Black No More… Whatever happened to Britain’s black community?

November 6, 2013 in Gus in the Media, Radio

Click here to listen to this programme

Click here to listen to this programme

It’s a controversial question… and some might go even further and ask: is there such a thing as the Black community in Britain?

The idea was raised at a BBC UK Black debate held on October 15th and with a panel that included some of the UK’s leading black thinkers, cultural commentators, academics and young people.

They came together to discuss issues of identity, leadership and aspiration amongst people of African and Caribbean heritage.

Hosted by Dotun Adebayo, and with Lord Victor Adebowale, Professor Gus John, Joy Warmington and Shaun Bailey on the panel it was at times a fiery discussion.

Listen to the whole debate here.

Picture (home): “BBC TV Centre” by Sue Llewellyn (Flickr – CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Where Now for Black History Month?

November 3, 2013 in Blog, Gus talks, Papers

"African Diaspora" by beautifulcataya (Flickr - CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

“African Diaspora” by beautifulcataya (Flickr – CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Most every year at this time, a debate ensues about the purpose, merits and direction of Black History Month (BHM), a debate fuelled in the main by frustration about the focus of BHM programmes over the preceding four weeks. 

On Thursday 31 October 2013, some 1,000 people gathered at the Church of Christ the Redeemer in Allenbury Road, Greenford, for the funeral of the publisher and political activist Jessica Huntley and to acknowledge and celebrate her distinctive contribution to British schooling, British social history and Black History over the last half a century.

One of the many educational and inspirational events Jessica organized and contributed to in the period before her death was a debate in November 2012 about ‘the way forward for Black History Month in the UK’.  On 22 February 2013, Nubian Jak organized a symposium at the Africa Centre in Covent Garden, London, on a proposal for an annual ‘African Heritage Month International‘ celebration in February.  On February 23rd, the 8th Huntley Conference was held at the London Metropolitan Archives. This also marked Jessica’s 86th birthday and turned out to be her last conference.

I was unable to contribute to the Huntley debate but wrote this paper for the Africa Centre symposium.  I reproduce it here because among the very many discussions that took place around Jessica’s funeral about the many projects she was actively involved with up to the day before she passed on, was one about her take on the future of Black History Month. Read the rest of this entry →

Jessica Huntley, veteran political and cultural activist dies at 86

October 16, 2013 in Blog

London mourns the passing of one of its inveterate activists in the struggle for social liberation and against racism in schooling and education. Jessica Huntley, co-founder and director of Bogle-L’Ouverture Publications and bookstore in West Ealing, passed away at Ealing Hospital yesterday morning, 13 October, following a short illness. She was 86 last February.

"Jessica Huntley" by Robert Taylor (Photo: Connecting Stories)

“Jessica Huntley” by Robert Taylor (Photo: Connecting Stories)

I first met Jessica in 1967 at the West Indian Students Centre (WISC) in Collingham Road, Earls Court, which hosted community meetings on a wide range of issues to do with the Caribbean community in London, including political and economic issues in the countries from which we had not long come.

WISC became a rallying point for a community, a platform from which students from the Caribbean engaged with the struggles and social life of migrants in all works of life and a ‘home’ for the Caribbean Education Association which soon morphed into the Caribbean Education and Community Workers Association (CECWA).

Jessica and Eric, her husband of over sixty years, established and ran one of only two black publishing houses in the UK. They established Bogle-L’Ouverture towards the end of 1968, after a popular and fierce campaign against the Jamaican Government’s decision, under Prime Minister Hugh Shearer, to ban the late Dr Walter Rodney from ever returning to Jamaica and to his post at the University of the West Indies, where he had taught after returning from the University of Dar-es-Salaam in 1967, combining his academic work with political activism and worker organisation among workers and peasants in Jamaica.

Rodney’s message resonated with the poor and dispossessed in that island and especially with the Rastafarian Movement. The ban led to mass protest in Jamaica and elsewhere in the Caribbean, including what became known as the Rodney Riots.

It is small wonder, then, that when Jessica and Eric Huntley and a small committee of comrades who had been active in the anti-ban campaign met and decided to establish a publishing facility and bookshop, they decided to name it after Paul Bogle, a revolutionary anti-imperialist and anti-plantocracy leader of the Morant Bay Rebellion in St Thomas, Jamaica, in 1865, and Toussaint L’Ouverture, the leader of the Haitian Revolution some seventy five years earlier.

