There is an unequivocal push to shed light on the deepening racial divides that continue to underpin the Black experience in the 21st Century. Black liberation movements around the world, from the bustling streets of London to the southeastern coasts of Jamaica, have brought the importance of blackness to the fore. Not only as a tool for understanding the Black identity, but also as a theoretical framework from which to view our emancipatory commitment to social justice, liberation and reconstruction.
From analyses of diaspora to the entangled processes of the transatlantic slavery, colonialism and modernity- Black thought has long been concerned with questions of race, place, and power. Yet, it’s plausible to suggest that these developments, which span centuries and continents, have been systematically excluded from more traditional notions of geography.
Within the past five years, however, Black Geographies as a discipline and epistemology has gained increasing institutional clout, with thanks to the tenacity and ingenuity of Black scholars to carve out institutional spaces for Black intellectual production. But, what exactly is meant by Black Geographies?
“Black Geographies’ is diasporic in its foundation through centuries of race projects of displacement, concealment, and marginalization that seek to render the Black body as “ungeographic” (McKittrick, 2006)
As a critical nascent body of scholarship, Black Geographies pinpoints Black spatial agency and the intersections between race, the state, and the dynamic distributions of power present in society. From the transatlantic slave trade to the lack of racial integration of Black and white families with similar class affiliations, to the mass incarceration of Black people, Black Geographies examines Black spatial experiences, including how Black life is reproduced in the wake of gentrification and redevelopment. In doing so, Black Geographies exposes the rich processes of Black socio-cultural and spatial reproduction to resist the confines of slavery, underdevelopment, and traditional human geographies.
Importantly, Black Geographies is not just for geographers. Amongst other schools of thought Black Geographies can also provide a foundation of understanding for the various means of organising political movements to both undermine systems of oppression, and efforts to positively contribute to the communal well-being of Black communities; as opposed to the individuality and exclusivity of our current Western world. Indeed, the scholarship of Black Geographies transcends boundaries outside of formal geography.
As the Black Lives Matter movement sweeps the globe, renewed efforts to address the ongoing injustices of racism and inequality further challenges the formal canon of disciplinary geography that we seem to value so much. We have reached a critical moment, and it is now time to re-examine our complicity in racial processes, evaluate the processes and frameworks that address issues of racial inequality, and reengage the scholarship of Black Geographies as a body of scholarship. This new body of thought must add to our understanding of the ways that race and place are inextricably linked.
Written by Malaika Laing-Grant– BLAM’s Volunteer Blog editor
Malaika is a professional with over five years’ practical experience in the international development space, providing comprehensive programmatic support to drive programme success in areas such as youth and politics, social and economic development, education and capacity building. She is a strong believer in the power of the Black community, Malaika is also committed to education as a form of Black empowerment to dismantle cycles of oppression and systems of social injustice
McKittrick, K. (2006). Demonic grounds: Black women and the cartographies of struggle. Minneapolis: Univ. of Minnesota Press
The distinction between Black feminism and white feminism has long been established, due to the triple burden facing many Black women of race, class and gender. Black feminists have and continue to, highlight the differences in their experiences and issues they are confronted with. On the key issues of family, patriarchy and reproduction,
Black women have distinctly different realities to that of their white middle class counter parts, that often centre the feminist movement. Black women are consistently confronted with racism, resistance and further oppression which white feminism has undermined and silenced. It was in acknowledgment of this that OWAAD was formed in 1978.OWAAD functioned as an umbrella organisation, bringing together various groups of women with divergent interests and focuses. OWAAD had a prominent impact on the women’s liberation movements in Britain, by placing the experiences of Black and Asian women on the liberation agenda. Attracting over 300 women to its first national conference, OWAAD successfully prompted the establishment of Black women’s groups across London.
The ‘Brixton’s Black Women’s Group’ opened in London as the first Black Women’s Centre and Asian and African – Caribbean women founded the ‘Southall Black Sisters’ in North West London. As well as its undeniable influence, OWAAD contributed to several campaigns for the progression of the black experience in the United Kingdom. OWAAD joined the campaign to scrap the SUS laws, which gave the police the powers of stop and search without any cause and was disproportionately used against young Black men. The impact of OWAAD and its initiatives are undeniably powerful and revolutionary. As Stella Dadzie (co-founder of OWAAD) emphasised, OWAAD worked to ‘show people sisterhood in operation’. Not only did OWAAD take on the responsibility of upholding the Black-british community, they also established a legacy of justice and perseverance that remains a fundamental pillar of Black British History.
Black hair was and still is used as a tool for resistance.
Black hair is a very important part of Black culture. Black hair is beautiful, Black hair is elegant and Black hair is proud. Black hair is not easy to define as Black hair comes in different shapes, styles and sizes. Different Black hair styles tell a story within itself, a story that speaks volumes about the Black experience and identity.
Hair is a significant part to each individual’s appearance, however Black hair goes beyond appearance and looks. Black hair has a uniquely meaningful history as a symbol of survival, resistance and celebration. It has been wielded as a tool of oppression and also one of empowerment—and our society’s perceptions of Black hair still affects how Black people are treated today.
In pre-colonial African societies, Black hair was seen as a symbol of a person’s identity. Popular styles like braids, twists and dreadlocks were used to symbolise a person’s tribe, social status and family background. During the Transatlantic slave trade, slave owners forcibly transported people from West Africa to colonies in modern-day Brazil and throughout the Americas, some African women, namely rice farmers, braided rice seeds into their hair as a means for survival of themselves and the culture of their homeland. Enslaved Africans also used cornrows to transfer and create maps to leave plantations and the home of their captors. Black hair was used as a tool for resistance.
