Book review: ‘Black British Intellectuals and Education’

October 15, 2014 in Blog, Gus talks, Reviews by Gus John

The Empire Windrush. Credit: PA/PA Archive/Press Association Images

The Empire Windrush. Credit: PA/PA Archive/Press Association Images

It is not for nothing that the arrival of the ship Empire Windrush at Tilbury port in East London on 22 June 1948 is seen by many commentators as marking the start of the growth of the black population in Britain. That ship brought 492 passengers from Jamaica, the largest group of West Indian immigrants to arrive in Britain immediately following the end of the Second World War. Most of them settled in Brixton in the London Borough of Lambeth, a place that would later become the site of some of the fiercest confrontations between the African population and the state as represented by the police.

The African heritage population of Britain now stands at 1.87 million, having been a mere 28,000 at the end of the Second World War. One million of us currently live in London alone and in some boroughs we make up more than 25% of the population. Among the Global African Diaspora (GAD) in Britain, therefore, there are 4 generations of British born Africans in relation to whom the old narrative about ‘coloured immigrants’, ‘newcomers’ and ‘integration once the newcomers have settled and produced British black children’ is increasingly meaningless, as the GAD population remains marginalised and subject to widespread discrimination and social exclusion.

West Indian immigrants came mainly from agrarian economies and from villages where poverty and deprivation defined people’s lives and life chances and limited their capacity to access quality health care, among other things. But theirs was a poverty of means; it was neither a poverty of spirit nor a poverty of aspiration. They came to Britain with high ambitions for their children, especially with respect to schooling outcomes, progression to higher education and to the sorts of careers they had dreamt of back home for their children: typically, doctors, dentists, lawyers, civil servants, architects, engineers. Read the rest of this entry →

Launch of Black History Month in Wales

September 26, 2014 in Blog, Gus talks, Highlights, Speeches by Gus John

Credits: Black History Month - Wales

Credits: Black History Month – Wales

On September 26th, Prof Gus John delivered the following speech – entitled ‘The Past in the Present: Working Together to Make the Future We Face the Future We Want for Wales‘ – at the Riverfront Theatre and Arts Centre, Newport. It marked the launch of Black History Month in Wales.

Dear land of my fathers, whose glories were told
By bard and by minstrel who loved thee of old
Dear country whose sires, that their sons might be free
Have suffered and perished for thee!

Wales! Wales! Land of mist and wild
Where e’er I roam
Though far from my home
The mother is calling her child

The Lords of great Snowdon in brave days of yore
For thee fought for freedom by Mona’s green shore
Their courage undaunted inspires all our leys
Our harps e’er resound to their praise.

Wales! Wales! Land of mist and wild
Where e’er I roam
Though far from my home
The mother is calling her child

Good evening everyone.

I am delighted to have the opportunity to share a few thoughts with you as you launch Black History Month, Wales, 2014.

As the Chair’s kind introduction indicated, I am a ‘Voice of the Caribbean’ that has had cause to comment on Welsh affairs in the past, not least through the research undertaken some 7 years ago for the Higher Education Council for Wales on the performance of your 14 universities in implementing equality legislation.

There is much that I would like to share with you this evening, but we have limited time. I therefore want to commend to you, most emphatically, this excellent book by Alan Llwyd: ‘Black Wales – a history‘. This book should be the history textbook for all of Wales and a manual not just for Black History Month but for understanding the history of Wales, how that history has helped to shape the present and why it is imperative that Wales understands itself so that the people of Wales, racialised as ‘white’ and as ‘black’ could work together to make the future you face the future you actually want for this proud, beautiful country, a country with an abundance of hope. Read the rest of this entry →

SBL… and things that are defined as real

August 27, 2014 in Blog by Gus John

Royal Courts of Justice ("Courts' Closed") by Chris Kealy (Flickr - CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Royal Courts of Justice (“Courts’ Closed”) by Chris Kealy (Flickr – CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

If anyone were to suggest to SBL members that that acronym translates as a ‘Stinking Bunch of Layabouts – who cannot be depended upon to act with integrity’, rather than the Society of Black Lawyers, there would no doubt be outrage to the extent that SBL members would reach for the nearest lawyer, with protests such as: disgraceful, disgusting, defamatory… and no doubt more.

