A recent survey revealed that a majority of Britons have a limited understanding of Black British history, to the extent that they are unable to identify any notable figures from the past.
According to the study, there is a significant lack of knowledge about Black British history in the UK. A majority of British adults (75%) admitted to having little to no information about the subject, and over half (53%) could not remember any notable Black British figures. Only 7% were able to name more than four.
Despite the fact that individuals with dark skin have been present in Britain for around 12,000 years, and the first direct migration from Africa occurred approximately 2,000 years ago, a significant portion (36%) of British individuals surveyed believed that the first Black people arrived within the past 200 years. Another 29% were uncertain about the timing, while 25% believed it was within the past 100 years and only 9% thought it happened more than 1,500 years ago.
The majority of individuals were unaware of the extent of Britain’s participation in the transatlantic slave trade. Over half (53%) were not aware of the total number of individuals that were taken from Africa by the British. Approximately half believed the number to be 250,000 or less, and only 12% believed it to be over 1 million, despite the actual number being more than three times that amount, according to the report.
The survey was commissioned by Bloomsbury Publishing (UK), who also recently released a highly praised book titled Brilliant Black British History. This book celebrates the contributions of individuals in science, sport, literature, and law who have helped shape Britain.
The author of the book, Atinuke, who is originally from Nigeria and has won awards for her work, commented on the survey results by saying, “It is surprising that only 7% of UK adults can name more than four Black historical figures, while half cannot name a single one… I would describe this as unbelievable.”
It would have been reasonable for her to anticipate individuals like Quintus Lollius Urbicus, who served as governor of Roman Britain; Olaudah Equiano, who was once enslaved but became an advocate for abolition and a writer; Mary Seacole, who offered support and aid to British soldiers during the Crimean war; and the composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor to be mentioned.
According to her, Britain has always had individuals with black and brown skin, from ancient times until now. Furthermore, the influence of millions of Black people during the Georgian era greatly impacted British history by aiding the country in becoming the first industrialized nation and a global superpower.
She urged the government to promote greater incorporation of Black British history in educational institutions, emphasizing that in a time of increasing polarization and division, enhanced inclusivity is crucial. She believes that all of British history should be taught as a unified whole, as it belongs to all of us.
According to Rebecca McNally, who is the publishing director and editor-in-chief of Bloomsbury Children’s Books, it is crucial for everyone to contribute to bringing attention to Black British history, not just during Black History Month but every day. The survey results reveal a pressing need for books that highlight significant aspects of our history that have been neglected for too long.
A research study was carried out by YouGov UK, divided into two separate polls. The first poll took place between 26-27 September and the second between 2-3 October. The sample sizes for each were 2,268 and 2,506 adults respectively.
The exhibit showcasing the Brilliant Black British History, which draws inspiration from Atinuke’s book, can be found at the Black Cultural Archives on 1 Windrush Square, Brixton SW2 until January 28th.