Watch this video to learn more about the importance of hair throughout Black history
Hair in general is split into four categories: Type 1 usually describes straight hair; Type 2 signifies wavy hair; Type 3 refers to curly hair and Type 4 symbolises kinky hair.
Type 3 and 4 are the usual hair texture types for Black people. Black people who have Type 3 hair has S shaped bouncy curls that are well defined, dry and slightly rough. As Black hair is very complex, Type 3 and Type 4 hair have their own subtypes ; 3a, 3b and 3c. 3a curls are springy and have a definite S shape. This hair type can be straightened easily and is normally shiny and not too dry. 3b hair ranges from springy ringlets to tightly wounded and convoluted corkscrews. It has a lot of frizz that can be reduced by regular oiling using olive or coconut oil. Lastly, 3c hair is best described by wiry, coarse and frizzy corkscrews that are quite hard to untangle and sometimes difficult to straighten. However, by using excellent quality hair products containing organic ingredients like coconut milk, soy protein and Shea butter, you can maintain the health of type 3c hair.
Type 4 hair is generally known as kinky hair which again can be categorised into three subtypes: 4a, 4b and 4c. 4a hair is extremely coiled and shows an S-shaped pattern. This hair type can range from being wiry and frizzy to smooth and fine-textured. The 4b hair type displays a Z-shaped pattern. This hair type has tightly wounded corkscrews that are short, springy, and quite coarse too. They have lesser moisture compared to type 4a. Type 4 hair is also referred to as kinky, or coarse hair and is characterised by its tight, dense texture and natural lift. The volume that comes with type 4 hair is caused by its unique curl pattern. Every Black person has a unique hair texture!
For a long period of time Black hair has been condemned rather than celebrated. Slave owners would shave off Black people’s hair, in an attempt to erase their identities. Slaves were forced to hide their hair throughout the week and were only given the luxury to show their hair on Sundays.
In the 1950s, it wasn’t uncommon to meet a Black woman with chemically-straightened hair in the United States and Britain, as this was what was socially-acceptable at the time. Black hair was not celebrated and it was seen as ‘easier’ to maintain than natural hair. Relaxers and other chemicals were more readily available than products for natural hair.
Racist oppression led Black people to believe their hair is ‘bad’, whilst ‘good’ hair is slinky, smooth, straight. In other words, caucasian! Black hair is beautiful and bold. It represents strength.
Black Hair Styles continue to evolve. Admired hairstyles such as braids, dreadlocks, cornrows and bantu knots didn’t just appear from nowhere, in fact these hairstyles date back to our African ancestors. Dreadlocks have a long history in Africa. Victoria Sherrow, the author of the Encyclopedia of Hair, A Cultural History, named the priests of the Ethiopian Coptic Orthodox Church as some of the first people to have sported dreadlocks in Africa, as early as 500 BCE.
The origin of braids can be traced back 5000 years in African culture to 3500 BC—they were very popular among women. Braids are not just a style; this craft is a form of art. The popular cornrow hairstyle which now comes in variations, dated as far back as 3000 B.C., particularly in the Horn and West coasts of Africa. In the early 1500s, the style was used as a communication medium amongst various African societies that were later forced to migrate to the Americas as slaves, where their customs followed. Bantu knots can be traced back to the 2nd millennium BCE through 1500 CE to what at the time was the Bantu speaking community that originated from Southern West Africa and spread out through Central, Eastern & Southern Africa during the Bantu migration.
As mentioned previously, Black hair can be associated with many negative connotations deep rooted in racism and westernised oppression. However it is ironic how Black hairstyles have been stolen and culturally appropriated; we now see cornrows, braids and other hairstyles worn by caucasion celebrities. Many may argue it is ‘just a hairstyle’ or make the ridiculous comparison of Black women wearing weaves and wigs. Black people use extensions, weaves and wigs as protective hairstyles. Non-Black people sport Black hairstyles because it is a current trend, they don’t understand the history or the significance of Black hair. Take Kim Kardshian for example, in 2018 she posted a picture in Fulani braids and the world credited her and named them ‘Kim K Braids’, when responding to the backlash Kim K stated ‘It’s just a hairstyle’.
Fulani Braids is not just a ‘hairstyle, Fulani or feed-in braids originate from the Fulani (Fula) people in West Africa and the Sahel region. The large, nomadic community passed on the traditional hairstyle through generations of women. Known for its length and unique patterns, this style features braids that hang or loop on the sides of the head.
Black men hairstyles are also a representation of self expression. Black men can have a range of different hairstyles from classic cut fade to coloured dreadlocks. Take a look at 4 popular Black men hairstyles-
– Twists are a simple protective hairstyle worn by Black men.
– The classic low cut fade, achieved with great skill and precision.
Dreadlocks also known as ‘dreads’ or locs is a staple Black man hairstyle. Made popular by the Jamaican Reggae artists, the hairstyle is also widely worn by many Black rappers, athletes and socialites in the US & UK. They can be versatile in so many ways; they can be long or short; you can colour them to your own preference and style them in different ways. Those who belong the Rastafari faith also believe that dreadlocks are a way to keep themselves in a pure state of nature as God intended.
A curly hightop is a haircut which is cut low on both sides of the hair and curly hair is left in the centre of the head. This hairstyle dates back to the 80s when Jheri Curls were popular in the black community. To achieve this look you can use your natural curls, a curly/jheri perm or a special sponge found in local hair shops.
