Forging a black British identity

I recently read about a book from historian, curator and artist Eddie Chambers (who was born in the UK to Jamaican parents) and I wanted to post about it here because it’s all about black British identity and its emergence over the decades from when black Caribbean people began emigrating to England in larger numbers from the 1950s until the present day.

Roots and Culture: Cultural Politics in the Making of Black Britain‘ (published at the end of 2016) explores how black people who came to the UK and their children who were born British, used various influences from the Caribbean and Africa to shape their UK identity, and in so doing created their own version of ‘British-ness’ which merged music, art, food, sport, fashion and all other aspects of life.

https://art.utexas.edu/about/people/eddie-chambers

Eddie Chambers. Copyright: University of Texas at Austin

According to Mr Chambers’ website the book “chronicles the extraordinary blend of social, political and cultural influences from the mid-1950s to late 1970s that gave rise to new heights of Black-British artistic expression in the 1980s. Eddie Chambers relates how and why during these decades “West Indians” became “Afro-Caribbeans,” and how in turn “Afro-Caribbeans” became “Black-British” – and the centrality of the arts to this important narrative.

“The British Empire, migration, Rastafari, the Anti-Apartheid struggle, reggae music, dub poetry, the ascendance of the West Indies cricket team and the coming of Margaret Thatcher – all of these factors, and others, have had a part to play in the compelling story of how the African Diaspora transformed itself to give rise to Black Britain.”

Regular readers of this blog will know about my own struggle with being black and British so I think it’s a fascinating topic. As a child of Caribbean immigrants born in the UK I’m always happy to learn about the background to issues which probably impacted me during my childhood years, in some cases, without me even knowing.

I’m also always interested to discover how black people who came to the UK when there were not that many of us here, fought against the tide while creating space for their children to ‘fit in’. No doubt this would’ve been a difficult balancing act for many as they strove to remember where they had come from and what they had been through but also ‘assimilated’ into UK life.

I think at these times especially, when homegrown terrorists are attacking the UK and Europe, it’s essential that more people examine and delve into the complex relationship between being born black in Britain and what it means to develop an identity which fits with who you are and makes you feel accepted.

It’s also valuable to move the conversation surrounding race so that it goes beyond the ignorance of racism and hatred of bigotry, and demonstrates exactly how much we have achieved in a relatively short space of time.

Hopefully this book and other efforts will help us and others to fully understand the battles that have been won, while lauding the positive contribution black people (and other races) have made, and continue to make, to the development of the UK’s cultural landscape. That, of course, is also one of the main reasons why I started this blog.

Further reading:

The rise of black British identity – in pictures (The Guardian)

A review of ‘Roots and Culture’ by the Voice newspaper

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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!

 

International Slavery Remembrance Day

Did you know that August 23rd is recognised as International Slavery Remembrance Day? No, me neither. I hadn’t even heard of this day before and I doubt many schools/organisations or other important bodies will be holding events to mark it but obviously that doesn’t diminish its importance.

The terrible consequences of the transatlantic slave trade are remembered on August 23rd because that’s the day a successful uprising of enslaved Africans took place in 1791 on the island of Saint Domingue (now known as Haiti).

So wo were fi na wosankofa a yenki - It is not wrong to go back and get that which we have forgotten.

So wo were fi na wosankofa a yenki – It is not wrong to go back and get that which we have forgotten.

I’ve just been reading about it and one part of the country that seems to be doing its bit on the day is Liverpool which has organised a range of events on Tuesday including a lecture by writer/poet and hip hop star Akala and a walk of remembrance.

In London I found details on an Afro-fusion festival which is currently going on in Brixton and lasts for three weeks ending on August 29th. According to the festival’s organisers its “main intentions are to celebrate and promote Afro-Caribbean arts and culture whilst at the same time re-examining the transatlantic slave trade and our subconscious view on the continent of Africa as a result.”

The Royal Museums Greenwich are also having a Day of Reflection from 11am-4pm – which will include lectures, re-enactments and a solemn commemoration ceremony by the River Thames and Black History Studies are holding ‘Breaking The Chains’ film festival which culminates on Friday September 2nd with the film Tula: The Revolt which is about how the Haiti uprising spread to Curacao.

A memorial service also took place in Trafalgar Square on Sunday August 21st, which was apparently the first one ever (hopefully of many) and on Tuesday itself people are being asked to observe a two-minute silence at 11am in honour of the hundreds of thousands of victims of the transatlantic slave trade.

I really hope that this day will grow in importance and will be talked about more, especially in schools and universities, as more people become aware of it and do their bit to spread the word.

By recognising this day we can all show how vital it is that we don’t forget the injustices suffered by our ancestors, while also celebrating how far we have come because of their sacrifices but keeping our eyes, hearts and minds open to how much still needs to be done in the fight against racism and for full and unconditional inclusion.

Please tell everyone you know about Slavery Remembrance Day.

Read more here: Slavery Remembrance Facebook page