Black History Month – The Power of Language

Communication is one of our essential human functions, without which many phases of World Civilisation would not have existed. Consequently, language emerges as the primary tool for connection between people, but so often taken for granted and arguably not analysed enough in terms of its impact.

As an Equality Diversity & Inclusion Programme Manager, I’ve noticed how language can sometimes be inspirational and polarising, triggering cause for concern. I would like to briefly demonstrate how learning from the experiences of Historical Icons can help us overcome modern-day societal challenges.

As we enter the first week of Black History Month 2022, my thoughts turn to Claudia Jones. Born in Trinidad in 1915, she moved to the USA as a child. She was granted asylum in the UK after being deported for her political activities. During her nine years in the UK, Claudia Jones launched the West Indian Gazette, becoming a champion of the emerging Black Equal Rights Movement. She stood staunchly in opposition to the “No Blacks, No Dogs, No Irish” propaganda campaign. The common thread in all of this was Claudia Jones’ understanding of using language as the basis to form effective coalitions with other Community Groups – pushing back against unbridled Discriminative Behaviours.

From a legacy standpoint, some may argue that Claudia’s most lasting contribution to British Culture came in the form of Notting Hill’s Annual Carnival, which certainly fulfilled the expectation of showcasing Caribbean Culture & Heritage whilst not just empowering the local Community but many others across Britain, Europe and dare I say the World?

The most effective tool in Claudia’s communication arsenal was language. She would not have engendered the trust of numerous people to lead them through so many episodes of adversity without being able to empathise and see the World through multiple lenses.

The ability to comprehend and acknowledge language’s influential weight is still valuable today, particularly when we position ourselves as allies and representatives of vulnerable communities. However, the onus lies collectively with all of us to use the gift of language with consideration to context through our choice of words and expressions to help shape positive social change.

Norman Alcide, Equalities, Diversity & Inclusion Programme Manager