By Thomas L Blair ©text and picture October 2014
Ideally, a rise in living standards and esteem would be the marker for celebrating Black History and advancement. However, the message from the grassroots is poetry won’t feed us always”.
The precipitating signs are noticeable. “No justice, no peace” has become a standard rallying cry across beleaguered Black communities. Indeed, they face issues across almost every sphere:
These changing perceptions mark the end of Black History Month as we know it and a steady progression toward the view that Black history is more about the upward struggle than harmonising race relations in a divided society.
Clearly, Blacks have to develop danger-limiting strategies and progress enhancement institutions in all the spheres of life.
In Community development and regeneration, Criminal justice services and Education and skills, as well as Employment, Health services, Housing and homelessness, Poverty Alleviation, Business Enterprise and financial inclusion, and Social work, social care and social services.
Hence, sighs of blessed relief are premature and assumptions that knowledge alone will right contemporary and historical wrongs is grossly exaggerated, as I pointed out in my article reprinted below.
Unshackling the Afro-British mind
October 7, 2009 © Thomas L Blair, author
October’s Black History month comes again – full of contradictions. Local worthies recite undigested “facts” and add swatches of colour, comedy and music to the events. However, the back-up money and thematic control is firmly not in their hands.
The leading players are government and town hall agents, the media and advertisers. Charities, churches, voluntary groups, primary care trusts add their balm of Gilead. Museums and libraries promise they care. Of course, nothing confrontational, please. Nothing “too political, or nationalist”. Nothing “too black”, really. Only images that beguile and suit the tastes of the “wider society”.
The usual cast of cardboard characters appear on stage. Politicians mouth their “I’m so happy to support you” platitudes to invited successful celebrities. City officials and “race relations experts” cobble together a potpourri of walks, talks and exhibitions endorsed by servile self-seekers and dependent local groups.
However, to keen observers, three decades of these post-colonial events expose a fatal flaw. The origins and meaning of Black History Month are ignored – some say suppressed. It is not widely reported that a Ghanaian, Akyaaba Addai Sebbo of the Greater London Council, is credited with originating the event in 1987.
We are deprived therefore of some essential information. The African American Kwanzaa creator Dr. Maulana Karenga, the invited host of the first assembly, was a major source of inspiration.
Furthermore, at its deepest roots, the month signifies the gathering of the African community in the Diaspora. Originally, the celebrants shared their food, libations, dance and drumming. They extolled their leadership, sang praise-songs, and recited their common experiences in the citadels of modernism.
In this way, the celebrants of African heritage affirmed two important principles to safeguard them in a hostile urban environment. They strengthened their confidence and awareness of their cultural heritages. They celebrated their triumphs since slavery, colonialism and debt bondage. Moreover, they reclaimed their own humanity that has given so much to British society and world cultures.
Hence, the misplaced zeal unleashed in October’s sponsored events masks a singular inability to be serious about Black culture. Moreover, the hodgepodge of individual personalities and heroics – greats this and the 50 that – does not create collective cultural and social capital for Black communities.
To be serious requires Black definition and direction. Celebrating Black culture would have to be rooted in thoughtful afro-centric analysis.
Alas, a historically challenged people are disempowered – rudderless, adrift in a sea of despond. They have no major dedicated, guiding and protective Black advancement institutions. No anti-defamation leagues. Publishing houses are scarce. The one “black newspaper”, The Voice, is “foreign-owned” by the Caribbean Gleaner company whose interests are more representative of its “Go Jamaica” tourist, sugar, rum, soft drinks and minerals supporters than those of the poor in the Kingston yards.
Moreover, the wellsprings of wisdom have run dry. The early prize-winning students and Rhodes scholars vanished in the olive groves of academe. There are no Black-led study associations. No authoritative, home-grown, sustainable Black literary, business and political journals exist. In addition, there are no dedicated teams of Africana and Black Studies scholars, writers and artists working to bring cultural history to life.
Without grounding, community building institutions, rock-solid organisations and robust talents, Black pride and identity erodes, and cultural deformation and alienation surely follow. This is the hallmark of a postcolonial people in deep crisis.
To combat this dire prospect, it is essential to securely preserve, defend, authenticate and invigorate Black culture in the diaspora so that favourable conditions for development can be created.
The key questions to forge a positive future are::
- What are the key issues shaping the crisis of culture called Black urbanism?
- How can cultural empowerment link to social, economic and political progress?
- What are the best strategies to birth a new generation of cultural champions among Black youth, public intellectuals and policymakers?
Profile: Thomas L Blair, writes and publishes on the creative renewal of African and Caribbean communities in Britain, Europe and America.