Former Shadow Attorney General Emily Thornberry and the image she tweeted from Rochester (PA)
There is something very instructive about the events that unfolded in Rochester last week. For me, the most disturbing and dangerous is the reaction to Emily Thornberry’s tweet. Disturbing, because of the assumptions that underlie the popular narrative. It was felt that Thornberry was sneering at the working class, Labour’s traditional voters for whom it was ‘normal’ to display their patriotism by flying the Union flag and the English flag. But no one seems to have paused to consider who and what constitutes that working class.
For decades, Labour has taken for granted the support of a growing section of that working class, the African and Asian Diaspora in Britain. They are patriotic, too, but do not adopt and unfurl those two flags because they see them as emblems of racial oppression, depicting Britain for what it is, a nation of complementary forces for evil and for good, emblems that have been appropriated by the Far Right (National Front, Column 88, BNP, Britain First, etc), even as they are used to demonstrate an inclusive Britishness. It is after all the flag with which all our great British African Olympians and national heroes such as Lewis Hamilton wrap themselves. Continue reading
This comment is in response to a request from the Royal Society of Arts to join a group of 20 ‘experts’ and advise on a new ‘investigation’ into Supplementary Schools.
To place my comments in context, let me summarise the extent of my involvement with the Supplementary Schools movement.
I was one of the co-founders of the first supplementary school in Oxford in 1965, based in a community hall along Cowley Road in East Oxford. I was then a friar at Blackfriars Priory in St Giles and a theological student there and at the university. I was also the education secretary and Chair of the Education Sub-committee of what would today be called the Oxford Race Equality Council, but was then named the Oxford Council for Racial Integration.
In 1968, I started the first Saturday/Supplementary School in Handsworth, Birmingham, with a group of colleagues, some of them African-Caribbean students at Birmingham University. A major issue for us then was teachers’ dismissive attitude towards and wrongful classification of the home languages of African-Caribbean students (something about which I have written extensively since; cf John 2006: Taking a Stand – Gus John Speaks on education, race, social action and civil unrest 1980-2005).
Those students were generally thought to be speaking ‘bad’ English, with the capacity neither to make themselves understood, nor to understand their students and white English peers. Teachers therefore tended to assume that such students were academically backward and incapable of high attainment. Continue reading
The UK’s first African and Caribbean War Memorial at the Black Cultural Archives in Brixton. Photo: BrixtonBuzz
Prof Gus John delivered the following speech at the unveiling ceremony of the War Memorial to African & Caribbean Servicemen and Women in Brixton, London:
Before I pour Libation and acknowledge the spirit of all those Africans who gave their lives in the first and second world wars, let me make a few brief comments.
We are gathered here today, not to glorify war. The monument we are about to unveil is not to glorify war. War remains forever inglorious, whether you are victor or vanquished!
Nor does this monument represent jingoistic, or even pious, adulation of the bravery, selflessness and sacrifice of the Africans who served in the British Armed Forces. Continue reading
The Diversity League Table 2014 – Editorial Censored?
This editorial for the Black Solicitors Network’s Diversity League Table journal is the edited version of a feature interview with Professor Gus John for the Diversity League Table 2014. Professor John was informed on the morning of the Diversity Awards event that the BSN Board had pulled the editorial on the grounds that the DLT’s target was City Firms and that the interview and his SRA report were concerned mainly with what was happening to BME solicitors in small firms or as sole practitioners.
This, despite the fact that the principal argument in the report is that BME solicitors operate predominantly in small firms or as sole practitioners, largely because of the recruitment policies and practices of Big City and Magic Circle firms. Given the fact that the interview was requested and granted since 10 September 2014 and that the BSN itself provided the 10 questions that were put to professor John, it was odd, to say the least, that the editorial was being substituted on the day of the DLT Awards event, 29 October 2014. Continue reading
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. Continue reading