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

July 31, 2014 in Blog, Essays, Gus talks

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

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 →

Barbados Remembers Winston Best

June 6, 2014 in Blog

Athelston Winston Best. Photo courtesy of the Best family.

Athelston Winston Best. Photo courtesy of the Best family.

Barbados paid tribute to Athelston Winston Best at a memorial service held at the Clifton Hill Moravian Church, St Thomas, on Thursday 5th June 2014 at 3.30pm.

Winston Best passed on at Whipps Cross Hospital at 7.00pm on 18 March 2014 and a funeral service led by Professor Gus John was held at All Saints Church, Forest Gate, London on Thursday 10 April 2014.

The Homily (below) was delivered by former Bishop of Croydon and Britain’s first black Anglican bishop, the Right Reverend Dr Wilfred Wood KA, now retired and living in Barbados.

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1

In our first Bible reading, taken from the Old Testament the prophet Micah, more than seven hundred years before Christ, prophesies of this world being at peace with itself, and in perfect accord with God. Why? Because everyone is seeking and heeding God’s teaching. In our second bible reading, taken from the Gospel according to John, Our Lord Jesus makes it clear that there will be more than ample accommodation in the life hereafter for those who in this earthly life, follow His teaching. From the time He left His childhood home in Nazareth, Jesus spent His life on earth, before and after His death and resurrection, as a teacher.

2

Christ was a teacher for Young and Old alike, but He made it clear that children were the best examples of the values of God’s kingdom and its perfect citizens. On one occasion he scolded His disciples for keeping children away from Him. “Suffer the little children to come to me, do not try to stop them, because the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to such as these.” On another occasion He warned them that the fate of anyone who hurt one of these little ones would be worse than being thrown into fire with a mill-stone around his neck. And when He wanted to bring home to his disciples what were the true values of the Kingdom of God, He took a child and set him in the midst of them, and said:   “Unless you become like a little child, you will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” Read the rest of this entry →

Professor Emeritus Norman Girvan (1941- 2014)

May 15, 2014 in Blog

"Professor Girvan Memorial" by IIR UWI (Flickr - All rights reserved by IIR UWI)

“Professor Girvan Memorial” by IIR UWI (Flickr – All rights reserved by IIR UWI)

It is with great sadness that I learnt in April of the passing of a great comrade and friend, Professor Norman Girvan.

I had just finished conducting the funeral of another life-long comrade and friend, Winston Best, and was on my way to the crematorium when I learnt that Norman had died. Feelings of desolation were swept aside and banished only at the remembrance of the strong and indomitable spirit they were in the human body and by the knowledge that they were bound for the realm of Ascended Ancestors.

Norman had tragically suffered a fall while on holiday with his family in Dominica some weeks earlier and had succumbed to his very severe injuries.

I am of that generation that was fortunate to have grown up and gained my political literacy in an era that produced some of the finest New World intellectuals and public thinkers the Caribbean and the world could have hoped for. The likes of Arthur Lewis, Norman Girvan, Susan Craig-James, Walter Rodney, Clive Thomas, Judith Wedderburn, Merle Hodge, Owen Jefferson, Brian Meeks, Kari Levitt and Lloyd Best. Read the rest of this entry →

A tribute to Athelston Winston Best

March 29, 2014 in Blog

It is impossible to speak or write about the British schooling system and its engagement with the post-war Black presence these last 50 years without calling the name, Winston Best, over and over again.  Without doubt, Winston stands in the vanguard of the black working class movement in education and schooling as both an educator and an activist.

Athelston Winston Best. Photo courtesy of the Best family.

Athelston Winston Best. Photo courtesy of the Best family.

Winston (pictured right) was born on 15 August 1930 in Sugar Hill, St Joseph, Barbados, the first of six children of Luther and Lillian Best. Luther was a road builder and Lillian a market trader. Winston was big brother to Eulene, Gloria, Moriah, Lloyd and Owen. Gloria in Canada, Moriah in Brooklyn, Owen in Atlanta, Lloyd in Barbados and Eulene in Ipswich, East Anglia. Winston and later Lloyd came to England, Lloyd returning to Barbados after almost 40 years.

Winston attended Southborough Boys School, Clifton Hill, St Thomas. At that time, only primary schooling was free. Winston’s parents paid for him to attend secondary school. After secondary school, he left and went to work in Curacao where he spent 12 years with Shell doing oil refining. He became very active in labour organisation there with Len and Albert Mason.

Winston was therefore able to assist his parents in paying for his siblings to attend secondary school; he makes particular mention of Lloyd at Cumbermere and Owen at Lodge School. Lodge School was one of the most racially segregated schools in Barbados. Winston acknowledged that Patrick Simmons, former Barbados High Commissioner in England, was one of those who was instrumental in helping to break down what Winston described as the ‘apartheid schooling system’ at Lodge School and in Barbados generally.

In time, Winston took charge of the care of his parents. His mother died in 1984. Mert Pitt, childhood friend of Winston and lifelong friend of the Best family, helped to care for his mother in her twilight years. Read the rest of this entry →