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 →

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 →

‘Trojan Horse’ brings a Packhorse of British Values into Every School

June 18, 2014 in Blog, Highlights by Gus John

Prime-Minister David Cameron and Education Secretary Michael Gove open the new Perry Beeches III Free School. Credits: Number 10/Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Prime-Minister David Cameron and Education Secretary Michael Gove open the new Perry Beeches III Free School. Credits: Number 10/Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

David Cameron made a jingoistic statement about ‘British values’ last weekend in the wake of the ‘Trojan Horse’ debacle and Ofsted’s ‘extremism’ inspection findings on 21 schools in Birmingham, findings in respect of 5 of them that were described by the head of Ofsted, Sir Michael Wilshaw, as ‘deeply worrying’.

Increasingly, I find myself wondering whether some leaders of state have lost the capacity to listen to themselves and understand what is coming out of their mouths, or whether they are just plain stupid.

The Prime Minister said:

This week there has been a big debate about British values following the Trojan Horse controversy in some Birmingham schools  – about what these  values are, and the role they should play in education.

I’m clear about what these values are – and I’m equally clear that they should be promoted in every school and to every child in our country.

The values I’m talking about – a belief in freedom, tolerance of others, accepting personal and social responsibility, respecting and upholding the rule of law – are the things we should try to live by every day.

I am an African. I have lived in Britain 50 years. During that time I have campaigned relentlessly for racial equality, human rights and social justice and against structural, cultural, institutional and personal manifestations of racism and discrimination. Campaigned against:  racist murders by neo-fascists and racist extremists; the protection given to such organised bands of extremists by the police and the state; police practice of harassing bereaved Asian families about their immigration status when called to the scene of racist murders, rather than pursuing the murderers; police brutality, too often with fatal consequences for their victims; the deaths of African people while in the custody of the state without anyone being held to account; police huddling together to concoct ‘evidence’, hide the truth and pervert the course of justice, thereby denying justice to the relatives of the dead; police abuse of power and wanton criminalisation of black young people with the endorsement of the courts;  wrongful arrests, malicious prosecution, gross misconduct and massive cover-ups, all with the full knowledge of their senior command.

I have witnessed police surveillance, harassment and wrongful imprisonment of community activists campaigning for justice, campaigning for a more accountable police service, campaigning for a less racist media, campaigning against perennially disproportionate levels of black youth unemployment and commensurately high levels of illegal stops and searches by the police, campaigning against the ruining of black students’ life chances through school exclusions and the dumping of the excluded into containment centres and ‘sin bins’, latterly known as pupil referral units.

I have witnessed ‘white flight’ and the abandonment of whole areas by white folk only because they wanted nothing to do with black folk whose presence they felt would depress the value of their properties, the status of their neighbourhoods and the quality of schooling outcomes for their children. Read the rest of this entry →