Black men’s hair can also fall victim to cultural appropriation. We often see non-Black people with cainrows, locs and even fake afro hightops. Here’s an example
BLAM’s Top Hair Tips
Afro-Caribbean hair is delicate and tends to be very dry. As a result, special care needs to be taken to ensure its health and vitality. These are BLAM’s top tips for both women and men;
Have knowledge on what products work best for your hair type. It may be a lot of trial and error at first, so speaking to a professional is advised
Moisturise and massage your scalp with hair oils daily. Research which oils do what.
Wash days can be exhausting however, deep conditioning will give your hair a real boost of moisture and feed the strands from the inside out.
Use sulphate free shampoos to avoid hair and scalp getting dry
Protect your hairstyles with a silk scarf of a silk bonnet before bed (or if you’re a rough sleeper, invest in silk pillow cases)
Lastly, have fun with your hair! Don’t be afraid to experiment with it. It’s just hair and will grow back, express yourself
BLAM UK Founder sends an urgent warning to UN Human Rights experts and committees
Dear UN CERD Committee and UN Experts,
My name is Ife Thompson, I am a Criminal Defence Pupil Barrister, a Community Activist, Founder of BLAM UK and a United Nations Fellow for PAD 2020.
I am emailing to highlight the fatal police killing of Chris Kaba a young 24-year-old Black Man that took place in the UK. Chris Kaba was shot dead by UK armed police whilst still in the car and unarmed, after a police chase. The car he was driving was not registered to him, so the police did not know who was in the car during the police chase. The police killing took place on Monday 5th September 2022 in the late hours of the evening. This is the second death of a Black man after police contact with the Met Police this year, the first one being Oladeji Omishore.
The police killing of Chris Kaba engages the following international human rights violations under the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and of the International Convention on the elimination of racial discrimination.
Under Article 16 of the UN Convention Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment prohibits “other acts of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment which do not amount to torture as defined in article 1…” The former U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture, Theo van Boven, noted that the misuse of weapons, such as batons, stun guns, shields and belts, and tasers, and chemical control substances, such as tear gas, can amount to “torture or other forms of ill-treatment.”
Article 6 § 1 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights provides: “Every human being has the inherent right to life. This right shall be protected by law. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his life.”
In this connection, the Human Rights Committee of the United Nations noted the following (see General Comment no. 6, Article 6, 16th Session (1982), § 3): “The protection against arbitrary deprivation of life which is explicitly required by the third sentence of Article 6 § 1 is of paramount importance. The Committee considers that States Parties should take measures not only to prevent and punish deprivation of life by criminal acts, but also to prevent arbitrary killing by their own security forces. The deprivation of life by the authorities of the State is a matter of the utmost gravity. Therefore, the law must strictly control and limit the circumstances in which a person may be deprived of his life by such authorities.”
The United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials (“United Nations Force and Firearms Principles”) were adopted on 7 September 1990 by the Eighth United Nations Congress on the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders. Paragraph 9 of the Principles provides:
“Law-enforcement officials shall not use firearms against persons except in self-defence or defence of others against the imminent threat of death or serious injury, to prevent the perpetration of a particularly serious crime involving grave threat to life, to arrest a person presenting such a danger and resisting their authority, or to prevent his or her escape, and only when less extreme means are insufficient to achieve these objectives. In any event,intentional lethal use of firearms may only be made when strictly unavoidable in order to protect life.”
Paragraph 5 of the Principles provides, inter alia, that law-enforcement officials shall “act in proportion to the seriousness of the offence and the legitimate objective to be achieved”. Under the terms of paragraph 7, “governments shall ensure that arbitrary or abusive use of force and firearms by law-enforcement officials is punished as a criminal offence under their law”. Paragraph 11 (b) states that national rules and regulations on the use of firearms should “ensure that firearms are used only in appropriate circumstances and in a manner likely to decrease the risk of unnecessary harm”.
This fatal police shooting is part of the ongoing pattern of extra-judicial killing and maiming of persons of African descent in the UK. The police shot Chris Kaba whilst he was still in his car and was unarmed. In the UK, the Black community has a history of resisting racist, violent and deadly policing. This led to the recent community protests/ uprisings of other police killings like that of Mark Duggan in 2011, Mohamud Mohammed Hassan 2021 and Rashan Charles in 2017.
The family made a number of demands, two demands of these demands have been met and they are that the matter is dealt with as a murder investigation and that the officer involved in the killing is suspended from work. There has however been recent pushback from fellow Armed Police officers who have threatened to walk out of the job due to their colleague, who shot and killed Chris merely being suspended from his job. We are concerned with the ability of the UK police to fairly and independently investigate the killing of Chris Kaba, if officers are currently taking part in actions to support the evading of accountability and general disregard to International Human Rights obligations in which they must comply with.
I am inviting CERD Committee and UN Committee against Torture and inhumane treatment to call out this unjust human right violation and killing and to join the family and community in demanding truth, accountability and justice from the UK Government.
The family’s current demands are that the Officers involved in the shooting are charged with murder as all too often State Agents who kill in the UK are met with impunity. The Body Worn footage that captures the incident is released to the family.
‘Little Jamaica’, the ‘one-time Oxford Street’, and other nicknames sometimes refer to this multicultural, multi-ethnic melting pot – Brixton. Brixton is a district in the South London borough of Lambeth known for multiple traits, such as its high population of Black communities and the creativity of its residents. Before being built up in the 19th century, Brixton was originally full of marshes, a type of soft, grassy wetland. It was also said to have been called ‘Brixistane’ and although the origin of the name is unclear, some believe that it originated from a Saxon Lord and was eventually shortened over time.
