Elliott continues his series of blog posts on why October is Black History Month and NOT Diversity Month, focusing on some major moments in black history.
As black people, it’s important to never forget that we all came from Africa. Our origins and roots descend from that continent and it was captivity that separated us from our home. So whilst the Caribbean vs Africa debates about who has the best cuisine is funny and entertaining, along with the argument that Dancehall is better than Afro beats, we shouldn’t take it too seriously and forget that we are so culturally enriched as a collective. We have enough heritage to bless London first and foremost, but most certainly the world.
UK and US black history stem from the same issue of racism and bondage, but of course the paths we split along the way. Most of us are familiar with US black history, which started in 1619 when around 20 African slaves were captured after a European invasion and taken back to Jamestown Virginia, which was in fact a British colony. After a series of trips to Africa, thousands of men, women and children were sold into the slave trade in the US.
With the UK it was a little different. Other black people were taken from Africa and shipped to the Caribbean where they would work in fields, farming sugar cane, cotton and other essential goods. They couldn’t take them back to the UK, what for? There’s no climate here for goods to be farmed, which begs to question why Britain are so excited for Brexit, anyway that’s another topic…
Actually, I might go there a little bit. British colonizers couldn’t take empty ships from the Caribbean back to the UK empty – that would be a waste of time and money – so what did they do? They became high importers of goods, filling up the empty ships with sugar cane, cotton and other farmed goods that the slaves had done for free, and selling it back for trade in the UK – you can imagine profit margins were incredible.
Black people were treated the same wherever they were enslaved – urinated on, spat on, abused, stripped, whipped, raped and hung. In some cases, with slaves that attempted to escape, they would hang men upside down and use a heated knife to remove their private parts. That scene from Django Unchained is actually something they did. From 1493 onwards, slavery of black people has been active (I say onwards because it hasn’t ended).
We are blessed just to know about the stories of Sister Harriet Tubman and the underground railroad, where she freed over 70 slaves across 13 missions in the United States. From a young age we have been blessed to see how Dr King, Rosa Parks and the Montgomery bus boycott, Malcolm X & The Black Panthers, along with so many more, overcame segregation in the Jim Crow Era with the civil rights movement in the United States. These were seriously difficult times, that called for mental strength and a passion to fight for equality in a global society that is designed to work against us.
After the Slavery Abolition Act 1833, the British empire released more than half a million Africans in the Caribbean and South America. Britain captured around 3 million Africans, of which around 2.5 million actually made it to their colonies. It was post-WW2, when the British government pushed for an influx of Caribbeans and other countries in the Commonwealth to immigrate to the UK (known as the Windrush generation). Many of our grandparents were brought over to carry out labour work where spaces were void. A lot of West Indians at the time felt the opportunities would be stronger for them and their families by coming over.
Even at this stage, when black people were working difficult jobs – cleaning, railways and dock workers, and utility personnel – we were still suffering from disgraceful racist abuse by white British people. My late grandfather – God rest his soul – recalls being called and openly referred to as a n*gga on multiple occasions on the street. My barber recalls multiple fights breaking out in the streets due to white extremists feeling lucky. It really was horrible times.
As if things couldn’t get any worse in the UK, some of you probably have heard about the “Sus Laws” (Suspected person), which basically meant that police officers by law could stop, search and arrest anybody they wanted to, under the Vagrancy Act 1824. I guess you can already tell that the Metropolitan Police used this law to victimize the ethnic minorities and black people – commonly known as racial profiling which still exists today.
Throughout the 1970’s and 80’s, these racist actions caused riots all over England, most famously, the riots in Brixton from the 10-12th of April 1981, which on the 11th was known as “Bloody Saturday”. It was reported that over 200 police officers were injured during this riot, further protests and equality activism from none other than Labour’s own Paul Boateng, former MP for Brent South, and Mavis Best.
In August 1981, the laws were scrapped by Royal Commission on Criminal Procedure, I believe. David Cameron said back in 2008 that if he was elected as Prime Minister, he would try to return similar powers to police. War and war doesn’t bring peace.
Education online is free. It’s worth reading Enoch Powell’s “Rivers of blood speech” to a Conservative Association meeting in 1968, digging into immigrants flooding the UK. He specifically endorses comments from a constituent of his which reads:
“In this country in 15 or 20 years’ time the black man will have the whip hand over the white man.”
Throughout the struggles and hardship that has come with black people all over the world and in the UK, we have continued to rise above it and work our way to the top of our fields. Stormzy from Thornton Heath, the first ever solo black artist to headline Glastonbury. Notting Hill Carnival, a celebration of Trinidad (Caribbean culture), receiving recognition for its costumes, soca music, food and cultural enrichment – millions of tourists from all over the world come and turn up with us, not to mention the 90 million or so pounds it brings into the British economy.
To everybody that doesn’t understand why we celebrate Black History Month, in layman terms you’re probably racist (that was maybe a joke, maybe not). However, if you genuinely are wondering, we celebrate it to recognise and appreciate black British contributions to society. It is clear that throughout all the hardship black people have gone through in history, when we show our strength in unity, we always push forward and break the chains society has put on us. We are currently exceeding expectations and dominating the music industry, the sports industry, the culinary industry, Hollywood and so much more.
Before the end of this great month, I will be sure to showcase some black British icons and their efforts in achieving success. It’s difficult to keep to a word count when talking about black history – we’ve achieved so much and we aren’t done yet!
Elliott is a strong advocate of pushing local black businesses in London. You can stay updated on what he’s getting up to by emailing him at firstname.lastname@example.org or following him on Twitter: @EJ_PSOLACE