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Black Spatial Agency Matters: The Rise of Black Geographies By Malaika Laing-Grant

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-GrantBLAM’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

Source

McKittrick, K. (2006). Demonic grounds: Black women and the cartographies of struggle. Minneapolis: Univ. of Minnesota Press

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Why was the ‘Organisation of Women of Asian and African Descent’ (OWAAD) important?

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.[1] 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.[2]OWAAD functioned as an umbrella organisation, bringing together various groups of women with divergent interests and focuses.[3] 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.[4] 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.[5] 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’.[6] 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.


[1]British Library, ‘Sisterhood and After: The Women’s Liberation Oral History Project’, 3rd June 2011 <https://www.bl.uk/collection-items/stella-dadzie-owaad> last accessed 6/12/2019

[2] Ibid

[3] Bethany Warner, ‘The Organisation of Women of Asian and African Descent: constructing a collective identity’, 2016 <http://www.bristol.ac.uk/media-library/sites/history/documents/dissertations/Bethany_Warner2016.pdf > last accessed 6/12/2019

[4] Tess Gayhart, ‘Beyond the SS Empire Windrush: London’s Black History in the Archives’, 9thMay 2016

<https://blogs.kcl.ac.uk/kingshistory/category/teaching/> last accessed 6/12/2019

[5] Sophia Siddiqui,’ Still at the Heart of the race, Thirty years on’, 6th September 2018 < http://www.irr.org.uk/news/still-the-heart-of-the-race-thirty-years-on/> last accessed 6/12/2019

[6] Ibid(1)

By Isabelle Ehiorobo

Black Foods in the USA

by Rianna Wilson

Summertime cookout.

Food is a big deal in the US and Black food is an even bigger deal. We have all seen pictures of the elaborate and hearty cookouts, barbecues, seafood boils, Juneteenth celebrations, and the festive holiday meals that Black Americans make. So, what makes their meals different? The answer is Soul.

“Soul food is one of the many ways enslaved Africans were able to keep a link to their original homes and traditions.”

Soul food is one of the many ways enslaved Africans were able to keep a link to their original homes and traditions. It was a way for them to create an identity for themselves in this foreign land of America. The term ‘Soul Food’ itself became popular in the 1960s/70s during the Black Power Movement.

You can see the cultural retention of West and Central Africa food ways on Black American foods, from the ingredients put in dishes. Ingredients like hot peppers, okra, rice, and black-eyed peas to name a few. The methods used to cook food, methods like roasting meat over open fire, frying in palm oil and more were also retained in African-American cooking styles. During the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, enslaved Africans in an effort to replenish and retain their cultures took the food provisions that were available to them and impressed their traditional cooking styles and flavours to develop a cuisine and delicacy that was unique to their history and experiences both during and after enslavement. The recipes and meals found in Soul Food tell a rich history of the origins of enslaved Africans, the journey of the Middle Passage, the fight for emancipation, and the resilience and strength that defines the Black American community.

Crab cleaning in South Georgia.

Now for our favourite foods and their history…

Gumbo – Louisiana

If you’ve watched The Princess and the Frog then you’ll be familiar with this dish. Originating from the Louisiana Creole tradition in New Orleans, Gumbo is the official state cuisine of Louisiana, and rightly so. It’s a stew usually made with shrimp, chicken and sausage served with rice.

It combines culinary practices from Africa, France, Spain, and Indigineous Americans. It is a real melting pot of cultures. It also includes the African top three ingredients, which I hope you haven’t forgotten – onions, tomatoes, and hot peppers. Cooked for at least three hours, gumbo is definitely a dish that has a lot of heart and soul in it.

Pepper Pot – Philadelphia

This dish is interesting because when I think of pepper pot, Philadelphia doesn’t come to mind. I automatically think of countries in the Caribbean such as Guyana, Grenada, or Trinidad and Tobago. Philly’s pepper pot can be traced as far back as the 1600s and is said to have been imported by West Indians who ‘moved’ to the area, but became popular in the 19th century when Black women started selling it on the street. It was so popular, that Campbell’s Soup Company started selling it in tins in 1899 and didn’t stop producing it until 2010. The canned soup kept the legacy of pepper pot soup alive for a little longer as the dish had started to become less popular in Philadelphia restaurants in the 1990s.

Newspaper archive clipping of advertisement
of Campbell’s ‘pepper pot soup’.
Hot Sauce & Collard Greens – Black America

I got a hot sauce in my bag” — Beyoncé, 2016

Oh, oh, collard greens” — ScHoolboy Q, 2013

It is impossible to talk about Black food in America without mentioning hot sauce. It’s a staple in their cuisine, the perfect accompaniment to any savoury dish. Not too different from the use of shitto in West African cuisine. Usually made from tabasco or cayenne peppers, hot sauce adds a little heat to any dish.

Collard greens are another Black American staple food. Collards are vegetables that have large green leaves and tough stems. Collard greens are usually cooked with pork (bacon or ham hock). The dish is so popular that in 2011 it became the official dish of South Carolina.