Like many areas, Brixton has undergone many transformations during different eras, notably during and after World War 2. During World War 2, Brixton, alongside other areas of London, was bombed and the area went into decline. This left many buildings, including homes, in need of repair and renovation. After World War 2, Brixton saw the arrival of the Windrush Generation into Britain. They would first be housed temporarily in deep air-raid shelters in Clapham Common, close to Brixton, and several of them would go to the Labour Exchange in Brixton to find work before ultimately settling Brixton. Homes and buildings were still in decline at this point, and they became the homes of the Caribbean migrants.
The presence of the Windrush Generation in Brixton was felt immediately. While white residents left the area, the markets in Brixton continued to expand and diversify their wares due to the larger and more multiethnic population. Alongside the ‘traditional’ British fruits and vegetables such as apples and potatoes, West Indian and African foods such as yams and plantain began to be sold in the markets to a very receptive population. This reflected the change in the population demographics of Brixton, and it allowed African and West Indian migrants to preserve their cultures while living in a new country.
Aside from its markets, Brixton is home to important landmarks such the Black Cultural Archives. Originally developed in Brixton and co-founded by the iconic historian Len Garrison in 1981, the Black Cultural Archives established its headquarters in a new building in Brixton in 2014. It seeks to preserve, collect, and share the histories of people of African and Caribbean descent in the UK. It also aims to inspire individuals and communities as well as provide positive representations of Black people in the UK.
Another important landmark of Brixton is Railton Road, including 165 Railton Road and the Brixton Advice Centre. 165 Railton Road was the previous home of West Indian writer CLR James, who is commemorated by a blue plaque today. 165 Railton Road was also a hub for Black activists, community leaders, and academics in the 1970s and 80s. It was a space for them to chat, organise, and support each other. As we will explore later in this piece, Brixton has historically been a centre of resistance in many forms, including protest, campaigns, and activism.
The Brixton Advice Centre on Railton Road is a charity dedicated to providing free advice to all residents of Lambeth in all areas of their lives. In the 1970s, it was also the base of the Race Today Collective, a collective dedicated to challenging racist institutions and having conversations on issues that affected Black communities in the UK, and the Global South. Its members included the legendary activist Darcus Howe and writer Linton Kwesi Johnson. You can read more about the Race Today collective and the work they did here.
Brixton has served as many hubs over time. It was, and is, primarily a hub for Black communities, but was also a hub for Black activists and Black community leaders. Activists and community leaders such as Olive Morris and Alex Wheatle have called Brixton home and have lived some of its history. Brixton residents have also historically been no stranger to protesting racism and its impact on Black communities. An example of this was the Brixton Uprising of 1981, which arguably came about as a result of the climate of high rates of unemployment amongst Black people and the structural racism that they faced. The Brixton Uprising of 1981 involved violent protests which lasted for three days and saw clashes between the Black youth of Brixton and the Metropolitan Police, who were enforcing racist policing such as stop-and-search and abusing their powers to oppress Black people.
Today, Black communities who have been in Brixton for generations are at risk of being displaced as a result of gentrification. There have been and continue to be efforts to preserve Brixton’s culture, but as Brixton is labelled ‘up-and-coming’ the threats of new expensive housing and chain restaurants displacing residents and replacing local Black-owned establishments still remain. Brixton is home to Black history, Black communities, and Black establishments and it must be preserved.
Brixton has been home to generations of Black communities, and has been the setting of several Black historical events. Despite whatever risks are posed to Black communities today by way of gentrification, Brixton will continue to be home to rich Black history and colourful residents.
It is impossible to call yourself a true Londoner and not have at least heard of Notting Hill Carnival. Every August bank holiday, North-West London comes grinding to a halt. You’ll be sure to see people in bright costumes or covered in paint (depending on the day), smell the sweet flavours of jerked meat and hear the bassline of a soca song blasting through the air. But do you know the history of Notting Hill Carnival (NHC)?
Let’s travel back to the 1950s. People from the West Indies were migrating to the UK to aid the post-war effort. They had been invited over by the British Government with the promise of employment and housing. However, when they arrived they also received a lot of racism and discrimination. Upon arrival to London, many West Indians moved to an area in West London called Notting Hill. At that time the area was notoriously white working-class, which led to tensions running high between residents and their new neighbours. These tensions resulted in multiple racist attacks on the area’s new Black residents*.
One summer’s evening in 1958, a group of white working class men, known as ‘Teddy Boys’ decided to brutally attack multiple West Indian men on separate occasions. Was there a reason for these attacks? Of course not, racism is never logical. No sense, just (bad) vibes. On this very rare occasion, the police moved swiftly and arrested the men involved. However, this upset other white residents who decided to take their upset to the streets. This led to what we know as the Notting Hill Riots of 1958. It was a very violent time period. The West Indian residents of the area decided to take a stand and defend themselves using the same violence they were being subjected to. Police eventually swarmed the area and many arrests were made; unsurprisingly, Black people were disproportionately more likely to be arrested despite the trouble having been started by the Teddy Boys.
*It is important to note that whilst Black people were the main targets of the racist attacks, Indo-Caribbean people and other ethnic minorities were subject to racism too.
So, how did we go from riots to Carnival?
Meet Claudia Jones.
Born in Trinidad in 1915, Claudia moved to the US as a child where she lived for most of her adult life. Whilst living in America, Claudia became heavily involved in political campaigning, becoming a Black Nationalist, a Black communist and fighting for women’s rights. However, it was her membership of the Communist Party which ultimately led to her being exiled to the UK in 1955. Once arriving on British shores, her campaigning for civil rights continued. Upon her arrival here, her activism continued and she of course joined the Communist Party GB. She is also known for starting the West Indian Gazette (later expanded to West Indian Gazette And Afro-Asian Caribbean News), which is thought to have been Britain’s first major Black newspaper.
