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 →

Could you name a British black intellectual, now Stuart Hall has gone?

February 15, 2014 in Gus in the Media, Print

The Guardian newspaper published the article below on 15/02/2014

As a pioneer of cultural studies and coiner of the term “Thatcherism”,Prof Stuart Hall, who died this week, was in the truest sense a public intellectual. He was also something else: probably the only black British intellectual who most people could readily name.

A bit of prompting might produce mention of Paul Gilroy of King’s College, author of The Empire Strikes Back and Black Atlantic, who has recently returned to Britain after several years in America’s more fertile ebony towers. But how many other black British thinkers have a public profile? Read the rest of this entry →

Barbados thanks God for Margaret Thatcher

November 19, 2013 in Blog

Two church events took place in Barbados on Saturday 16th and Sunday 17th November respectively, each in thanksgiving and celebration of a life and in each case, a life lived in Britain.

On Saturday 16 November, at the magnificent St Matthew’s Church, Hothersal Turning, St Michael, Barbados, the funeral and burial service took place of Ralph Adolphus Straker, BSM, OBE, who had arrived in London from Barbados on 31 August 1956 to work on London Transport. Throughout his 57 years in the UK, Ralph Straker struggled against state-sponsored racism and for racial equality and social justice. He died in London on 12 October 2013, aged 76. The service was conducted by the Rt Rev Bishop Wilfred Wood, an anti-racist activist himself and the first African Church of England Bishop in the UK, now retired to his native Barbados.

"THE IRON LADY, MARGARET THATCHER", by ROBERT HUFFSTUTTER (Flickr - CC BY 2.0)

“THE IRON LADY, MARGARET THATCHER”, by ROBERT HUFFSTUTTER (Flickr – CC BY 2.0)

On Sunday 17 November, at St Mary’s Church, Jubilee Gardens, Bridgetown, Barbados, a Remembrance and Thanksgiving Service for Baroness Margaret Thatcher (pictured right) was held. Jubilee Gardens was established to mark the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria. The land on which St Mary’s Church was built served as a burial ground for the non-white residents of the City of Bridgetown during the 45 years between the destruction by hurricane of the first St Michael’s Cathedral in 1780 and the construction of St Mary’s Church beginning in 1825. Officiating at that service, under the auspices of the Prime Minister of Barbados and the British High Commissioner, were the Bishop of Barbados, who delivered the sermon, the Dean of St Michael’s Cathedral and the Rector of St Mary’s.

The letter of invitation to the Remembrance and Thanksgiving Service, sent by Owen O Eversley OBE, founder of the Barbadian Families and Friends Relocation Association (BFFRA), stated:

‘It was Baroness Thatcher’s Conservative Party that from 1955–1965 opened the door for thousands of Barbadians of all ages to migrate to the UK, voluntary (sic) or on a contractual capacity, e.g., nurses, London Transport, British Rail, Lyons, etc. It was also the Conservative Party that lifted the imposed monetary restrictions from £10-£50 back to normal. It also introduced the ‘Right to buy housing’ policy which benefited many Barbadians. It is for those reasons this service was conceptualised’.

The contrast between these two conversations with God could not be more stark. Indeed, given what those of us who spoke at Ralph Straker’s funeral at St Mark’s Church, Dalston, in the borough of Hackney on 9 November had cause to remember, his life was extraordinary not on account of birth or title but because of his relentless struggle against what Margaret Thatcher herself and her Party in government had done and were still doing to African and Asian people ever since Ralph Straker first arrived in the UK. 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 →