50 years after Martin Luther King’s ‘I have a dream’ Speech

August 28, 2013 in Blog

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

These famous words, the second sentence of the American Declaration of Independence on 4th July 1776, were the cornerstone of Dr Martin Luther King’s speech on 28 August 1963.  That speech is rarely remembered in its entirety and consequently over time the last part which is most frequently quoted has come to represent a rallying cry for black and white integration rather than a ‘call to arms’ in the struggle for equal rights and justice.

Why is that important and what is its relevance for Britain?

It is important because while desegregation was high on the political and social agenda of the civil rights movement, it is the denial of access to opportunities for self advancement and to justice under the law for ‘coloured Americans’ that segregation represented that so preoccupied King. Racial segregation was, after all, imprisonment with hard labour in what that great novelist of the African Diaspora, George Lamming, described as ‘the castle of my skin’.  And while racial segregation has never been stated policy and state-sanctioned practice in Britain, the ethnic penalty that is carried by descendants of enslaved Africans in the British Isles is nevertheless a benign form of racial segregation within a nation state with a veneer of ‘tolerance, fairness and justice’. Read the rest of this entry →

Doreen Lawrence’s Gain Is Black Britain’s Loss

August 5, 2013 in Gus in the Media, Print

Print screen from "The Voice"'s website (http://bit.ly/16v3cHp)

Print screen from “The Voice”‘s website (http://bit.ly/16v3cHp)

IN THE past few days, I have had many people from the Global African Diaspora, women especially, express their delight that ‘Doreen is now the Right Honourable Baroness Lawrence’ and that ‘there is one more of us in the Lords’. They all thought I was being churlish and, as one put it, ‘typically anti-establishment’ when I disagreed.

One wonders why Doreen Lawrence was made a Labour peer and not an independent ‘cross-bench’ member of the House of Lords, the unelected second chamber of the British parliament. After all, she has been held up by the entire British political class, not just the Labour Party. She is the revered emblem of the British establishment and an ambassador for the supposed ‘openness’, ‘inclusiveness’, ‘justice’ and ‘antiracism’ of British society.

In 2003, she was awarded the Order of the British Empire (OBE) for ‘services to community relations’ (sic). In July 2012, she received worldwide exposure as the totem of the British establishment when she took part in the opening ceremony of the London Olympics, carrying the Olympic Flag. In October 2012, she received a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 14th Pride of Britain Awards. And now, as Baroness Lawrence, she has reached the top of the totem pole. Read the rest of this entry →

Making History by Reclaiming ‘Black History’

February 22, 2013 in Papers

This short paper is my contribution to the ongoing debate about the future of Black History Month in the UK.  It is in response to the ‘Position Paper’ written by Nubian Jack for discussion at the meeting on African Heritage Month International at the Africa Centre, Covent Garden, London, on 22 February 2013. 

Nubian Jak has provided a useful potted history of the origins and development of Black History Month (BHM) in Britain, a story that even after 25 years is unfamiliar to many.

During the last 25 years, much has happened that in my view calls into question the provenance and trajectory of BHM, thus making it necessary for us to question our connectedness with it and how we are fashioning it for the current and future generations in the same way that the early pioneers laid the foundations for us. Read the rest of this entry →

Jayne Cortez: one last word

February 9, 2013 in Blog, Speeches

On February 6th, professor Gus John joined Jayne Cortez’s friends and fellow poets, writers and performers in New York to celebrate her life and work. Here’s Gus John’s tribute, which was read out during the ceremonyRead the rest of this entry →

African Diaspora Day celebrated in the UK

June 30, 2012 in Blog

On July 6th, professor Gus John will take part in the African Diaspora Day celebrations, by speaking at a symposium organised by Africa UK.

The African Diaspora Day has been observed in the UK by the African Diaspora since 2003. Its aim is to celebrate the contributions of UK-based Africans to the UK and to Africa.

This year, Africa UK (part of the Common Ground Initiative) will host a symposium and a reception in Kensington’s Town Hall. Professor Gus John is among the speakers invited to join the event. Read the rest of this entry →