In the aftermath of the Notting Hill Riots, Claudia believed that Black Londoners needed something to boost their spirits. She took inspiration from her homeland, Trinidad, and in January 1959, Claudia organised a carnival. An indoor carnival, but carnival all the same. It was held in St Pancras Town Hall and featured steel pan bands, dance troupes, musicians and even a pageant. Overall, it was the first major display of Black joy anyone had seen in a while. This indoor carnival ran right up until Claudia’s death in 1964 and although she didn’t live to see the full evolution of Notting Hill Carnival, she is still considered to be the Mother of Carnival. In 1966, Rhaune Laslett organised an outdoor event for children which later developed into Notting Hill Carnival as we know it today. With the help of Duke Vin and other West Indian pioneers, Rhaune brought mas to London.
By the 1970s people had started to travel from all over the country to attend the Carnival, to celebrate a part of their culture that they thought they’d left behind. In 1973 a new feature was added, something that was unique to this London Carnival only – the static sound system. Sound system culture was a huge part of British Jamaican culture. Notting Hill Carnival was a celebration of West Indian culture and history, however, carnival wasn’t an inherently Jamaican activity in those days and so they wanted to represent their island in the best way they knew.
These sound systems were found on side roads blasting reggae music and more whilst the main Carnival parade continued to play Calypso (and later Soca too).
Despite the message of positivity and celebration, Carnival attendees still faced harassment from the heavy police presence. This sometimes unfortunately led to clashes and violence, and for those who still attend today you’ll know that the police presence is still just as heavy. Despite this however, the British West Indian community refused to let their spirits be dampened. They now had another way to stay connected to their homelands.
Today Notting Hill Carnival is attended by millions of people from all over the world. It is the largest street ‘festival’ in Europe and second in the world to Brazil. It has come a long way since Claudia’s event in King’s Cross, but is still just as culturally rich. Split into three days, NHC is a weekend full of enjoyment and culture. The main route still mostly features soca and calypso, and there are still sound systems on the back roads. British West Indians are still working hard to maintain the true authenticity of Notting Hill Carnival
To conclude, Notting Hill Carnival is a celebration of Caribbean culture with a rich and beautiful history. Although it is a great time and open to all, it is imperative to remember that it was born out of oppression and rebellion, the true meaning must never be forgotten! If you plan to attend Notting Hill Carnival we hope you have a great time and use what you have learned in this blog to fuel your enjoyment.
Here are a few quick tips to have a great Carnival experience;
Signal in the area is poor so plan emergency meeting points with your friends and make sure you know how to get home from any point on the route
Britain has had a long history of environmental consciousness, evident by its anti-pollution legislation. Interestingly, the world’s oldest anti-pollution legislation is a British decree from 1273 which made the burning of sea coal forbidden. Where there is environmental legislation, there is environmental consciousness. And where there is environmental consciousness there are environmental activists lobbying governments. These activists in Britain formed environmental organisations which were focused on issues such as protecting wildlife and increasing access to the countryside.
In addition to this, some of the earliest environmentalists were white elites, and the environmentalist movement has historically been driven by white non-working-class people. Today, climate activism, like other environmental activism, is perceived to be a white middle-class concern, with people who are not white being alienated from both movements – despite the fact that they are disproportionately affected by climate change, environmental racism, and more. Environmental concerns did not begin to take into consideration the needs of non-white communities in Britain, until a few years ago.
Black communities are more likely to live in areas harmed by climate change, with countries in Africa and island states of the Caribbean being overwhelmingly located in parts of the world vulnerable to climate hazards such as hurricanes and floods. These countries suffer the most from extreme weather driven by climate change, namely stronger hurricanes and longer dry seasons that affect the livelihoods of their inhabitants. Black communities are also more likely to experience environmental racism. Environmental racism refers to when neighbourhoods densely populated by non-white communities have a disproportionate number of environmental hazards and sources of pollution that lower the quality of life.
Black British climate activists recognise that Black people and communities are overwhelmingly negatively affected by climate change and its impacts, and campaign for this to be recognised. Although in the past they have been erased, excluded, and spoken over, today, many Black British climate activists are making ripples in climate and environmental spaces. They bring attention and awareness to the importance of racial justice when discussing climate change as there is a strong lack of awareness on how the two are connected. In fact, one of the first times the climate crisis and race were associated together in the British press was in 2016, when nine Black Lives Matter UK activists protested at London City Airport.
Today, many Black British climate activists campaign for the climate crisis to recognise racial justice as central to the climate movement. We will now shine a spotlight on three Black British climate activists.
Black British Climate Activists to Look Out For
Dominique Palmer is a climate activist who recognises that climate change issues have social intersections of their own, such as gender equality and discrimination against minority ethnic groups. She is a part of the UK Student Climate Network and Extinction Rebellion Youth. Dominique has spoken on environmental justice at environmental events such as COP25.
Fatima-Zahra Ibrahim is the co-founder and co-director of the Green New Deal UK, which lobbies the British government to put the climate crisis at the centre of its politics. She is a social justice campaigner, and has worked with international movements.
Destiny is one of four co-founders of Choked Up, a campaign which aims to raise awareness of racial injustice within the climate crisis movement and also for the government to take Black and brown people into consideration when creating clean air laws.
BLAM UK recognises that environmental racism and air pollution greatly impact Black communities, with areas such as Lambeth and Southwark having the highest levels of air pollution in London. In our work with the Live + Breathe campaign we explored the impacts of environmental racism and air pollution with students. Black communities are also less likely to have access to green spaces, such as parks and if they do have access to them, they are of lower quality. Public reporting on air quality, preparation of air quality action plans, and more solutions must be implemented in order to increase the quality of air Black communities are exposed to and limit the negative effects of exposure to toxic air.
