Tag Archives: Black History

History is usually written by the winners

The UCL is involved in a great research project on slavery in Britain  looking at how the history of slavery is entwined in Britain’s institutions, business, fabric of life. It’s been going on for a few years, and every so often I see articles or videos linked to the project.

The endeavour strikes me as an important step to facing Britain’s legacy in the slave trade (beyond the comfortable story of abolition) and reasserting narratives of Black History in the UK.  And as Professor Catherine Hall puts it in the video, “The ways in which contemporary racial thought has many inflections from this long, long history”

Here is a great snippet of the researchers’ work (from 2011 but I came across it recently):

Caribbean nations are currently pressing for reparations, a topic that I used to feel quite ambivalent about, before reading Ta-nehisi Coates’ breathtaking, meticulous article on the subject. Although he is writing from a US context, his point that the issue of reparations is about far more than money is an important one, and one that is applicable for the UK and other countries. I think his call for an honest reckoning with the past would be painful, but important and a worthy goal in and of itself:

“Perhaps after a serious discussion and debate…we may find that the country can never fully repay African Americans. But we stand to discover much about ourselves in such a discussion—and that is perhaps what scares us. The idea of reparations is frightening not simply because we might lack the ability to pay. The idea of reparations threatens something much deeper—America’s heritage, history, and standing in the world.”



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Missing Stories

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.

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