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 →

Defining the ‘African family’ in the Global African Diaspora

May 20, 2013 in Blog

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

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

The Pan-African Congress Movement (PACM) in the UK will observe Africa Liberation Day (ALD) in various cities, notably London and Birmingham, over the weekend 25- 27 May 2013, as it has done annually over many decades. 

This year, celebrations take on an added significance as it is 50 years since the predecessor of the African Union (AU), the Organisation of African Unity, constituted Africa Liberation Day in 1963. The AU has also designated 2013 the ‘Year of Pan-Africanism and African Renaissance’.

This year, as in previous years, PACM publicity for its programme to mark ALD, warns that it is STRICTLY AN AFRICAN FAMILY EVENT!’  This raises a number of issues which are seldom debated in communities that constitute the Global African Diaspora in the UK.

I well recall attending an ALD event in Manchester some years ago at which I was due to speak. As I arrived at the venue, I witnessed an altercation at the entrance which, as I soon discovered, had to do with the observance of that warning and differing interpretations of what constitutes ‘the African family’.

An elder who had lived in Manchester since the end of the Second World War and was one of the few people who had distinct recollections of the 5th Pan African Congress he attended in Manchester in 1945, turned up at ALD with his wife of some 40+ years.  The event organisers welcomed him warmly, but clearly had a problem with his wife joining him.  She was white English.   This led to an argument which I joined, making it very clear that I was not going to stick around, let alone deliver my talk, if both the elder and his wife were not allowed to attend the event.  Read the rest of this entry →

The exclusion epidemic that won’t go away

March 25, 2013 in Gus in the Media, Print

Print screen from "The Voice" (http://bit.ly/XJ2Hbe)

The following article was published by “The Voice” on March 25th.

Black Caribbean boys are three times more likely to be excluded from state schools than their classmates, a study has found.

The Children’s Commission report, They Go The Extra Mile, published on March 20, established an “unacceptably high correlation” between exclusion and male pupils, those with special education needs and children on free school meals.

Four main ethnic groups – Roma gypsy travellers, travellers of Irish heritage, black Caribbean and mixed white/black Caribbean – were also deemed most at risk.

It means a Black Caribbean boy from a low-income family with mild special educational needs (SEN) is 168 times more likely to be excluded than a white girl from an affluent family. Read the rest of this entry →