On Tuesday 25th October, Kent Student Union released an image on their Website and social media pages exhibiting Zayn Malik as the face of their Black History Month campaign.
On clicking the link, the post directs readers to a page with Sadiq Khan's face. Confused yet? Well allow Kent Union to explain:
'Those involved hope that the month will serve as a catalyst for all to explore Black and Minority Ethnic history, which is so rich and diverse, to highlight the positive contributions to society within it, and to show support for Black and Minority Ethnic individuals in their struggles against oppression.'
Flash forwards 48 hours and this has made national headlines. The action sparked massive controversy across the nation and was subsequently a trending topic on both Facebook and Twitter. The Student Union have been hit out against by various national news outlets including The Guardian, Daily Mail and The Independent. Black History Month UK's official twitter spoke out against it as "ill-thought and misdirected". Kent's African Caribbean Society themselves have responded against the Union's actions:
'The University of Kent's African-Caribbean society had no involvement in the decision to use black history month to celebrate all ethnicities. Nor did we have a hand in the selection of Zayn Malik or Sadiq Khan as prominent figures in black history
We have however noted that as a society representing a large selection of black students on this campus, we must take a stand on matters concerning black students and have integrity in doing so.
We have taken this opportunity to highlight and address many issues with our Student Union on the manner in which a lot of black students at Kent feel they are treated and the lack of concern they feel on campus. We have had a meeting with Kent Union on these matters and in response Kent Union have made a point to apologise, look into and rectify specific areas in which we feel are overlooked.'
So it seems that the majority of people are against- and perhaps rightfully so- the decision of Kent Student Union to handle the campaign in such a way. But what exactly about it is so offensive? I mean besides the obvious fact that neither Zayn Malik nor Sadiq Khan are black, what make this whole scenario so infuriating and uncomfortable?
I believe it's simple. The University of Kent's Student Union has perfectly captured 21st century neo-liberalist racism in all its quiet contemporary glory and has splattered it across national headlines to be confronted. Not the violently aggressive KKK type but the modern "I'm not racist, I have ethnic friends" type. The "well if you can say the 'N' word why can't we?" type. We are finally being forced to address a cultural snubbing against not just black people but all ethnic minorities as after generations of apparently being a 'blended multicultural society' the unsaid is finally said.
Kent Union, with all their good intentions and their 90% Caucasian Management team chose Zayn Malik as the face of Black History Month not because it is nice to celebrate the individualism in cultures but really because they do not respect the individualism that differentiates all these cultures. If they really wanted to Celebrate everyone's culture they would encourage that more of the year is given to Asian, Black and Latin American History for each group to have their own occasion to educate. Instead it was easier to marginalize all ethnic minorities under the same box and gift them all with the same month to 'share their hardships'. It's patronizing and very telling of the attitudes towards ethnic minorities in Britain that exist today.
Furthermore, what's even worse about the fact that an Asian was chosen to be the face of Black History Month was which Asian it was. To choose Zayn Malik over the likes of Indian Nobel Prize Winning Physicist C.V Raman or world renowned Bengali astrophysicist Meghnad Saha is an absolute disgrace. Not to attack Zayn Malik's career, but to suggest that the very epitome of Western pop sensation is at the pinnacle point of inspiration for his people is ignorant to say the least.
Black History Month is not a time to "show support for Black and Minority Ethnic individuals in their "struggles against oppression." One of the main reasons why Black History Month exists is to educate people a larger image of African and Caribbean history beyond the scope of European colonialism. It is a celebration of the many incredible black figures who made a difference to the world. Scientists, innovators, politicians and artists who's credentials are neglected and contributions silenced from British curriculum the other 11 months of the year. Black History month is meant to equip young millennials with the powerful names of Lewis Latimer, Patricia Beth, Jesse Powell, Maya Angelou, Mary Seacole, Percy Jullian and many more. It is a time to break archaic stigmas that Blacks were introduced to civilization by holding the generous hand of the White Man as sophisticated, innovative civilizations such as Timbuktu, Ghana's Gold Coast and Egypt existed long before European intervention.
Black History Month should no longer be looked at as something to be thrown to black people to keep them satisfied or as a tool to "support" black people in their struggles- it should be respected by all as an opportunity to learn about an important part of world history that has shaped all of our lives in some way, no matter one's race or nationality.