Black History Month: Lutalo Muhammad – Why I’m proud to be black and British

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BBC Sport – Olympics
Lutalo MuhammadMuhammad won Olympic silver in Taekwondo at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio, after bronze in London in 2012

I noticed footballers saying their contribution to Black History Month this year. I saw Paul Pogba and a few others who said there shouldn’t even be a month of black history, but instead a month of humanity. That’s a great idealistic scenario, but it’s not the scenario we live in.

I don’t get pistol fingers at Pogba or anything, but I do see this attitude sometimes, “Oh, we shouldn’t have Black History Month” or that it’s racist or brings up the past. And I think, well … no.

To me the reason why it exists is clear. It was born out of necessity. There are stories that have not been told.

We are now revealing that there are many, many amazing contributions to British history by blacks that are not being told for some reason, and we have to face this reality.

By the time we get to a day when black history is as common in schools as Henry VIII, until those black contributions are celebrated with equal weight to the British history we are taught, then Black History Month is urgently needed. Without them, they would just be forgotten.

It’s a hidden story right now. But black British history is British history, and I don’t think it is only for black people to hear of such triumphs and significant contributions to this country.

For example, we should learn more about that Windrush generation and how they lived their lives here after coming here after World War II.

My grandparents and the majority of the generation that moved here were skilled people. They were welders, shoemakers, people who came and literally had the assignment to help rebuild this country.

From what I know from talking to my grandparents, the process was not immediate. Some of this generation had to wait 10-12 years after fighting in the war before getting a chance to come. But that was their way of thinking: “Protect the motherland and the reward will be citizenship”. And yet when they came here they faced a lot of racism, a lot of hatred and a lot of struggle.

That was the reality they had to face and this story should definitely be told. But I have a feeling that perhaps because of the recent migration crisis, for lack of a better term – “crisis” reveals something about the way immigration is generally portrayed – many white British people fail to understand this story.

These people were invited here; they didn’t come and sneak in. They had a job to do and were still faced with that racism as they raised their families and tried to be good citizens despite the obstacles in their path.

For example, back then it was impossible for a black man to get a loan or finance. That’s how it is done partner emerged – ethnic communities pooling their resources. It was like the bank for the black community.

If you have a group of 10 people paying £ 20 a month each, one person will get the full £ 200 that month. They all deposit and use that large lump sum. This was done out of necessity, because back then black people from the bank were laughing at them. And pardner continues to this day. If you went to Moss Side or Brixton you would still find it.

Lutalo MuhammadAfter missing the Tokyo Olympics in 2020 due to injury, Muhammad is training for Paris 2024

I also feel that black British history has been much less exposed even in this country compared to American.

If you stop someone on the street and talk about black history or black leaders, they will name Malcolm X or Martin Luther King. This is fantastic. Both men are absolutely critical and there are many others who have changed world history. However, I have a feeling that we British black heroes are nowhere near celebrating the same level.

Even if you bring up this point, if you say, ‘Who should we talk about instead?’ that’s actually difficult for me. Not because we don’t have a rich history, but because you have to go out of your way to research and find these British stories.

There are a few you might hear about – Olaudah Equiano gave us a slave’s tale, for example – but I have a feeling these stories are much, much less common. I think we were terrible at documenting and celebrating things like: who was the first black MP? Those seminal moments of great cultural achievement.

And when we talk about black history, and I am guilty myself, we automatically tend to fight. As much as I feel these stories should be told more, I also want the black success stories.

Daley ThompsonDaley Thompson won Olympic decathlon gold in 1980 and 1984

Two of my British heroes who grew up were Daley Thompson and Linford Christie. I could identify with them because not only did they look like me, but they came from the same place as me and came from a similar background.

Daley was so confident and so eager to do it his own way, it just inspired me and it really is the power of representation.

That’s what I really like about the new generation in football – this representation that we’re seeing now.

I remember growing up and what the English team looked like back then. I’m not saying they weren’t great players, but at times it might feel like a sign – one or two blacks on a team. But if you look at the last few euros, we see a really diverse team.

I’m just thinking, wow, what does this portrayal do for young black kids across the country where they can see and relate to these superstars? It’s fantastic on a sporting level, but also on a representative level. I know that would have blown my mind as a teenager.

England players celebrate victory against Denmark at Euro 2020England celebrates victory over Denmark and reaches the Euro 2020 final

So my mind would be to get as much out of this month as possible and hopefully this can be the start of something long term – a broader movement for black British stories to be unearthed, exposed and told to the next generation. Because now more than ever I feel that there is hunger and thirst to hear it.

Today I am very proud that our families for me and a significant part of the black population in this country come from very humble backgrounds. The striving, perhaps I should say the sacrifice, of leaving the diaspora, wherever they came from, to give their children a better future – that was foresight.

It wasn’t a selfish thing like ‘Oh, I want to live in England’, they just wanted to give their kids the opportunities they didn’t have. And I think that shows the attitude of the older generation – pretty strict and pretty serious. They were a war generation and that influenced them. Racism, too, was much more open and vicious and in her face.

I have freedoms and opportunities that my grandparents could only dream of. So when I think of Black History Month, what I’m most proud of is exactly what I think about when I’m alone and thinking about life.

What an incredible sacrifice my grandparents made, made by hundreds of thousands of others with the foresight to give their children exactly what I have today – the right to lead the life I want to lead.

That was something they didn’t have. They had a role and a place and there was a limit to the success they could have, but they did it anyway because it probably seemed like a small and impossible dream.

They made those dreams come true because they knew that God willing my future children will have more of what I have.

When I think of Black and British, I think of it.

I think of my ancestors, their victims, and that’s why I think it’s important never to forget your history, never to forget where you are from.

Lutalo Muhammad spoke to BBC Sport’s Richard Dore.

Lutalo Muhammad with his younger brother, grandfather and grandmother, pictured in 2012Mohammed pictured with his younger brother, grandfather and grandmother, after his 2012 Olympic bronze medal

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