An Introduction to Black History Month from Robert Traynham

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Robert Traynham gained a PhD in history from the University of Aberdeen in 2019.

He is currently the Head of Public Affairs for Facebook in their Washington, DC offices where he oversees the external engagement relationships on behalf of the company to reporters, non-profit leaders, universities and other thought leaders across the country.

Prior to this he was deputy chief of staff and communications director for the Senate Republican Conference, roles that made him the highest-ranking African American Republican staffer in Congress.

He sets out the significance of Black History Month and the need to embed the objectives of the movement into our everyday lives.

a photograph of Robert Traynham

An Introduction to Black History Month

When we talk about history, it is most often European history and history told from a Caucasian perspective. This is obviously important because it is human history but because this history was set down many, many years ago, black history has often been erased.

This gap between black and white history has failed to close and so, Black History Month is much needed as an opportunity to showcase the contributions and achievements that people of colour have made over the centuries.

October provides an opportunity to highlight this but in my mind, Black History Month is every single month and every single day.

Names like George Washington Carver and Garrett Morgan should be as embedded in our collective narrative and their achievements – and those of many, many others – should be remembered not just by black individuals but by all individuals. They should be part of our curriculums and our everyday learning.

Carver was born enslaved but went on to become one of the most prominent scientists and inventors of his time, devising over 100 products and conducting ground-breaking research on plant biology. Morgan’s legacy can be seen in every major town and city in the world as the inventor of the first three stage traffic light as well as a predecessor to the gas mask but their names remain unknown to many.

Sadly, 2020 has revealed the deep divisions within society brought into sharp focus by the horrific murder of George Floyd by a police office in Minneapolis.

This and the international attention on the Black Lives Matter movement has acted as a magnifying glass on the racial inequality which has been persistent for centuries and unfortunately what we have also seen is that many people glorify the violence associated with it.

As an historian I always try to look on the bright side of things with the benefit of history and the beauty of this moment, if there is one, is that more and more people are becoming self-aware of their own biases, becoming self-aware of their own micro-aggressions and saying ‘enough, I have to change’.

There is a long way to go but initiatives like Black History Month have an important role to play in helping us to address the imbalances which exist at every level of society.

The rise of social media also means that more of the everyday harassment experienced by people of colour is being captured and shared. This is significant now as the sunlight is becoming a disinfectant for people that participate or encourage these terrible acts.

But it may also have a significance for future generations. It may well be the sources studied by future historians looking at a pivotal moment in our history.

As we begin Black History Month, we all need to be part of the co-creation of a space where the contributions and achievements of black people – both in the past and today - are recognised, celebrated and can act as an inspiration to everyone, whatever their background or colour.

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