Why ‘Zayngate’ has revealed what’s wrong with Black History Month

Let’s not all jump on the Asian Heritage Week Bandwagon


Kent Union’s Black History Month has been labelled a ‘national embarrassment’ following the use of Zayn Malik and Sadiq Khan to front the campaign. The row is over wrongful representation of Black heritage.

What has been highlighted through this blunder, is the misdirection of the celebration.  This isn’t about Zayn Malik or his ethnicity. This is about misrepresentation of African and Caribbean culture, or even its complete lack of representation.

Trevor Macdonald and Kelly Holmes were also amongst those selected, although you wouldn’t guess that from the recent headlines claiming that Zayn Malik and Sadiq Khan were intended as ‘posterboys’. Trevor Macdonald’s voice is synonymous with News at Ten, he has had a respectably long career in journalism and has an OBE. Kelly Holmes, now retired, last won gold in 2004 at the Athens Olympics. She too was recognised for her work and awarded an MBE.  These seem like respectable choices.

The immense achievements of Sir Trevor, Dame Kelly and Mary Seacole ought to be showcased, preserved and celebrated.

However, does using figures who have been given a ‘seal-of-approval’ from the establishment, essentially ‘white-wash’ the celebration?

Being awarded on behalf of the British Empire has its issues as it is argued to perpetuate class and social distinctions, as well it being part of an archaic culture of imperialism. Benjamin Zephaniah famously declined his OBE. “Up yours, I thought” he says in a Guardian article. “I get angry when I hear the word ’empire’ it reminds me of slavery, it reminds of thousands of years of brutality, it reminds me of how my foremothers were raped and my forefathers brutalised.”

This highlights the issue of balanced and accurate representation when it comes to BHM.

‘Zayngate’ is a bigger issue that Zayn Malik and the Mayor, and it is a bigger issue than Kent Union.

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Black History Month has become a topic of discussion all over campus and across national newspapers. All this attention has shown that while BHM might be in current news, perhaps often the chosen BHM heroes aren’t current or relevant enough. Zayn Malik is famous for being in One Direction and dating Gigi Hadid. Even if Zayn Malik was black, he may still have been an inappropriate choice.

This misdirection of Black History Month celebrations has perhaps meant that we’re missing the point. Most of us have been left deeply disappointed. But it should be remembered that Black History is as relevant outside the designated month of BHM, because everyday Black History is being made. It is not simply about who has made Black History but who is also making Black History.

But, whether it is Black History Month or Asian Heritage Month, the fact is that these celebrations aren’t intended just for fun. This is an opportunity to discuss the intentions and meaning of Black History Month within the context of current events, trends in African and Caribbean communities and how we can better celebrate Black History.