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

July 31, 2014 in Blog, Essays, Gus talks, Highlights

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 →

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 →

Independent Comparative Case Review published

March 18, 2014 in Blog

Royal Courts of Justice ("Courts' Closed") by Chris Kealy (Flickr - CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Royal Courts of Justice (“Courts’ Closed”) by Chris Kealy (Flickr – CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

In 2013, the report of the most comprehensive review of Legal Education and Training (LETR) for 30 years was published.  That report was commissioned by the Bar Standards Board (BSB), the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) and the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEX). Professor Gus John chaired the LETR’s working group on Equality, Diversity and Social Mobility.

Also in 2013, Professor John conducted an Independent Comparative Case Review (ICCR) for the SRA:

‘to identify whether there is disparity in the way the SRA applies its policies and procedures in dealing with BME practitioners as compared to others with a view to identifying potential improvements to such practices, policies and procedures to maximise fairness and consistency…’

Earlier reviews (Ouseley 2008; Pearn Kandola 2010) had revealed evidence of disproportionate regulatory outcomes for black and minority ethnic solicitors. The SRA was keen to establish whether such disproportionality as was found was on account of the ethnicity of BME solicitors, or on account of the application of its own policies and procedures, the result of extraneous factors, or a combination of all those. Professor John’s report was published on 13 March 2014.

The review found evidence of disproportionality at three stages of the regulatory process, namely:  at the point at which a case is raised or a complaint is registered against a solicitor or a practice; in the process of investigating that complaint and at the point at which an outcome is determined or/and a sanction imposed. Disproportionality in the number of cases raised is not necessarily as a result of SRA action. Cases could be raised or complaints registered by members of the public, other solicitors, through self-referrals, or by other external agents. Read the rest of this entry →

SRA ‘not racist’ but black solicitors treated harshly

March 14, 2014 in Gus in the Media, Print

The Independent newspaper published the article below on 14/03/2014.

The body that investigates solicitors has been cleared of institutional racism despite an independent inquiry concluding that it disproportionately pursues black and minority ethnic (BME) lawyers for alleged wrongdoing.

Ethnic-minority lawyers were more likely to be the subject of investigations and tend to receive stiffer punishments than their white counterparts, according to a report commissioned by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) into its own activities.

The report found that ethnic-minority lawyers were at greater risk of breaking regulations because they were more likely to set up on their own earlier in their careers. This was in turn because of a lack of opportunity at big firms, which retain a bias in favour of public-school and Oxbridge employees, according to  Professor Gus John, who led the review.

But his report concluded: “It is important that these results are not immediately interpreted as evidence of discrimination or racism on an institutional level.” Read the rest of this entry →

Disproportionate representation of BME solicitors in SRA’s work “not caused by racism”

March 13, 2014 in Gus in the Media, Print

The Legal Futures website published the article below on 13/03/2014

The disproportionately high representation of black and minority ethnic (BME) solicitors in the Solicitors Regulation Authority’s (SRA) disciplinary work is caused by broader socio-economic factors around access to the profession, and not discrimination by the regulator, a major independent report has concluded.

However, equality and race relations expert Professor Gus John said the SRA needs to “look very carefully and urgently at how sole practitioners and small firms are regulated”.

Professor John was appointed in August 2012 to investigate the longstanding issue of disproportionality, which triggered the 2008 Ouseley report. As part of it, he also reviewed six cases where BME solicitors had specifically alleged discrimination – some with the vocal support of the Society of Black Lawyers – and found “no evidence” to support such claims. Read the rest of this entry →