By Rowena Arshad
As we approach the end of Black History Month 2020, I wanted to use this blog to remember a piece of history that some might know about but most will not. This relates to the racist murder of Axmed Abuukar Sheekh in 1989 and the campaign by Lothian Black Forum (LBF) to get the murder recognised as a racist murder.
By chance, a few months ago, I was speaking with Henry Dee, who wrote the first blog for CERES for Black History Month – Uncovering University of Edinburgh’s Black History. Henry had heard about the murder of Sheekh but had not realised that I and a few others had started the grassroots activist group Lothian Black Forum (LBF).
Henry spoke with me and fellow activists and began to piece together the story of LBF, the first black anti-racist grassroot group to form in Edinburgh. Henry’s write up chartered the contributions of LBF from 1989- 1992.
CERES has featured Henry’s write up before but it is important to raise it again. It is important because the contributions of ordinary people need to be heard, archived and re-told. As Chinua Achebe, Nigerian poet, writer, philosopher, critic and academic said:
Until the lions have their own historians, the history of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.
Haitian historian Michel-Rolph Trouillot reminds us that historical narratives can be a bundle of silences. Who chooses what to remember, what is deemed important and worthy of incorporation into history is often decided by those who hold the power to publish, to print and to provide that stamp of credibility. The efforts of ordinary black people campaigning for justice must be remembered and retold and LBF were part of Scotland’s history to educate and act against racism.
There are some who would argue that black history should be mainstreamed and not relegated to just one month in each year. I agree. No one is disputing that black history, the history of colonialism and racism should not be part of the curriculum for whatever subject we are studying across the year. Black history is UK, US and global history.
However, in the UK, the focus on black history in October provides us with a month where we can take issue explicitly with any ‘selective forgetting’. It is when we can identify black minority ethnic contributions and can remember. Knowing the past opens the door to the future. When I see the wonderful work of young black activists in 2020, it is uplifting. Campaigning for justice and for the eradication of racism is not new. There are many black and minority ethnic people who made sacrifices, pushed the boundaries, were seen as trouble makers and for some, the cost was their own lives and freedom.
Learn more about Lothian Black Forum
To hear about the experiences of Lothian Black Forum members, go to BBC Sounds:
BBC Radio Scotland will be repeating the programme on Friday 30th October at 11.30am. The programme will be available till 27th November 2020. The podcast of the programme will be available from early 2021 on BBC Sounds.
Rowena was the Head of Moray House School of Education and Sport from 2013-19. Currently, she is Convenor of the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Science Equality, Inclusion and Diversity Committee. She also convenes the University of Edinburgh’s Race Equality and Anti-Racist Sub-Group. Her doctoral thesis was on Scottish teacher activism in the area of equality and anti-discrimination. Rowena was awarded the OBE in 2001 for services to race equality, an honorary doctorate by Edinburgh Napier for services to gender equality and in 2019 was awarded a CBE for services to education.
Professional link: https://www.ed.ac.uk/profile/rowena-arshad