Environmental racism greatly affects Black communities, and this in turn affects their abilities to cope and respond to the climate crisis. In addition to being disproportionately affected by the climate crisis, Black voices are also ignored and erased in conversations of climate change. Black British activists continue to campaign and raise awareness on these issues, as well demand positive environmental aspects such as clean air, and green space.
Are you concerned about the impact climate change may have on you as a Black person? Let us know in the comments!
Saturday schools, also referred to as supplementary schools, have had a long history in the UK. They were first associated with Irish migrants in the late 19th century, but since the 1940s post-war period migrants from around the world have established these community-led Saturday schools. This was the case for newly arrived African and Caribbean immigrants of this period who established their own Saturday schools. In fact, Black Saturday schools have been in existence for as long as there has been a significant Black presence in the UK. But what prompted the emergence of these schools?
In 1960s Britain, many children of West Indian immigrants were deemed to be “educationally subnormal” (ESN) by their teachers. As a result of this, they were expected to fail, had no prospects of taking the then O-Level exams, and were placed in classes with other children who fit this criteria. It is worth noting that there were disproportionate numbers of West Indian children who were placed in these classes. In addition to this, West Indian children also experienced rampant racism in schools from their peers and their teachers.
West Indian parents, determined to create safe learning spaces for their children, banded together to take matters into their own hands. Within their communities, they endeavoured to create their own learning spaces for their children to correct the gaps that their children experienced in mainstream schooling, and the Supplementary School Movement was born. Black Saturday schools began to emerge across England.
These schools were not only a testament to the power of community action, but they were also a response to racism in the educational system. Black parents were determined to not let their children slip through the educational cracks as a result of racism and discrimination. They felt as though mainstream schools did not have attainment targets for their Black students due to them being classed as ESN. Black Saturday schools challenged the inherent racism of the mainstream schooling system and rejected the presumed inevitable underachievement of Black children that mainstream schools imposed on them.
A community effort, Black Saturday schools were staffed by volunteers and took place in community spaces such as churches and community centres, they even took place in people’s front rooms. For the most part, they relied on parental contributions and community donations to operate, and were present in London boroughs where there was a high African and Caribbean population, such as Lambeth, Hackney, Lewisham, and more. These schools operated outside of normal school hours, such as in the evenings or during weekends (particularly on Saturdays), and although they taught National Curriculum subjects such as maths, English, and science, they also helped to teach pupils cultural values and uphold the heritage and traditions of their countries of origin.
Black Saturdays schools created nurturing and supportive environments for their students. Pupils who attended Black Saturday schools spoke of understanding topics better, helping them when they returned to their mainstream classes. These schools also helped students to develop positive attitudes towards education – attitudes which would have been greatly impacted as a result of their experiences at mainstream schools. Pupils were reported to be more focused, more attentive, and more confident to ask and answer questions as a result of their engagement with Saturday schools.
In addition to this, staff believed that their schools were effective in helping pupils to be more engaged and capable, especially pupils who had been excluded from mainstream education, or were on the verge of exclusion. Black supplementary schools provided a nurturing approach to education as they fostered environments of ambition, confidence and curiosity. In these spaces, Black students were encouraged to be ambitious, pushed to achieve their full potential, and had their abilities validated – these were interactions they did not experience in mainstream education. In Saturday schools, they were encouraged to aspire, improve their self-esteem and also feel a sense of belonging. In contrast, in mainstream schools Black children often felt marginalised and their cultures and backgrounds were ignored and not taken into consideration.
Certainly, it is clear to see why they were regarded as lifelines for many African and Caribbean families. Saturday schools were essentially organisations for Black students staffed by Black teachers, which allowed students to relate to staff and vice-versa. Teachers understood the societal inequalities and obstacles that Black children were likely to face – particularly when they had no academic qualifications.
Today, Black Saturday schools place a large focus on Black history and Black Studies alongside core subjects such as maths, science and English. They can be found across England, from London to the Midlands, and even Scotland! There is also a National Association of Black Supplementary Schools (NABSS) in the UK, which provides a directory of Black Saturday schools.
The Supplementary School Movement and the emergence of Black Saturday schools were a clear example of the power of community action, particularly as a response to racism and discrimination. As a result of this, Black students were able to have their identities affirmed, build their confidence, and focus on their development in a nurturing and positive environment. They are an important part of Black British history and culture, and should never be allowed to die out!
Acrylic nails were invented in 1954, by a dentist called Fred Slack. After breaking his fingernail at work, he used dental products to create a replacement, later going on to create an acrylic nail company with his brother called Patti Nails. Although Fred Slack was a white man and acrylic nails as we know them today are not a Black invention, Black women have popularised creative and self- expressive nails since the 1980’s. Unfortunately, the shadows of cultural appropriation have cast shade and erased Black women from the picture.
In 1988, Florence Griffith- Joiner (commonly known as Flo Jo) broke the record for the fastest woman at the Olympics- a record that still holds value till this day. However there seemed to be more focus on her colourful and well adorned nails that she decided to rock on the track. She had previously been a nail technician before becoming a runner – her nails were a form of homage to the hustle that had gotten her to where she was. News reports made it clear that her fingernails were of more importance and deserving of more attention than the medals she earned. She was completely othered because of her aesthetic choices, with Lynchburg College Sport Management Professor Lindsay Pieper observing that ‘Because she preferred long, colourful nails, the runner was depicted as abnormal, deviant, and different’’. Generally, she was also over sexualised (a practice imposed on Black women far too often) and depicted as an attention seeker as if her running skills were not enough to gain the spotlight.
