A colleague recently lent me a copy of the renowned novel Small Island by Andrea Levy. I have yet to start reading it, but at the weekend I positioned it next to my bed so that I would. Those of you in the UK may have seen the TV adaptation that was broadcast on the BBC in April 2010. Click here to see a clip. The story is about two families in post-war Britain – one Jamaican and one British addressing issues of class, race and sex (see the links below for a more detailed review). My interest in black Britain stems from my heritage – I was born in the UK to Jamaican parents who migrated to the UK during their teenage years. Although I have only visited Jamaica once, in 2007, it has a special place in my heart, mind and soul. My parents made sure that even though we grew up in a predominantly white area in England, we were exposed to our cultural heritage through frequent trips to Londonand Gloucester to see and stay with family, through their strict parenting, through food, through music and most importantly through talking about what it means to be black in a white-dominated world.
There has been a black presence in the UK as far back as the 12th century. It wasn’t until after World War II, when their labour was needed to help rebuild Britain that larger communities started to be visible. In order to learn more about this history I asked my family for literature on black Britain for my last birthday. My dad and wicked step-mother gave me a wonderful book entitled Black Britain – A Photographic History by Paul Gilroy, which takes the reader on a journey through time and events in post-war black Britain. I am finding this a great way to learn history – it is particularly good if you are the type who gets bored with simply reading dry text.
The October 2010 issue of Prospect Magazine had a special feature entitled “Rethinking Race. Has multiculturalism had its day?”. The feature included several articles on different aspects of race and multiculturalism written by black and South Asian writers. One of the major issues for black Britain today that worries me a lot is the poor performance of black boys in schools. In this issue of Prospect, Tony Sewell, the director of the charity Generating Genius claims that in the past these boys ‘used to fail at school because of racism, but now they fail because they don’t pay attention’. Tony challenges researchers who claim that the boys are victims of institutional racism, by suggesting that the children’s failures are the result of poor parenting, peer-group pressure and an inability to take responsibility for their own behaviour. Furthermore, he believes that ‘we’ have given them the discourse of the victim. I think he has a point. Nvertheless, I think it somewhat naive to think that institutional racism has been eradicated. I believe that the boys suffer from a little bit of both. Tony tells us about an experiment he did in a classroom when he was invited to give an inspirational talk to a class at a London inner-city primary school because she was concerned about a group of black boys who she described to him as ‘very bright, but very naughty’. Click here to read the article and the results of his experiment – it is quite provocative.
Since living in Denmark, I have met so many people who are under the impression that racial problems do not exist or are limited in Britain; my response is simply that Britain is not London. As a black female, I enjoy my daily life and face less racial and gender prejudice in Denmark than the UK, or any of the other countries a have spent longer periods in (Germany, Spain and Australia), contrary to what many may think or believe. In Denmark the visible prejudice and negative stereotyping is strongly directed at those with Arab or Islamic culture and heritage. Many of the stories I read and hear from children of immigrants here in Copenhagen remind me of my childhood in Britain and the struggles that black families faced back then, and continue to face now. It is true that black families need to support and encourage their children to do well, or rather enjoy school more, but this is a very challenging task if they themselves have no education and have spent their whole childhood and much of their adulthood being discriminated against at every corner they turned. But, it is not impossible. My parents succeeded – they did not go to university, but on the other hand they did have parents who stressed to them the importance of education and they passed that on to us … even more intensely. Education without a doubt gives everyone, regardless of colour or creed, more opportunities and freedom, and somehow this message needs to get through to the black boys of Britain. Projects like Tony’s Generating Genius are a step in the right direction.
I shall leave you now with some links that may be of interest to you and go and check on my food.
- An initiative set up by the Labour Government, scrapped by the Tories: http://www.younglondonmatters.org/resourcecentre/3/achievementattainmentofblackboys/
- The Equality and Human Rights Commission, UK: http://www.equalityhumanrights.com/
- An excellent documentary about the horrific impact of the World Bank on the Jamaican economy: http://www.lifeanddebt.org/
- Documentaries and dramas on black presence in Britain: http://www.gold.ac.uk/library/subject-guides/caribbean-studies/caribbean-black-presence/
Last night I seasoned some beef that I shall cook tonight. Mmmmm, I can’t wait to eat this Caribbean dish!! It is Beef Stew with Pimento & Rum. Another birthday present from my sister a few years ago was this wonderful cookbook written by Virginia Burke, Eat Caribbean. Virginia grew up in Jamaica and traveled to many of the other Caribbean Islands cooking at all levels, from the street to banquet halls. Not only does she have great recipes, but the book is colourful and informative telling us about the different islands, the food culture of the Caribbean and the ingredients used in the cooking. It is a good read! This week I am following the recipe with only a few adjustments. Need to get ready for work now, so I shall write it up after I have eaten tonight!
 According to the Office for National Statistics, in June 2007 approximately 4.3% of the population of Greater London are ‘black Caribbean’ and 1% ‘mixed white and black Caribbean’; the national percentages are 1.2% and 0.6% respectively http://www.neighbourhood.statistics.gov.uk/dissemination/LeadTableView.do?a=3&b=276743&c=london&d=13&e=13&g=325264&i=1001x1003x1004&o=280&m=0&r=1&s=1290439070357&enc=1&dsFamilyId=1812)