[Blackstudies-l] It’s Black History Month – and at last we’re celebrating British heroes

Maria Lima lima at geneseo.edu
Wed Oct 18 18:14:02 EDT 2017


lisaparavisini posted: " An Op-Ed piece by Yomi Adegoke for
London's Guardian. Black British” is often seen as oxymoronic. An identity
inherently at odds, two opposing existences sitting uncomfortably in the
psyche of one rather confused individual. At times it can feel like t"
Respond to this post by replying above this line
New post on *Repeating Islands*
<http://repeatingislands.com/author/lisaparavisini/> It’s Black History
Month – and at last we’re celebrating British heroes
<http://repeatingislands.com/2017/10/18/its-black-history-month-and-at-last-were-celebrating-british-heroes/>
by
lisaparavisini <http://repeatingislands.com/author/lisaparavisini/>

[image: Screen Shot 2017-10-18 at 3.32.51 PM.png]

An Op-Ed piece by Yomi Adegoke for London's *Guardian*.
<https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/oct/16/black-history-month-british-culture-identity#img-1>

Black British” is often seen as oxymoronic. An identity inherently at odds,
two opposing existences sitting uncomfortably in the psyche of one rather
confused individual. At times it can feel like the epithet is actually
black *or* British, and for those of us who (at times awkwardly) identify
as such, it’s not been an entirely easy ride. “British” can imply “white”
and “black”, often African-American; if black Britons aren’t fighting our
way out from behind the shadow of white Brits, then we’re often attempting
to be heard over the “black” discourse usually centred on the black
American experience.

An American-centric understanding of black history and identity makes Black
History Month in the UK
<http://www.blackhistorymonth.org.uk/article/section/opinion/black-history-month-30-years-old-uk-90-years-old-usa-still-relevant-continue/>
something
like looking into a broken mirror. You see yourself reflected within its
fragments and the shards create a picture, though the whole thing is
distorted. And at no time does this distortion become more apparent than in
October, where the blackness presented is one we can identify with only in
part. But this year, a shift that has been taking place for some time has
come to a head.

Calls for a British focus during October’s celebrations are not new, but
they are now louder than ever. Across the country, African and Caribbean
societies at universities are prioritising black Britain’s history over
retellings of important, but often overrepresented, historical moments and
movements from overseas. “The theme for this year’s Black History Month is
black BRITISH excellence”, Sussex University’s social media pages reminded
students. At Kent University, a talk is being hosted by the musician and
writer Akala
<https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/may/12/never-voted-before-jeremy-corbyn-changed-mind>
on
the history of black people in Britain, and at Birmingham University, black
British art is taking centre stage. None of this should be particularly
groundbreaking, but it is.

Back in the day, the great fight was for black history to be taught in
schools full stop, let alone black British history. The chronology of our
history as per the curriculum was as follows; slavery, Jim Crow
<https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/feb/10/history-of-lynchings-and-racial-violence-continues-to-haunt-us>
, Rosa Parks
<https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/gallery/2015/dec/01/rosa-parks-60th-anniversary-bus-seat-civil-rights-pictures>
 and Martin Luther King
<https://www.theguardian.com/gnmeducationcentre/from-the-archive-blog/2017/apr/03/martin-luther-king-shot-dead-archive-teaching-resource>,
postracial bliss worldwide. The various historical acts that took place in
the US have informed and inspired many movements in the UK, but it’s
fascinating that pupils are more likely to learn of the aims of the Black
Panther party than those of the Brixton-based iteration, the Black British
Panthers
<https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/apr/09/british-black-panthers-drama-photography-exhibition>.
Even the Windrush
<https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2016/jun/23/immigration-windrush-west-indians-jamaica-britain>
was
regularly omitted.

