By Thomas L Blair — copyright © reserved 31 October 2010
This article supports the enduring capacity for cultural self-renewal of Black British communities, especially at times of disaster. Every thought-provoking topic weaves the immediate desperate present with recent history and its must-be-planned future. They are: Explore Black culture and identity in the citadel of urbanism, Link the talents of parents, elders and youth, Affirm Black Culture’s link between tradition and modernity, Transform intellectuals, artists and writers into vanguard activists for Black people, Mobilise new cultural policy leaders, Cyber organise for culture and development and Commit to a positive future.
Black Britons are probably the most written about, vilified and least understood community in the nation. Hence, UNESCO’s International Year for People of African Descent 2011 should bolster their spirits and resolve.
There has never been a better moment to plan longer-term cultural action. Why not make 2010 to 2020 the Decade for Black British Culture and Development? It could lead to most dramatic reshaping of urban Black culture since the 1960s.
Explore Black culture and identity in the citadel of urbanism
Black Culture has its strongest in roots in London. That’s where the majority of Black Britons of African and Caribbean heritage reside. Crucially, Black London is the cultural and intellectual hub of Black heritage, as the compilers of the first Atlas of Black Literature and Arts will show.
Modern Black culture is the expression of the geography, life, labour and aspirations of the African Diaspora in Britain. Cultural activists must make it clear that living in the city is a constant struggle against the forces that want to tame Black people and stifle their culture.
The best of Black Londoners’ outpourings will subvert the old tired distinction between “high” and “low” culture. They will portray the cultural awakenings of the so-called Black people of the abyss — rising from the crumbling terraces and obsolescent public housing to compete in the urban arena of power, institutions and politics/economic.
Link the talents of parents, elders and youth
After decades of family disintegration, cultural-political activists will release a potent blend of immigrant aspirations and youth revolt. Much is at stake; memories lost are not easily regained.
Project leaders will highlight the founding talents, faiths, protest and self-help mutual aid groups of “those who came before us”. Youth will put their creative energies at the service of their parents and elders. Learning to communicate across generations is crucial. “When a book is lost, it can be replaced but when an elder dies, an entire library disappears”, goes a familiar African saying.
Together, the generations will gain insights from the rich cultural past of hard working newcomers and citizens alike. Old and young will learn to appreciate the hidden arts: old photographs, clothes and fashion styles, music, dances, letters, poems and hymns. In this way, they will honour those who spawned, along with life itself, the economic basis for Black survival.
Affirm Black Culture’s link between tradition and modernity
The Decade’s cultural activists will explore the past to secure the future. They will reveal the Africanisation of Britain. Evidence shows that Black culture’s DNA unfolds from Septimus Severus, the commander of Roman Britain, to the post-World War II Windrush generation’s children.
Participants will discover the cultural tools of resistance, praise-songs and prophecy that lit the survival fires during the African Holocaust. They will forge links between overseas communities and homeland cultures in Africa, the West Indies and Latin America. This will affirm that Black Britons are an extended family of the African Diaspora.
Furthermore, Black archivists must reclaim historic arts and artefacts, another key action point in the Decade. They will pursue their mission to gain command and control over “one’s own cultural heritage”. They will unlock the vaults of the great London collections that are stuffed with the jewels of Black culture. Among them are Ghana’s Asante Golden Stool, Nigeria’s Benin bronze figures, Mali’s masks and sculptures, and Ethiopia’s statue, Lion of Judah. This is a crucial step toward cultural ownership, affirmation and justice.
Out of serfdom and helotry, “I say …the African Personality in liberty and freedom will have the chance to find its free expression and make its particular contribution to the totality of culture and civilization.” – Kwame Nkrumah, in Voice of Africa – Freedom!
Transform intellectuals, artists and writers into vanguard activists for Black people
There is no room for naivety about the Decade’s intellectual challenges. Black academics, writers and educators must become problem solvers not an isolated “I’m all right” loss to Black communities. They must help define and act upon key issues shaping the crisis of Black culture.
What makes this an appealing prospect is the chance to create new institutions from a range of initiatives:
- To formulate the mission statement, syllabus and structure of the first Black University in Britain.
- To create the first Black Digital Centres of cultural information, music, style and filmography that are user-friendly and linked to digital reservoirs of knowledge.
- To write the first Black British intellectual journals and Black-authored histories of Black Britain in print and eBook formats.
- To link the major elements of Black music: entertainment, social commentary and education
- To launch the first training projects in cultural management and Black London tourism — highlighting maps of Afro-Caribbean markets, heritage and cultural sites
- To set standards for role models to tutor Black school children and students at crucial stages in their lives
Mobilise new cultural policy leaders
Why is forward planning the Decade of utmost importance? Major challenges will emerge. The Decade’s results will benefit Black Britons. The consequences of inaction are pernicious.
Partisans must recall the strong voices that exposed the pseudo-experts on Black culture. Prof Paul Gilroy fired warning shots with his “The Empire Strikes Back – Race and Racism in ’70s Britain and “There Ain’t No Black In the Union Jack: The Cultural Politics of Race and Nation”. The prominent cultural theorist Prof Stuart Hall put Black-white contact, conflict and change into the Open University curricula.
The dim outlines of change are coming into focus. Campaigners must mobilise the sleeping giant of Black-led voluntary, fraternal and faith organisations. Emerging pro bono lawyers and solicitors, and community-based architects and sociologists must combat racial disparities in cultural power and finance that stifle creativity.
Small-scale actions can bring big changes. Black entrepreneurs can turn the Black “ghettos” into industrious nodes of globalising urban Britain. They can plough their talents into micro-financing the tiny loans that revitalise the most enterprising hard-hit communities.
Cyber-organise for culture and development
Culture is the Black community’s software to make sense of the raw megabytes of Black experience. Implementing this theme is the task of the newly emerging cyber-cultural warriors. They include:
- CyberMentors to counsel and provide expert intervention in arts, culture and the media
- CyberVolunteers to work with clients in a diverse range of music, theatre and dance cultural productions
- CyberCitizen cultural journalists and bloggers to influence public opinion and policy makers
- CyberFuturists to chart opportunities that can inspire and empower communities
- CyberDemocracy advocates promoting universal access to and use of information technology
Commit to forging a positive future
None of us can afford to sit out the UNESCO International Year for People of African Descent 2011. It will raise crucially important issues to carry forward to the 2010 to 2020 Decade for Black British Culture and Development.
First, Black communities will realise that what is really at stake is their own status and survival in Britain. Secondly, they will discover that working together they can prove some elemental truths. Black History can be re-discovered and saved from oblivion. Black Culture and identity can be revitalised. A new Black Agenda can be constructed. Full enjoyment of cultural, economic, social, civil and political rights for Black people in British society is the ultimate goal.
* Thomas L Blair, editor and publisher of Chronicleworldweblog, is a Black scholar and independent commentator on Black urban affairs. See http://www.Chronicleworld.org, https://chronicleworld.wordpress.com and http://www.thomblair.org.uk. All rights reserved © 31 October 2010
This is the ninth of ten instalments in his 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.