Holiday Black Londoners “Play Mas”, but need resources to defeat cultural racism

By Thomas L Blair © 30 August 2010

Now is the time for “We t’ing!” No, I don’t mean the “rum and rhythm” street party that attracts a million revellers every August to Notting Hill, the iconic Black district in London. Now is the time to refute the popular stereotype:  that Black people in Britain have “No-culture, no-history and hence no-worth, no power, no-chance”

The dispiriting fact is that to fight cultural racism, Black leaders must campaign against drastic cuts in public arts funding and mobilise the resources they need to keep Black cultural opportunities alive and local. 

 First, in an increasingly bitter dispute, community leaders question English Arts Council’s average cuts of £2,000 that threaten carnival enterprises. The nation’s well-endowed Royal Opera House and the Royal Shakespeare Company may weather the cuts, but Black organisations are at risk, say critics.

One is the UK Centre for Carnival Arts based in Luton. Tiny groups such as the Notting Hill Mas Bands Association and the Elimu Carnival Club can barely survive. Under threat, too, are Prof Stuart Hall’s Institute of International Visual Arts and the Yaa Asantewaa Arts and Community Centre.

Critics say that carnival organisers should lay claim to the estimated £93 million it earns for  London and the  UK tourist, air, rail and bus transport and music, media and commerce giants, according to Dotun Adebayo, in “Who is Making All the Money from Carnival”, in the Black newspaper The Voice, August 30 – September 8, 2010.

If Black people took ownership of this Black cultural icon themselves, they could create strong Black enterprises. After all, it is the floats and dancers, bands and costume makers, stallholders and hot food and drinks sellers, and the carnival workshops and children’s activities that attract revellers to Europe’s biggest street festival. 

This new economic orientation is linked to the emerging view that “You can’t pray the devil back to hell”. “More church leaders need to look at the way they can serve their members”, says Marcia Dixon (in Soul Stirrings, in The Voice August 23-29, 2010).

 Clergy of the 4,300 inner city Black majority churches could meet this challenge. Five thriving churches have an estimated 2,000 to 10,000 donating members, according to Pastor Jonathan Oloyede of the newly launched City Chapel in Newham, east London. writing in Christian Today, 25 August 2010.

London’s mega-African religious charity, Kingsway International Christian Centre’s (KICC), could set a standard for creating cultural capital: the vital elements are arts, business and philanthropy. It grew from 300 to 12, 000 members and reported £22.9m in assets and £4.9m profit in 2008 making the East London church one of the largest and wealthiest Christian establishments in Europe.

Third, Black intellectuals should refute the stereotypes and slander that limit the creative potential of Black communities. With their books, articles and lectures, they can nourish the fragile roots of Black British cultural heritage, of which Carnival is an important part.

Furthermore, beating the “pan” for Black culture and expression, they could:

•           Formulate a mission statement, syllabus and structure of the first University of Black Studies in Britain.

•           Create the first Black Digital Centres of cultural production that are user-friendly and linked to digital reservoirs of knowledge and cultural action.

•           Write the first Black British intellectual journals and Black-authored histories of Black Britain in print, eBook formats and Internet web sites.

•           Launch the first training projects in cultural production and tourism highlighting maps of African/Caribbean markets, heritage and cultural sites

•           Set standards for integrating Black culture into core academic subjects and supplementary community centres for Black  school children and students at crucial stages in their lives

 These creative endeavours will prove the slanderers wrong. Renascent communities can build on the cultural arts they produce. New cooperative Black leaders could plough their financial and intellectual resources into community development. This would help raise the status and power of Black people to compete with other minority ethnic groups for scarce resources. 

Plumes, bikinis and fantastical costumes in tropical colours are all in evidence on carnival day, Guardian journalists report. Yet, “Behind the Masquerade” of carnival is a basic conflict between Black culture and the state, Kwesi Owusu and Jacob Ross observed.. They are profoundly different views about cultural survival, economic orientation, race relations and political purpose in British society.

“Mother of the Carnival”, Claudia Jones, understood the power of culture as a tool of political resistance. She founded The West Indian Gazette And Afro-Asian Caribbean News — a strong vehicle for her ongoing campaign for equal opportunities for Black people.  She is remembered by the stirring proclamation “A people’s art is the genesis of their freedom.”

* Thomas L Blair is a Black scholar and independent commentator on Black urban affairs at http://www.Chronicleworld.org; and https://chronicleworld.wordpress.com; and  http://www.thomblair.org.uk  This is the seventh instalment in the Black History Month 2009-10 series on the Crisis of Black Urbanism. It is hailed as essential reading for anyone who wants to chart the present failures and future prospects in the State of Black Britain. Editorial assistance from the editors of http://www.the-latest.com is gratefully acknowledged. Key tags are:

Jail or empowerment for Black youth?, New African Caribbean faces in parliament are high-flyers, Talented newcomers call for action to Save Black Britain, Unshackling the Afro-British mind, Why aren’t Black deaths in custody an election issue?, Black British culture is in crisis

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