When in May this year the Solicitors Regulation Authority published my report of the independent comparative case review of disproportionality in regulatory action and outcomes for BME solicitors which they commissioned me to conduct in July 2012, SBL sent a note round to its members decrying the findings of the review and suggesting, in terms, that I must have received my ‘thirty pieces of silver’ in return for not concluding that the SRA had discriminated against black and ethnic minority solicitors and was guilty of institutional racism.

There then followed a SBL press release which charged that the report was ‘fundamentally flawed’, with one of the ‘flaws’ being a potential conflict of interest, the alleged details of which formed absolutely no part of my report. Read the rest of this entry →

Global African Diaspora: transforming the state we’re in?

July 31, 2014 in Blog, Essays, Gus talks, Highlights by Gus John

When did you discover you are African

This article aims to explore the structural position of the Global African Diaspora population in Britain as related to the economy, education, employment, criminal justice and political representation. It examines the decline of social movements and of independent political resistance to the structural, cultural, institutional and personal manifestations of racism and discrimination that still define social relations in British society. It ends by addressing the question of what electoral politics has to offer the African Diaspora in Britain, given the record of successive governments over the last 60 years.

The African heritage population of Britain now stands at 1.87 million, having been a mere 28,000 at the end of the Second World War. One million of us currently live in London alone and in some boroughs we make up more than 25% of the population. Among the Global African Diaspora (GAD) in Britain, therefore, there are 4 generations of British born Africans in relation to whom the old narrative about ‘coloured immigrants’, ‘newcomers’ and ‘integration once the newcomers have settled and produced British black children’ is increasingly meaningless, as the GAD population remains marginalised and subject to widespread discrimination and social exclusion.

Many writers and academics cite the arrival of the ship Empire Windrush at Tilbury port in East London on 22 June 1948 as the start of the growth of the black population in Britain. That ship brought 492 passengers from Jamaica, the largest group of West Indian immigrants to arrive in Britain immediately following the end of the Second World War. Most of them settled in Brixton in the London Borough of Lambeth, a place that would later become the site of some of the fiercest confrontations between the African population and the state as represented by the police.

In fact, there had been a continuous black presence in Britain for at least 400 years before the Empire Windrush docked in June 1948. While it is not possible to state the exact number of Africans that lived in the UK from one century to the next, what is known is that they were to be found in all strata of the society and hailed from the African continent and the African Diaspora. Many were scholars and scientists, artisans and missionaries, musical composers and dramatists, medical doctors, biologists and horticulturalists. Others were seafarers and military personnel. Read the rest of this entry →

London’s Black Cultural Archives Opens Its Doors

July 28, 2014 in Blog, Highlights by Gus John

George 'Fowokan' Kelly, Colin Jackson and Dawn Hill, Chair Black Cultural Archives. Photo by Colin Ince/ Black Cultural Archives (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

George ‘Fowokan’ Kelly, Colin Jackson and Dawn Hill, Chair Black Cultural Archives. Photo by Colin Ince/ Black Cultural Archives (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

There was an extraordinary buzz in Brixton that lasted 7 hours on Thursday 24 July 2014 as the Black Cultural Archives (BCA) opened its doors to the world.

Situated at 1 Windrush Square in an elegantly refurbished Georgian building next to Brixton’s Tate Library, the BCA hosted some 2,500 people in a two part launch programme. There was a private view of the excellent opening exhibition Re-imagine: Black Women in Britain and an official launch ceremony, followed by a launch gala of spoken word and musical entertainment in Windrush Square. The rare, dazzling sunshine and rising temperature helped to induce a celebratory atmosphere as people from across Britain and a significant number of overseas visitors gathered for the opening of the BCA.

The BCA is ‘a national heritage space dedicated to collecting, preserving and celebrating the histories of people of African and Caribbean descent in Britain’. It was established in 1981 by Len Garrison and others and occupied premises at 378 Coldharbour Lane, Brixton, above the Timbuctu Bookshop. Len Garrison died of a heart attack in 2003, aged 59, while attending a meeting of the BCA trustees. Read the rest of this entry →