A black bobby on the beat

I think it’s fair to say that the relationship between the black population in the UK and the police force has been and still is extremely strained.

I was a child of the 90s and I remember, like it was yesterday, when teenager Stephen Lawrence was killed by a gang of white racists in Eltham, and the subsequent lacklustre investigation by the police, which was later the subject of a damning landmark inquiry by Sir William Macpherson who went on to describe the service as ‘institutionally racist’.

I also remember the perpetual feeling of discrimination surrounding stop and search laws and the knowledge that as a black person the police were probably the last people you should call if you found yourself in trouble.

Over the years of course steps have been made to repair the trust between the black community and the police especially involving attempts to recruit more officers from ethnic minorities. According to recent figures there were 6,715 ethnic minority police officers in the 43 forces in England and Wales at the end of March 2014 and 20.1% of these are black or black British (see graph below showing make up of ethnic minority officers).

police-workforce6-mar14

However the number of ethnic minorities in high ranking positions is still very low and this obviously reflects the fact that the issue of racism in the force is far from over.

While looking at the history of black Caribbean people in the UK I found the story of Norwell Roberts who joined the police in 1967 and was believed to be the first black police officer. Roberts was born in Anguilla in 1946 and moved to the UK with his mum after his dad died when he was nine years old. He served in the force for more than 30 years and in 1996 was honoured with the Queen’s Police Medal for distinguished service.

Norwell Roberts QPM.JPG.displayRoberts endured terrible racism during his career from his colleagues and the public. In an interview with the Telegraph he recalled how badly he was treated by a senior officer, he said: “On the very first day, the sergeant said to me, ‘I’ll see that you never finish your probation, nigger,’”. But he obviously persevered and his years of dedication show his commitment to service no matter what.

During further research on the contribution of black Caribbean people to the police in the UK it surprised me to read that it was only recently discovered that Roberts was preceded into the force by a man who lived in the 1830s and who is now recognised as the first ever black police officer in Britain – John Kent.

According to the records John’s father was a slave called Thomas who was brought to Carlisle from the West Indies to work as a servant by the Senhouse family. John, who is believed to have been born in the UK around 1795, joined the Carlisle constabulary in 1837 and served for seven years.

When John Kent’s history was discovered the national co-ordinator at the National Black Police Association, David McFarlane said: “A lot of people are under the misapprehension that black people only arrived here during the Windrush years…but people of colour have been in this country for centuries.

“There was a black Roman emperor, black soldiers on Hadrian’s Wall. These things are not taught in our schools and people are not aware of them, we have always been a multicultural country.”

Unfortunately John Kent was sacked from the police when he was found to be drunk on duty (which was a common occurrence among officers in those days apparently). But I don’t think this should distract from the fact that nearly 200 years ago a black Caribbean man was walking the beat in the UK which essentially means we have probably come further than we think.

References/ further reading:

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Barbados: Time to move on

I just read on The Guardian website that Barbados is planning to replace the Queen as head of state with a ceremonial President by 2016 – to coincide with the island’s 50th anniversary of Independence.

I wanted to share this news on here as I think it’s an important step for the island and probably something that is long overdue.

Fifty years of independence is an amazing milestone and I can’t think of any better way to mark that historic event than by symbolically cutting ties with the ‘Empire’ and choosing your own head of state albeit by replacing it with a ceremonial position with no real powers.

Even though the final decision on whether this happens and who the new head of state is, must be determined by the Barbadian people, and not the government, I truly believe that as long as the democratic process is followed and the majority agree this is a necessary development.

Barbados flag

Of course our little gem in the sun will stay part of the Commonwealth and enjoy all of the benefits and security that brings, but really this will send an important message to the world that Caribbean islands are strong, free and separate entities, with the power for self determination and direction.

I’m sure there are many Barbadians in the UK who will have mixed feelings about this development mainly because of the long held love of the ‘mother country’ which in some ways is tied up with the monarchy especially this current Queen, but personally I can only see the positives from moving on.

So I thought I’d share the story on here because although it does not fit into the mission statement for this blog this decision by Barbados demonstrates a turning point in its history and its links with the UK.

‘The Lord has been the people’s guide
For past three hundred years
With him still on the people’s side
We have no doubts or fears
Upward and onward we shall go
Inspired, exulting, free
And greater will our nation grow
In strength and unity’

(Last verse – Barbados National Anthem)

Clive Myrie: Always a story to tell

I found a story this morning on the BBC website that I want to share on this blog. It’s not completely relevant to what this blog is about but I found it fascinating especially as it gave me some insight into a journalist I admire – Clive Myrie.

Clive Myrie

BBC – Clive Myrie on assignment

Myrie was born in Bolton in Lancashire in the 1960s to Jamaican parents and since 1996 he has worked as a foreign correspondent for the BBC. He’s just finished working on a special series of programmes for Panorama called ‘What Britain Wants’ and his episode is about finding work.

The episode will be shown on BBC One at 10.45pm tonight (Mon 16th March) and the promotional coverage on the BBC website features some insightful glimpses into Myrie’s personal story.