This is nothing new and still carries on presently. As long as respectability politics are thrust on Black women, alongside the intense scrutiny if we deviate from this, the policing of our appearance will always take priority over our achievements. Not only this, but styles we created the blueprint for are rarely recognised as ours. Kim Kardashian made headlines four years ago for sporting pierced nails, and the article insinuated it was innovative by claiming that she had ‘taken the game to the next level’’.
However, Janet Jackson set this trend for Black women in the 80’s, when she wore a ring in each acrylic nail on set for her video ‘’What’s It Gonna Be’’.
Racism, misogynoir and classism all contribute to the idea that stand – out styles of nails are ‘ghetto’ on Black women, yet edgy when white women wear them. There is a glaringly obvious double standard, and a stereotypical notion that Black women who wear long acrylic nails have a low income status. Not only is this claim unsubstantiated, but it is ironic considering that long nails were seen as symbolic of belonging to a high class in Ancient Egypt, with women in this period wearing extensions made out of ivory and bone, painting them red to reiterate their elevated position in society.
Cultural appropriation is the adoption of customs, practices or ideas of one group of society from another. This adoption is usually practiced by dominant members of society and it is always done without acknowledgement or understanding of how these customs, practices or ideas originated. We see it time after time, with styles such as laying edges, cornrows and box braids being snatched from Black culture and thrust into the mainstream, leaving those who not only created those styles, but were criticised for them, in the dust. A definitive and honest conversation about how deeply embedded white supremacy is into the beauty industry needs to be had if any changes are to be made, and for Black women to be given the flowers they deserve that are well overdue.
“..if it seems the culture you’re appreciating doesn’t appreciate your appreciation, it’s probably time to think things through again.”
In her book titled ‘Dancing Wisdom,’ Yvonne Daniel considers and explores African cultural continuity, performances, and behaviour amongst the diaspora through dance. Daniel looks at Haitaian Vodou, Cuban Yoruba (commonly called Santería), and Bahian Candomblé. In writing this book, Daniel aims to introduce African history and sacred customs to the broader public. Daniels pushes against the white gaze and lens of incorrect beliefs that African religious traditions and their associated dances are ‘cursed’ and to be viewed through a lens of superstition. We find a site for rich cultural and aesthetic knowledge in understanding and looking at African diaspora religious systems. We find commonalities within related ritual communities that link African spirituality to the experiences of the Diaspora. This serves as a form of cultural resistance in which the enslaved ensured that histories and cultures of dance were preserved and passed on. These dances throughout the diaspora are an example of cultural retention, a way for enslaved Africans to hold on to a piece of ‘home’. It was also a form of resistance, showing their captors that despite their current situation, their spirits and culture could not be oppressed.
African dance is polycentric, which sets it apart from most other dance traditions in the world. As explained by the National Museum of African Art, this means that the dancer’s body is sectioned into separate areas of movement, with each area moving to different rhythms within the music. This is known as ‘isolations’ in choreographic terms.
Most African communities had a ‘dance master’ who taught the members of the group from a very young age how to perform the various dances. These dances needed to be performed precisely as taught, with no room for improvisation or ornamentation until complete mastery of the form was achieved.
We all love a good boogie. The Electric Slide at the end of a family party (that’s the Candy Dance for those who are not familiar with the official title), a Zanku in the middle of an Afrobeats set or maybe just a simple two step at a work party. Once the music hits, our bodies just naturally start to move on their own accord. If I said name a dance from the Caribbean would you be able to? It’s highly likely that you’d say ‘whining’ which is understandable, anyone who’s been to a rave would know that one at least. For those of you who have no idea what that is, let me help you out. But there’s more to dancing in the Caribbean than just that, and so today we’re going to look at some that may be new to you.
Many dances throughout the Caribbean have roots in both African and European cultures. These Creole dance creations have become synonymous with island identity; the dances have come to light first as popular community dances and often thereafter as endeared folk or ballroom forms that have permeated the region and sometimes the world. So let’s get into it!
Creole – konpa
The sweet sound of Haiti. Kompa the music genre was first created in the 1950s by Haitian legend Nemours Jean-Baptiste and his band Conjunto Internacional. The group put a new spin on traditional Haitian music. There are two main characteristics of kompa; a large brass section – saxophones, trumpets, the lot! And upbeat lyrics and melodies, it’s dance music so people need to be put in a good mood, you can’t do that if your lyrics are sad and slow. The beauty of kompa is its ability to make people want to dance instantly.
If you’ve never listened to the genre before here are two recommendations for you –
Old school classic by Nemours Jean-Baptiste – Ti Carole
As you’ve heard in both those songs, the sound is smooth and sensual, and so the dance must match. If you’re an avid TikTok user then it’s highly likely that you may have seen videos of people dancing kompa already. It is a two step dance called carré (which means square) and is always danced in pairs. The couples hold each other tightly and sway romantically with a lot of hip movement. Although it looks fairly simple, the dance is in actuality very intricate when done properly.
Again both a music genre and dance type but this time we’re in the beautiful land of Jamaica. In the 2000s, dance steps became a huge part of dancehall culture, they became just as popular as the songs themselves. Artists such as Elephant Man and Ding Dong were known for having choreography to match their songs. A lot of the time the lyrics of the song will instruct you on the choreography, making it very simple to follow.
It is impossible to talk about dancehall without mentioning Gerald Levy, also known as Mr Wacky. Dubbed as the greatest [Jamaican] dancer of all time, Mr Wacky was the mastermind behind many famous dancehall dances. Dances including the bogle, wacky dip, Sesame Street, willie bounce, and countless others.
