Nazia Parveen and Tobi Thomas

26, Mar, 2021 @3:00 PM

Article image
Black British history: the row over the school curriculum in England
From the omission of the black Tudors to the absence of empire, data reveals how GCSE history is taught

Anna Leach, Antonio Voce and Ashley Kirk

13, Jul, 2020 @9:00 AM

Article image
Education’s black history gap must end | Letters
Letters: Ignorance of how most immigrants came to be in the UK is rife, suggesting that the topic has barely been addressed by the educational establishment. Our children should be told that most of the ‘greatness’ of Britain came by exploitation of other people

12, Feb, 2015 @7:32 PM

Article image
'It isn't a tick-box': young BLM activists on Black History Month in UK schools
Young people energised by a year of protest want changes to the way black history is taught

Lucy Campbell

11, Oct, 2020 @1:53 PM

Article image
'Students need to know the harrowing truth': teachers on black history in the curriculum
Should black history be compulsory in England’s schools? We talk to educators

Donna Ferguson

03, Oct, 2020 @7:00 AM

Article image
National curriculum in England ‘systematically omits' Black British history
The Black Curriculum report says England’s ‘white, Eurocentric curriculum’ fails to reflect UK society

Sally Weale

25, Nov, 2020 @12:01 AM

Article image
Britain can no longer ignore its darkest chapters - we must teach black history | David Olusoga
As they take to the streets and tear down statues, younger generations who have educated themselves are exposing how whitewashed the national curriculum is

David Olusoga

15, Jun, 2020 @6:00 AM

Article image
Listen to the young voices of the Black Lives Matter movement | Letters
Letters: Readers respond to the Young, British and Black special report and interviews


31, Jul, 2020 @3:36 PM