It chronicles how his Jamaican uncles joined the Royal Air Force and fought in World War II and goes on to detail why his parents came from the Caribbean to live in the UK and how Myrie learnt, by watching and following their example, the benefits of hard work.

Myrie talks about his parents making sacrifices to look after him and his siblings and you can tell that their courage inspired him to do what he is doing today.

He also goes on to say how much he admired Sir Trevor McDonald when he was growing up and why it was so important to see someone that looked like him on the TV. In an interview with The Independent newspaper Myrie bemoans the fact that there are not enough black people following in Sir Trevor’s footsteps, he says: “You’ve only got to look at the TV screens to see there’s not the kind of representation of black Britons on the screen as one would like.”

But he has made the breakthrough and even though he is now based in Brussels there is no doubt that he is very British and his story is inspirational and certainly adds another strand to the rich tapestry of Caribbean people living in the UK.

Check out Clive Myrie’s story here on the BBC website – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/resources/idt-02b18d60-92f2-4158-b34b-10c85dae2bc0

‘Ackee and Saltfish’ by Cecile Emeke

Even though this blog was created for my MA in International Journalism (distance learning) from Napier University and has now been submitted for grading, I’m hoping to try and keep it going, as I’ve really enjoyed exploring the history of black Caribbean people in the UK and telling their stories.

The truth is the project is more extensive then I could have imagined as the contribution of Caribbean culture to the UK spans so many years, across so many sectors and IMO every individual who has made a significant impact in a particular area deserves to have their story heard and shared.

I said before in the post on ‘Why create this blog?’ that I want this site to be as inspirational and motivational as possible, not just for black Caribbean people, but for anyone who is facing adversity or obstacles (whether racial or otherwise) and needs encouragement. It seems there is nothing more uplifting than discovering other people who have overcome the odds to make a success of their life.

So I’m going to try to keep posting stories on the achievements of black Caribbean people in the UK in the past and present.

And on that note one such person I came across recently is Cecile Emeke who is a British-Jamaican filmmaker and the creative force behind a film and web series about the black British ‘experience’ called ‘Ackee and Saltfish’.

Ackee and Saltfish

Copyright – Cecile Emeke

Cecile has been interviewed recently on the success of her production which “aims to capture the full range of the black and African diaspora, especially in Europe” and obviously the write-up grabbed my eye because this blog has a similar aim.

Anyway I found her story fascinating so if you want to know more about Cecile and her work I have added some links below and I will definitely be watching previous and future episodes of ‘Ackee and Saltfish’ to see how it portrays what it is like to be black and British.

If you plan to have a look as well, or have already seen it, or have another film/series you think black Caribbean people in the UK will be interested in, please let me know via the comments section.

Click on the links to find out more about Cecile Emeke and ‘Ackee and Saltfish’:

https://www.facebook.com/cecileemeke

http://www.ackeeandsaltfish.co.uk/about2

http://www.blackgirlstalking.com/interviews/filling-the-gaps-with-strolling-an-interview-with-cecile-emeke

A historic voyage of discovery

The history of black Caribbean people in the UK is long and varied, as I hope I have been demonstrating through the posts on this blog, but there will always be one event that is forever linked with our past in this country and that is the arrival of the Empire Windrush in June 1948.

On that ship were over 490 passengers from Jamaica and Trinidad which was the largest number of black Caribbean people to come to Britain at one time.

The people that arrived on the Windrush were brave, bold and enterprising and the others that followed shortly afterwards would undoubtedly thank them for taking that first step and showing the way.

My video montage posted below (with captions) charts the arrival of the Windrush and highlights some of the achievements of those on board as well as their descendants.

The Windrush voyage was history in the making and its arrival nearly 70 years ago shows how far Caribbean people have come.

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step (Lao Tzu)”.

References / further reading:

http://www.voice-online.co.uk/article/empire-windrush-jamaica-sails-british-history

http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/british/modern/windrush_01.shtml

http://www.historytoday.com/richard-cavendish/arrival-ss-empire-windrush

http://www.bl.uk/learning/timeline/item107829.html

A review: Staying Power exhibit

A review: Staying Power: Photographs of Black British Experience, 1950s – 1990s

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What is Staying Power? One dictionary definition says: ‘the quality or ability that allows someone or something to continue to be effective, successful, popular, etc., for a long period of time’ . 

I think that is certainly an apt way to summarise the experience of black Caribbean people in the UK over the years and so is an appropriate title for an exhibition currently on at the Victoria and Albert Museum which is inspired by Peter Fyrer’s reference text Staying Power, The History of Black People in Britain.

As I walked in the door into the low lit room at the exhibition, the first photo that greeted me was a self portrait by Jamaican photographer Armet Francis who moved to London at the age of 10 in 1955.

The photo, which is called ‘Self portrait in Mirror (1964)’ is black and white, crisp and studious and it shows a young black boy, with what was probably one of his first cameras, taking a snap of himself in the mirror in an early type of ‘selfie’. In this one image the entire point of this display of photographs is encapsulated – look into the mirror, as a black person in the UK, and what do you see?

