We appear to be having something of a moment in terms of talking and thinking about Black history and participation in British life.
The success of 12 Years A Slave may have something to do with it. The fact that a Black British Director is up for an Oscar, for telling the American story of Slavery has prompted a few reflections on Britain’s own history of slavery, but also the present day, with regard to the creative industries and the drain of Black British acting talent to the USA. I’ve blogged about this in a few previous posts, but here are four stories (three new, one older) which have surfaced recently on this theme:
One. This interview with Kwame Kwei Armah, now Artistic Director at Baltimore’s Center Stage.
Two. More on the UCL project on slavery – reports on the payouts given to British slaveowners after prohibition.
Three. A reposted article from 2012, on the Black British Tudors missing from history.
Four. Lenny Henry’s blog on access to the film and TV industry by ethnic minorities.
I was also amused to read today that Michael Gove has a poster of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King on his wall – despite the fact that the Civil Rights struggle in the UK is overlooked in the curriculum and one of his early changes was to try to downgrade Mary Seacole in the curriculum.
History matters because it informs the present. Britain has long been diverse, though many try to portray this as a New Labour project that began in 2007. One thing I’ve learnt from listening to Acts of Union and Disunion on Radio 4 is how these islands have always been in flux.
History is important because we can’t tackle structural racism and other issues without understanding how they came about. But just as importantly,the story of Black people in the UK needs to be more fully told because it’s Britain’s story too.