Black history has much to reveal about our ancestors – and ourselves

In pursuit of a peaceful society, it is important that we record all perspectives of our complex human story.

Black History Month, which runs through October, is trying to address a problem. That problem is, how to move the study of black history away from focusing solely on slavery and colonialism so that we don’t end up with an unbalanced knowledge of the past, and inadvertently confirm rather than fight prejudices about black people and people of African descent. This is why films like Black Panther, with its depiction of the fictional state, Wakanda, captured the imagination of so many: it imagined what a sub-Saharan African kingdom free from colonialism could have become.

Africa, of course, has had its share of powerful real-life kingdoms down the millennia: look at the Horn of Africa, the region I come from, with its pre-Christian, Christian and Islamic kingdoms, and Ethiopia, which remained uncolonised. Other kingdoms throughout the continent fought against colonisation to their last day.

I was recently asked to give a talk about how we create sustainable peace in an era of mounting tensions and divisions. Part of the solution, I said, is to revise the history books, which may sound like an unusual answer, but I am an archaeologist. I became one partly because of the inadequate history curriculum in my school books. Arriving in Europe from Somalia, I found that none of my classmates knew anything about where I was from, beyond what little there was in the news about Africans and Somalis. So it was a wish to seek reconciliation through shared heritage that led me to study the past.

I know how difficult it is to build a truly peaceful society unless you have justice. You get justice by taking people’s voices into account. History is that account.

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Photograph: Alamy