Walter Rodney provided the newly formed Bogle-L’Ouverture with his account of the background to the ban, including his work among the working and peasant classes and his assessment of the politics of the day. His seminal work ‘The Groundings with my Brothers’ thus became Bogle L’Ouverture’s first published title. Read the rest of this entry →

‘The Black Vote’: Public Discourses in the Public Sphere

September 23, 2013 in Blog

In this blog, I return to the subject of my last: ‘The Black Vote’ and the 2015 General Election.

Simon Wooley, head of Operation Black Vote - by Coventry City Council (Flickr - CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Simon Wooley, director of Operation Black Vote – by Coventry City Council (Flickr – CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

It is clear that Operation Black Vote (OBV) was not well pleased with the blog. Indeed, OBV director Simon Woolley (pictured – right) called me a few days ago to raise his objections to the article on two grounds. One was that in OBV’s view the article misrepresented their position by claiming that OBV appears to want to send out a message to Black Britain that hope, if not salvation, lies in throwing in their lot with these politically and morally bankrupt political parties’ and the other, implying that OBV sees ‘the black electorate as some unified, undifferentiated mass that can collectively bring about change’.

Simon Woolley’s more fundamental objections, however, had to do with what he saw as my undermining of the efforts of people such as OBV who were fighting the same cause as myself by writing in this ‘critical tone’ rather than picking up the phone and speaking to him. He felt he had a right to expect that, rather than a blog in which I was effectively ‘washing our dirty linen in public’.

It is possible for me to say much about OBV’s objections to the blog. In this article, though, I want to address their last point about having internal conversations as black people fighting for a common cause so as not to appear ‘disunited’ and to be ‘pulling one another down’. In their view, the latter is what happens when we ‘wash our dirty linen in public’. Read the rest of this entry →

‘The Black Vote’ and the 2015 General Election

September 14, 2013 in Blog

"2012 Schuneman Symposium" by scrippsjschool (Flickr - CC BY-NC 2.0)

“2012 Schuneman Symposium” by scrippsjschool (Flickr – CC BY-NC 2.0)

The Reverend Jesse Jackson (pictured above) came to town last week to support Operation Black Vote’s (OBV) voter registration campaign. The veteran civil rights activist was a protégé of Martin Luther King Jr and is more than qualified to comment on how the politics of the United States and the condition of being African in that country has changed over the 50 years since King’s ‘I have a Dream’ speech.

The OBV voter registration and voter conscientisation campaign was clearly boosted by the results of research it conducted in 2012 on the electoral power of Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) voters. Under a banner headline: ‘Black vote can decide 2015 general election’, OBV states on their website:

The research reveals 168 constituencies in both urban and suburban areas, demonstrating that the BME electorate have never been more powerful. With more marginal seats and more BME voters right across the geographical map, power is shifting. Political parties must wake up and realise that without the BME vote they could lose – and therefore devise policies to tackle persistent race inequalities.

Using the 2011 census, researchers looked at the BME electorate in all 573 of the seats in England and Wales and found 168 marginal seats where BME voters outnumber the majority held by the sitting MP. This equates to one quarter of seats nationally and nearly 40% of seats in London (…)

Some examples of the geographic spread of where power can be seen and the effect on the political parties:

1. Ilford North: Conservatives have a majority of 5,404 and a BME electorate of 35,051

2. Cardiff Central: Liberal Democrats have a majority of 4,570 and a BME electorate of 12,445

3. Bristol East: Labour have a majority of 3,772 and a BME electorate of 11,420

4. Norwich South: Liberal Democrats have a majority of 310 votes and a BME electorate of 7,066

5. Southampton Itchen: Labour have a majority of 192 votes and a BME electorate of 6,915

6. North Warwickshire: Conservative majority of 54 votes and a BME electorate of 3,381

What I find intriguing about these statistics is that this research does not appear to entertain the possibility that the BME electorate in each of the constituencies mentioned may already have contributed to the majority, however small, of the respective political parties. In any event, the report of the research does not explain why we should not assume that this was so, unless we are being asked to believe that the entire BME electorate was nowhere to be seen during the last and every other General Election. Read the rest of this entry →