Have you ever heard of Curaçao? It’s okay if you haven’t, that’s what our blog is here for. To educate the masses!
Curaçao is a small Dutch Caribbean island in the Lesser Antilles which is a small collection of islands found in the Caribbean. It makes up part of what is known as the ‘ABC Islands’
On the beautiful island of Curaçao there is a traditional dance named Tambú. It was first created by the enslaved Africans living on the island. Music is created using the tambú drum and other iron instruments, and dancers isolate their body parts with elaborate hip movements.
Despite being danced in pairs, the most important feature of tambú is the fact that partners never actually physically touch. This adds to the sensuality of the dance. The dance is so sensual in fact, that the Catholic Church on the island banned it, it was illegal from the 1600s right up until 1956 – dramatic much?
Tambú music is also known as the ‘Curaçao Blues’ as it was a way for the enslaved peoples to express their sorrows and sadness around their situation.
Dance is a huge part of Caribbean culture, both on the islands and throughout the diaspora. They represent history, freedom, and expression. There’s many more that we could talk about because the Caribbean is just that diverse! Unfortunately though, finding dance classes that teach these styles in the UK is quite difficult (minus dancehall). This is a shame as preserving traditional dances within the diaspora is super important! Hopefully that’ll change soon. But also, if you are a person of Caribbean descent who teaches these styles – drop us a line and we’ll plug you on socials.
Now that we have looked at three different dances from around the Caribbean, are there any you think you’d like to try? Or any you KNOW you’d kill without even having to try? Let us know!
Blam UK condemns the recent articles by a range of white-owned media companies that further entrench language discrimination and the erasure of Black British English speakers in British society. The British media has a long history in shaping racist, discriminatory and anti-Black racial discourse. The highlighted articles make repeated, unfounded statements about Black British English by referring to the language as, ‘talking like a ‘roadman’’ and claiming ‘grime music has helped cement the dialect’. These untrue statements misrepresent Black-British experiences and are not based on research to understand the history of Black British English and the people that speak it. Furthermore, this anti-Black and racist discourse is reminiscent of Historian David Starkey’s commentary on the London uprisings in 2011 against the killing of Mark Duggan by the Met Police, Starkey argued that the uprisings highlighted a ‘profound cultural change’ in that, the ‘whites had become black’ meaning that white people adopting Jamaican patois and BBE had made them partake in the uprisings. Here, the use of Jamaican patois and BBE as the cause of the London uprisings in 2011 and the changing English dialect today, are both examples of anti-Black rhetoric and illustrates the way Black culture and language continue to be criminalised in British society.
The articles follow the historical colonial practice of policing and inferiorising Black cultures and languages while centring White mainstreamed English as the norm. Black creole languages in and of themselves have been cultivated in response to imperialist dominance and racism. The articles ignore the fact that currently many Black people in the UK have been fluent in this language (BBE) and are currently being forced to code-switch due to standardised English being a requirement to thrive in many UK institutions. Furthermore, the articles also wrongly attributed Black linguistic creation to multi-culturalism as opposed to the continuing of linguistic heritages passed down from Black parents, which have now been further creolised to show a distinct identity of Black-Britishness. One of the articles mentions Black musicians and genres as the pioneers of this language being mainstreamed as opposed to recognising that this is a language spoken within our communities first and was used by Black musicians.
The anti-Black Linguistic racism shown in those articles :
The use of the term ‘roadman’ through the lens of whiteness is always loaded, problematic and inherently anti-Black. At some point, we must ask ourselves why? Terms like ‘roadman’ and ‘urban’ are often used as code words for Black, which then changes the tone of the article. The term ‘roadman’ usually alludes to criminality in BBE. Our founder, Ife Thompson, notes that calling a language created by Black-British people ‘roadman talk’ is an attempt at further pushing anti-Black linguistic racism. A rich language created and used by a range of Black people including roadmen is only being referred to as a language that belongs to them. This type of criminalisation of BBE allows for institutions like schools or courtrooms (via racist prosecutions ) to be a space where we are further punished for our expression in this language, as the language is policed as something that is inherently criminal in nature. When termings like these are used to confine BBE, it has an adverse effect on Black people, especially Black children. When the language they speak is demonised/ criminalised by mainstream media it leaves them susceptible to unfair policing and punishment. We have seen this take place at Ark All Saints Academy, where policies put in place banning Black British English and articles such as these give these anti-Black policies their credence.
How the term Multicultural London English erases Black British English :
The misidentification of Black British English as MLE minimises the cultural value and influence of Black heritage in modern-day Britain. BBE was formed exclusively and independently through the Black British experience. By stating words like “wagwarn” have multicultural roots, this discredits its Jamaican origins. The mere usage of words from other languages like Kettle- a Cockney word for watches, that has been further used and popularised by BBE Speakers does not justify the naming of BBE as multicultural London English or slang. Instead, this shows that BBE mirrors the established linguistic norms of borrowing terminology from other languages known as cognates, which be seen within White Mainstream English in words such as ‘café which is originally the French word.
Why We Campaign towards Language Justice for Black English Speakers
At Blam UK we push for a language education that is decolonial and celebrates Black cultural production. As this in turn allows Black British children who speak BBE further avenues to heighten their racial identity through a positive lens. The current deficit approach to socio-linguistic and racio-linguistics within UK schools and society as a whole, means we see anti-Black linguistic racism upheld in all facets of the UK. We believe Black-British English speakers must be recognised for their unique approach to language creation and their bilingualism honoured and protected. Support our ongoing campaigns to create a Black future that are linguistically justice for BBE Speakers.