Black British Culture in Crisis

By Thomas L. Blair , 11  October 2009

Complacency is the greatest threat to Afro-Caribbean culture in Britain. Only a plan for rescue, revival and representation can save its carriers from a life sentence of cultural illiteracy and dependency. This article suggests the ways that a triad of Black youth, cultural scholars and policymakers can empower local Black communities and revolutionise their  relationship with providers of cultural services.

 After centuries as slaves and subjects of the empire and immigrants in residence, Afro-Caribbeans in Britain are victims of a monstrous popular stereotype – that they have no history, no culture and hence no future in Britain. 

 Alas, unlike Britain’s ethnic groups – indigenous Caucasians, South East Asians, Muslims, Chinese, Jews and Poles — it is solely the descendants of West Indian heritage who show a serious lack of continuity with their cultural, creative and ideological antecedents.

 Professor Rex Nettleford, University of the West Indies vice-chancellor says, “This state of mind has taken its toll on the West Indian diaspora in Britain”. As a result, “The diasporic brethren and sistren are left without the icons of hope they need to survive spiritually in a hostile environment,” says the leading intellectual on urbanism, poetics and politics. 

 However, the situation is not hopeless. Black History can be re-discovered and saved from oblivion. Black Culture can be revitalised. A new Black Agenda can be planned.

 Unchaining the Afro-Caribbean mind begins with a conceptual fact. Experts define “Culture” as the socially transmitted patterns, traits, and products of a people, class or period. Britain’s white ethnic groups, the English Victorians, the Ashanti kingdoms, Han dynasty, and African Americans all have cultures. So do people of Afro-Caribbean and African heritage in Britain.

 Furthermore, evidence has proved that “[Black] Culture, is both a mode and a driving force for individual and group action, and remains the central pillar of black pride and black identity”, say scholarly editors of Présence Africaine, the cultural revue of the Black world.

  “We must learn to use Black culture as springboards to the future”, says Wole Soyinka, Nobel Prize winning writer, cultural activist and member of the Society of African Culture.

 However, major barriers must be overcome. Highly paid guardians of the British culture industry pontificate on what should be done for Black people while living miles away from them.

 What they stubbornly, and often hatefully, refuse to admit is that their arrogance is saturated with centuries of master over slave, white over black cultural abuse. This dominance tore the heart out of Black civilisations, raped their artefacts and resources, and nearly destroyed the inventors and carriers of Black culture, the people themselves.

 Who will silence the deniers of Black culture? Who will denounce the “afrophobia” that sours all Black-White social relations? Who, indeed, is to chart the passage through the valleys of complacency and malaise to the mountaintop of ideas and liberating action?

 [Renascent Black youth is the focus of the next instalment. The series began with Unshackling the Afro-British mind] ©copyright Blair ChronicleWorld 2009

Notes on the author

*Thomas L Blair, PhD and Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts FRSA, is an African-American sociologist resident in Britain for over 40 years. His book The Audacity of Cyberspace: The struggle for Internet power (2009) ISBN 978-1 906986-81-0 describes how Black communities in America, England, and language groups in sub-Saharan Africa are taming the new information technologies. It complements this article and is available through bookstores, libraries and online via Google and Amazon books.

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