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Black History Month

I have been given the privilege of writing this blog as part of the Royal College of Psychiatrists’ first ever celebration of Black History Month. 

Black History Month is an annual celebration/commemoration of the history, achievements and contributions of Black people to the country.  

In the UK, it has been celebrated in October since 1987. It is usually a month of varied activities like debates, lectures, plays, poetry/spoken word events, musical workshops, concerts, culinary events, parades and story telling all around the country.   

In 2019, questions of identity and belonging have become increasingly volatile and schismatic, as we face political and socioeconomic uncertainties over the next few years. It is at times like this that minority groups can be made to feel unwelcome and marginalized in our society.

Thus, I write this blog to emphasise the continued importance and relevance of Black History Month as a means of reflecting upon and appreciating the contributions of Black and other people of colour to the greatness of this country.

This is because sections of our society remain dubious as to why a lot of attention is paid to Black history one month every year. Indeed to some, Black History Month is really all about political correctness and proselytising multiculturalism, which entirely misses the point of it.

Black History Month is important, because it is a period in which the rightful promotion and celebration of different accounts of our shared history takes place. These accounts are necessary ‘correctives’ to the ‘monochromatic’ and ‘lopsided’ history routinely taught and accepted as conclusive.

However, in the same way as gathering collateral information from relevant others is part of the comprehensive assessment of any patient; the history of this country is incomplete without the routinely omitted Black perspective.

The relevance of Black History Month to us all is that it serves as an annual reminder of the need to celebrate Black peoples’ resilience and resistance to ontological oppression. It serves as a catalyst for people of different backgrounds to come together through discussion and debate to share experiences.

It creates the opportunity through sharing food and drink to enjoy hospitality from diverse cultural traditions. Furthermore, it provides access to historical and other related material which support    the development of new insights about the interconnectedness of us all.

Finally as a Black British psychiatrist, born in Birmingham but raised in Nigeria. I am proud to highlight the contribution of Nigerian psychiatrists such as Professors Lambo, Asuni and Anumonye to psychiatric research and practice. 

Between the 1950s and 1980s, they “sought to replace racist colonial psychiatric theories about the psychological inferiority of Africans with a universal and egalitarian model based on broad psychological similarities across cultural and racial boundaries.” 

Matthew Heaton sets out an excellent account of their efforts in his book – Black Skin White Coats- Nigerian Psychiatrists, Decolonization and the Globalization of Psychiatry - a book that I would heartily recommend to those interested in the history of psychiatry and psychiatric practice in Anglophone West Africa. 

On a wider note, it is important to celebrate the key contributions of other Black psychiatrists, such as those with an African Caribbean heritage like Dr Aggrey Burke, who has long challenged established orthodoxies and pinpointed the impact of discrimination on the mental health of Black and minority ethnic people. 

In addition, a number of African American psychiatrists, such as Professor Altha Stewart, immediate past-president of the American Psychiatric Association (APA), have overcome structural barriers by rising to senior positions in major institutions on merit.

 Dear colleagues, enjoy Black History Month!

Event: Mental Health Services and the African and African-Caribbean diaspora

In the UK people from black and minority ethnic groups are more likely to experience disparities in mental health access, experience and outcomes.

This conference will explore these in detail and an expert panel of speakers will discuss innovative approaches that have improved mental health outcomes. Join us on the 23 October to gain greater understanding of the factors impacting on the mental health of your patients and community and play a role in creating solutions.

Find out more about the conference.


Blog Author
Dr Tim Ojo

Consultant psychiatrist