'Self-portrait in Mirror', 1964

© Armet Francis/ Victoria and Albert Museum, London

I immediately connected with the message behind this image because this is what this entire blog is about. Who are black British people? What is our history in this country? How have black Caribbean people contributed to the UK? Why do some of us feel like we don’t belong? What can we do to feel more British? Can you be black and British or are these two concepts incompatible? The list goes on and on.

The images in this exhibition go on to highlight this struggle for the black Caribbean population in the UK from the 1950s to the 1990s but the images are not depressing or downtrodden just real and simple. They show black people growing up in the UK and trying to find their place, trying to work out who they are and trying to understand how and where they fit in.

The photos by Neil Kenlock, showing ordinary black people in their homes in the 1970s with their flares, afros, swirly carpets, loud wallpaper, large TVs and dial-up telephones took me right back to my childhood growing up on a council estate in Fulham.

'Untitled [A young girl speaking on her parents' telephone in South London]', 1973

© Neil Kenlock/ Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

At that time it didn’t matter to me what colour my skin was, it only mattered whether I had the latest rah-rah skirt or how long I could keep up a hula hoop.

These images brought back those memories when the question of identity, history or ancestry was the farthest thing from my mind.

But of course the undercurrent of a changing Britain is ever present in the background and two photographs in the exhibition clearly demonstrate the multicultural society that was slowly evolving in the UK over the decades primarily because of the growing presence of black Caribbean people.

The first image by Charlie Phillips entitled ‘Notting Hill couple’, taken in 1967 would have undoubtedly caused a stir at that time.

When you look closely at the young white woman and the contrasting, black man next to her with his arm on her shoulder, you can see that they are in a relationship and their defiant gaze into the camera gives you some insight into the racism and discrimination they must have faced because of their love.

 'Notting Hill Couple', 1967

© Charlie Phillips/ Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

It makes you wonder what they went through but it also makes you think how far we have come now, as mixed race relationships today are nothing out of the ordinary.

The next image, taken in the 1970s by Dutch photographer Al Vandenberg, shows a mixed group of school girls standing on a street corner totally at ease with one another, posing while linking arms.

'Untitled', 1970s, from the series 'On a Good Day'

© The Estate of Al Vandenberg / Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

This photo also reminded me of my secondary school years in the 1990s with a group of friends of all races, faiths and backgrounds, sharing life and experiences without the concerns of racism or division.

I wondered, as I looked at this photo, why we lose that ability to just accept people because they make us laugh or like the same boy band, and then as we grow up increasingly separate ourselves from each other based on class, colour or religion.

So we move on into the 1980s and 1990s with pictures of ‘rude boyz and gals’ on the streets and outside tower blocks, in clothes that are clearly inspired by Africa but also borrow from ghetto culture in the States. These images show how, by this time, first generation black Brits were grappling with who they really are and what they should use to shape their identity.

'She Rockers (London/Rap/Dance Crew) Shepherds Bush Green, London

© Normski/ Victoria and Albert Museum, London

I saw in these photos, how a chronic lack of positive role models in the home and the media left a void, and obviously different people with different needs, filled this void in different ways.

Hip hop artist Normski demonstrates in his images the alternative, street life that was developing at this time as young black people used music and fashion as an outlet and a way to show that if society would not accept them, they at least belonged to each other.

The exhibition does not move into the 2000s and the present day, which is a shame as the story it has partly-narrated, is far from over.

I am proof, along with countless others that I have met, of the conflict that still exists between being black and British. The questions about identity, culture, history, assimilation, acceptance and belonging have not gone away.

But ultimately this exhibition left me with a hopeful and uplifting feeling that black people in the UK are at least on the right track.

This powerful and moving collection of images show there is room to be black and British and one does not have to cancel out the other, in fact, when the two positively combine they do not just change individual lives, they change a nation.

Staying Power slideshow:

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References / further reading:

http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2015/feb/08/black-experience-photography-community-v-and-a

http://bcaheritage.org.uk/programme/exhibitions/staying-power/

The winds of change

In 2010 27 Black and Ethnic Minority (BME) MPs were elected to serve in the House of Commons which was 12 more than in the previous Parliament although this is still only 4.2% of 650 MPs.

The 27 BME MPs are significantly short of the estimated 84 required for the Commons to be representative of the ethnic composition of the wider British population, however any increase is an improvement and shows the positive contribution people from differing backgrounds are making in British politics.

All of the current BME MPs represent a range of ancestry including Uganda, Ghana, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nigeria among others, but there is no doubt that they all owe a debt of gratitude to the black politicians that went before them either in the House of Commons or the House of Lords.

Below is an infographic showing the history of black Caribbean parliamentarians in the UK from the first peer in 1969 to the current representatives.

Black Caribbean parliamentarians

References / further reading:

http://www.blackhistorymonth.org.uk/the-first-black-parliamentaria/4566918175

file:///C:/Users/user/Downloads/sn01156.pdf

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_ethnic_minority_British_politicians