A history of black Britain

I’m constantly coming across black British people, especially my generation from the 1970s, who say they were not taught enough about their own culture in school.

Obviously we were educated in the UK, so to some extent you can’t expect to get the same history lessons (or perspective) as someone taught in the Caribbean or Africa, but I think most people would accept that we (as in every state school pupil in England) seem to learn a lot about American history and European history alongside British history but there was (and probably still is) very little time spent, if any, on black ancestry.

It was only after I went to live in Barbados when I was 33 and tried to fit in to a different culture, albeit the home of my parents and immediate ancestors, that I really realised how ‘British’ I was.

I also became acutely aware of my limited knowledge of Caribbean history and especially in terms of how it fit in and contributed to the development of the British ‘Empire’. I think I have been actively trying to make up for this deficit ever since.

Anyway, I recently came across a course which would probably fill in some of the history blanks for me and many other black Britons.

It’s being advertised by Goldsmiths University in London and I just wish that it had been around when I was a teenager and I also wish that I had time to go on it now (I’m currently researching my MA dissertation while working three jobs so barely have time to eat).

It’s called Black Britain: A History of Struggle and Triumph

goldsmiths

Copyright: Goldsmiths University

It’s running every Tuesday for 6 weeks from January 17th and will run again in the Summer at a cost of £150.

According to the website accompanying the course, it is for “anyone seeking to explore and share their experiences of the history and cultural roots of Black people and ‘Black culture’ in London.”

It adds that participants will “learn how it came to be that Britain was a key destination for migrating workers from the Caribbean in the 1960s …The course will highlight the contribution of people of African descent to the rich history and culture of Britain and will explore film, photography, literature and biography that will generate great conversation.”

I think it sounds like an interesting six weeks and I’m happy to promote it to anyone who visits my site and might be interested – don’t forget to tell your friends.

Hopefully, one day soon I may go on a course like this, or something similar, because any method that’s striving to ‘complete’ our education as black British citizens, has to be welcome.

I would also argue that people from other races should also go along if it is something that they are interested in because we all learn, and hopefully advance, when we know more about each other.

Powerlist of influential black people

The Powerlist of the top 100 influential black people in Britain has been released today (25 October).

It contains and highlights the success stories of several people of African and African Caribbean descent in the spheres of business, education, science, media, the arts, and sport among other sectors.

Tech entrepreneur and educator Tom Ilube has topped the list.

Copyright: @tomilube

Copyright: @tomilube

The first Powerlist was published in 2007 and according to the website it was the “brainchild of the then New Nation Newspaper editor – Michael Eboda – who subsequently left New Nation and established his own publishing company, Powerful Media”. The aim was to “provide professional role models for young people of African and African Caribbean heritage”.

It has since led to the creation of a charity, called the Powerlist Foundation, which specialises in leadership courses for children.

So, you might ask, after 10 years of creating this list, does it show that black people are becoming less or more influential in Britain?

I read an interesting analysis by the list’s creator himself Michael Eboda ahead of its publication in the Guardian, which unfortunately painted a largely bleak picture. He claimed that in terms of public life and especially areas such as the Cabinet and the High Court ,we are still mainly unrepresented, whereas in the private sector there seems to have at least been a bit be more diversification.

You don’t need me to point out how important it is for black people to have a voice in all aspects of UK life, and to provide positive role models for our young people to follow and look up too.

I don’t believe in positive discrimination at all but if there are areas, such as the upper echelons of the police force and the judiciary where there are no black people at all, something needs to be done, because obviously this is unreflective of the society we live in and could lead to discrimination and discourse.

Interventions that might work to address the imbalance could include campaigns reaching out to schools known to have a large number of black children, hosting community events and information drop-ins in specific parts of the country, holding free talks and encouraging influential black people to reach out and take part. I could go on.

Basically there is no excuse in the 21st Century for black people to still be left behind in the UK in any area – either through their own indifference or society’s.

I started this website as my own small contribution and even though I know its reach is small, I really believe that even if it makes one person think differently, then it will have achieved something.

Anyone reading this can also try to make a change in whatever way possible – become a mentor, write about your black British experience and share it to encourage others, support black businesses, go to a positive event that is promoting black empowerment, make a list of black heroes and find out more about them so you can educate others – we are all one but collectively we can help each other and change things for the better.

I hope the Power list emboldens anyone who sees it to know that there is nothing we cannot achieve – even when the odds might be stacked against us – and to realise that individually we are strong but together we are a positive force to be reckoned with!

 

Scotland’s first black professor

Apologies that it has been so long between posts!

Today I want to write about a leading Caribbean scientist / educator who I came across while I was researching this blog a few months ago.

Like most of the people I’ve written about on here, I’d never heard about him before, and again I think this is a failing of the British education system which IMO does not provide black and ethnic minority students with enough positive role models or information about our rich, diverse and amazing history.

http://www.100greatblackbritons.com/bios/professor_palmer.htm

Sir Geoffrey Palmer

Sir Geoffrey Henry Oliver Palmer was born in St Elizabeth in Jamaica in 1940 and moved to the UK in 1955 to join his mother who had emigrated to Britain a few years earlier to work as a dressmaker.

When he came to the UK just a few months before his 15th birthday he was apparently assessed as educationally subnormal and placed into a secondary school in North London, but he was recognised for his cricketing abilities and played sports at a high level while also gaining six O’levels and two A’ levels.

Just a quick internet search for Sir Geoffrey will provide you with enough information to justify his inclusion on this website as yet another sterling example of how Caribbean people have been, and are continuing, to make a difference to the fabric of British society.

Here is a quick list of some of his achievements outside of his specialisation in grain science and technology:

  • In 1989 Sir Geoffrey became Scotland’s first black professor
  • In 2001 he wrote a short story / fable about racism called ‘Mr White and the Ravens’
  • In 2007 he was named among ‘the 100 Great Black Britons’ list
  • In 2014 Sir Geoffrey was knighted for services to human rights, science, and charity

I first heard about Sir Geoffrey when I read an article in March in The Telegraph in which he said that claims Scotland is ‘more tolerant’ of immigration is a myth.

I wasn’t surprised to read what he had to say on the issue as obviously I live with racism and discrimination on a daily basis, but it was interesting to know what someone who has done so well and made such an important contribution to the UK, thinks about the issue of prejudice.

In one part of the article it says: “Sir Geoff told BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland programme that when he was interviewed in 1964 by Sir Keith Joseph, who later became an architect of Thatcherism, he told him he should “go back to the Caribbean and grow bananas”.

Sir Geoffrey added: “That sort of prejudice no longer exists, but if you want to know whether prejudice exists against immigrants per se, just look around your office and see how many immigrants you have working next to you.”

Now Sir Geoffrey is recognised as one of the world’s leading experts in his field and it’s inspiring to know that someone who came to the UK as a teenager from the Caribbean and was almost written off in terms of his educational ability and several more times because of his colour, has achieved so much professionally and personally.

Further reading:

100 Great Black Britons – Sir Geoffrey Palmer

‘Times Higher Education’ article on Sir Geoffrey