Now, those who were taught about the horrors of the slave trade are also
self-educating on the horrors of colonialism that were obscured during
school. The historian David Olusoga’s Black and British: A Forgotten History
<https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/nov/17/black-and-british-by-david-olusoga-review>
documentary
series and book were both a universal hit, no doubt in part due to the
gaping historical hole left by education that many are desperate to fill.
[image: David Olusoga]

October is as much about showcasing black history as it is about showcasing
black excellence. And the ubiquity of US culture often leaves more local
heroes sidelined. But black British pioneers are increasingly being
accorded the reverence previously reserved for African-American icons. Just
look at last year’s BBC series Black is the New Black
<http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b082psd8>, which highlighted the stories
of our own black public figures. Or the relaunch of the 100 Great Black
Britons <http://www.100greatblackbritons.com/> campaign, originally created
in 2003 in response to the BBC’s 100 Greatest Britons
<https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/100_Greatest_Britons> campaign, which failed
to list a single black person (Freddie Mercury was the only person of
colour listed).
The shift can be felt in music too. American accents in black British music
are long gone, but the rise of grime and UK rap in the mainstream has seen
our music finally acknowledged as integral to the UK music scene
<https://www.theguardian.com/music/2015/may/31/british-mcs-stormzy-jammz-little-simz-krept-konan-novelist>.
There was outrage when grime artists were snubbed
<https://www.theguardian.com/music/2016/jan/15/grime-brit-awards-black-british-skepta-stormzy-lady-leshurr>
at
the Brit awards in 2016. And many black Brits showed unprecedented levels
of patriotism when Americans denounced UK rap legend Giggs’s
<http://www.ibtimes.com/who-giggs-6-fast-facts-about-rapper-featured-drakes-more-life-2513262>
verses
on Drake’s More Life – an album itself heavily inspired by black British
culture. Artists such as J Hus
<https://www.theguardian.com/music/2017/may/25/rapper-j-hus-i-was-doughnut-hustler-common-sense>
and
Kojo Funds perfectly encapsulate our dual identity; the sounds of African
hall parties laced with patois and Britishisms, creating something that
isn’t one or the other, but simply black and British. A sound that has us
proudly favouring our own output over American rap.

Depictions of blackness on television in Britain are scarce, and when
present have often been of an experience of American blackness that we can
only lay claim to parts of. But the ability to carve out a space for our
own differing black identity online has seen our lives reflected as never
before. Shows such as Kayode Ewumi’s Hood Documentary
<http://www.bbc.co.uk/bbcthree/item/7663b01e-f07d-45a6-9927-047dfc9021f6> and
Cecile Emeke’s Ackee and Saltfish <http://www.cecileemeke.com/> started on
YouTube as a direct response to a black British audience desperate not only
for a portrayal of blackness in the midst of a predominantly white TV
landscape, but one they wholly recognised. The two were soon picked up by
the BBC, and Channel 4 has recently given
<https://www.theguardian.com/media/2017/oct/05/chicken-connoisseur-youtube-elijah-quashie-channel-4-peng-life>
Elijah
Quashie, also known as “the Chicken Connoisseur”
<https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/shortcuts/2016/dec/16/the-chicken-connoisseur-on-his-new-pengest-munch-i-owe-it-to-the-bald-one-on-masterchef>,
his own show off the back of his YouTube channel reviewing the most British
of institutions: the chicken shop.

This “black Brit boom” has seen old favourites rebooted, too, with Noel
Clarke <https://www.theguardian.com/culture/noel-clarke>’s cult classic
film Kidulthood <https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2006/mar/03/4> being
reimagined as a series, and Netflix picking up award-winning gang drama Top
Boy
<https://www.theguardian.com/tv-and-radio/tvandradioblog/2017/oct/03/top-boys-back-with-added-drake-it-seems-netflix-has-saved-another-cult-show>,
originally shown on Channel 4.

Many of us have never quite felt fully British, nor fully identified with
wherever our parents may be from. We’ve straddled two worlds, and sat
uncomfortably at a junction of “either” and “or”. But for the first time –
in my memory at least – we’re comfortably embracing both. Black Brits
aren’t simply welcoming bits of our identity, but all of it at once,
creating and strengthening an identity within itself: a black British one.

The answer to “who/what are you” has always been political and complex: say
“Britain” and you may be accused of denying your roots. Say somewhere else,
and others may feel that you’re attempting to call a country you’ve never
even been to home. But despite it being by no means new, the label “black
British” has a renewed sense of solace for a generation that often feels it
doesn’t quite fit.
*lisaparavisini <http://repeatingislands.com/author/lisaparavisini/>* |
October 18, 2017 at 3:35 pm | Categories: News
<http://repeatingislands.com/category/news/> | URL: http://wp.me/psnTa-yaX

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