Kent University’s NUS received criticism after featuring Zayn Malik and Sadiq Khan as two notable figures associated with Black History Month.


Social media reacted to the university’s posters pointing out that Sadiq Khan and Zayn Malik are quite clearly of Asian descent. Many were offended that out of the six people that the university decided to recognise as celebrated black British figures, two were not even black.

I know the two men are popular and have achieved a lot; but to have a third of the people featured in a Black History Celebration not even be black was a smack in the face for some.

It seemed to undermine and intrude upon an event and a month that specifically aims to celebrate the history of those from African and Caribbean backgrounds.

An argument for why the university might have thought it acceptable to feature two Pakistani men as part of Black History Month echoes of an ideal brought about in 1970s Britain of ‘political blackness’. This was at a time when Asians and blacks alike were being referred to as the ‘n-word’ and anyone naturally tan skin was described as ‘coloured’.

The idea behind it was that anyone is who is not white was considered black – politically. Why black? I’m not sure. But I’m assuming that as binary opposites go, black is the direct antithesis to white.

In this instance, white being white British, the natural inhabitants of this country.

And as many people from black and ethnic minority groups face similar discrimination and circumstances in this country, when it comes to societal and political definitions, they may as well all be the same. It creates solidarity among those who are not indigenous to this country, and in times of racial injustice, this seems to be something that happens among these groups anyway.

What this means

Fair enough. It makes sense in practice. If we want a quick way of identifying anyone who isn’t white, why not use a singular description? This isn’t a rehashed outdated ideology, as we must acknowledge that the use of BAME (black and minority ethnic) becomes a more frequently used expression to describe those who aren’t white.

Being ethnic minorities in the UK, they may as well join forces, identify as one, and work to overcome whatever discriminations they may all face.

However, this politically correct term becomes problematic when under the guise of being all inclusive, it actually manages to exclude.

This doesn’t make it fair to roll all of their experiences and identities into one and turn them into a singular entity.

As much as black and ethnic minority people might be similar, they are not exactly the same. And if there is an event which aims to acknowledge the black history of this country specifically, then that’s exactly what it should do.

In their aim to be politically correct and inclusive, Kent University have actually made a lot of their black students feel like they aren’t good enough to be included in an event that was essentially made for them.

There was also the feeling that something that once belonged to black people and was exclusive to them, has now been boycotted and overrun by outsiders simply trying to do their best.

With the rich history and identity of black Britons spanning over so many years, it is a shame that Kent University either struggled or deliberately couldn’t be bothered to muster up six black people to be recognised.

Kent University’s NUS may have done this with the good intention of getting everyone involved in celebrating Black History Month, but their attempts fell flat and came across as lazy and insensitive at best; offensive and racist at worst.