The Food of Juneteenth

Juneteenth was a lesser known holiday to those outside of the US, but to Black Americans it is an extremely important day of celebrating and remembering. On 19th June, Black Americans commemorate the day that the last of the enslaved Africans were notified of their freedom in 1865.

Image courtesy of the
Children’s Museum of Manhattan.

The main feature of the Juneteenth feasts are the ‘red foods’, used as a remembrance of the bloodshed of the enslaved. Some of the featured red food dishes are watermelon, tomato salad, red velvet cake, and strawberry pie. The seemingly most important part of a Juneteenth celebration is the famous red drink. Made from the hibiscus flower, it is usually served in Kool-Aid or as a Jamaican Sorrel. The drink comes with a long history that acknowledges the culinary traditions and goods, brought over to America by enslaved Africans.

Black foods are a staple of American culture. Taking influence from other Black countries around the world, Black people living in America were able to establish their own culinary identity, one that is recognised globally.

Black Foods in South America & The Caribbean

by Rianna Wilson

We’re back for another installment of ‘Black Foods In…’ and today we are looking at foods eaten in South America and the Caribbean.

So how did Black foods (and people) end up in South America and the Caribbean?

I think the answer is simple, the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade — the forced kidnapping of Africans who were brought to the Americas during the 15th century and on. These Africans brought with them their culinary skills and knowledge and adapted it to the foods native to their new homes. They also brought with them their cooking methods such as; frying, boiling/simmering, roasting, and steaming (usually wrapping foods in large leaves from different fruit trees). These methods are still used throughout South America and the Caribbean (Alexa, play Chi Ching Ching – Roast or Fry).

Our favourite foods in focus

Rice and Peas – Jamaica

In Ghana there’s a dish called Waakye, it is the ancestor of Rice and Peas. The cooking method and ingredients may differ but the similarities are impossible to ignore. Think of it as a long-lost great-uncle.

Cast your mind back to the post about foods in Africa, we spoke about how grains like rice were a staple due to the ease of being able to grow it cheaply. This same principle followed Africans to Jamaica and so the dish of Rice and Peas was born. For bonus points, I hope you also remember the three base ingredients  of African cooking. Two parts of the three  feature in almost all Caribbean dishes – onions and peppers/spices. No dish worth its salt (see what I did there) can exist without these two ingredients; and though it is a fairly simple dish, Rice and Peas is no exception to this rule.

Why use beans but call them peas?

There’s always confusion when non-Black people make this dish and so you often end up seeing white rice with green garden peas, rather than flavoured rice with kidney beans. Why use beans but call them peas? Maybe it’s because you can also use gungo peas (formally known as pigeon peas) and red cow peas to make the dish. In all honesty, it just seems to be a tradition that has been passed down through generations without much explanation.

Ackee – The Caribbean

Often visually mistaken for scrambled eggs, ackee is a soft fluffy fruit found in the Caribbean. As the national fruit of Jamaica it plays a big part in the island’s cuisine, with it most famously being paired with saltfish to make an amazing breakfast dish or side dish to go with your dinner (here’s an easy recipe to try out). However the fruit has a deadly side. If it isn’t picked, deseeded and cleaned properly it can cause serious health issues, which is why many countries including the UK & US, only allow it to be imported already canned.

Mofongo – Puerto Rico

Here’s a picture for this one because I know you said “who??” after reading that word. A dish made from mashed plantain; it hails from the West African Fufu. Although it has a different consistency and flavour, you can see the similarities in the way it is eaten. The Dominican Republic have their own version which is called Mangú and is made from cassava.

Delicious mofongo 😍
Feijoada – Brazil

This is Brazil’s national dish. I know, a Black food is a South American national dish, crazy right?

The stew’s main ingredient is soaked black beans, with seasonings and various meats added along the way. When money and resources were scarce for enslaved Africans, they would have to make the best of whatever they could find. In this dish you’re likely to find a variety of cuts of meat. The dish has links back to several African countries such as Angola, Mozambique, and Cape Verde

Acarajé – Brazil

Also known as; Akara (Yoruba), Kosai (Hausa) and Kose (Ghana), these little balls of peeled beans deep fried in oil are the perfect snack. It travelled to the streets of Brazil with the enslaved West Africans and has become a staple in Brazilian cuisine. But the little balls of joy are more than just a tasty snack, they have important cultural and historical significance. The bean cake is reported to have made its way to Bahia in the 19th century and was sold as street food. Earnings from its sale was used to sometimes buy the freedom of enslaved family members until the abolition of slavery in Brazil in 1888 while serving as a source of family income.

Acarajé is also used as a religious offering in the Afro-Brazilian religion Candomblé. It is a food of many talents!

The most inspiring part of this is how heavily influenced South American food is by Black African cuisine. Really showing that they are a part of the rich historical tapestry that makes up many South American communities. Black foods in South America and The Caribbean have become staple foods and we love that for us.

Jungle Music & Gentrification

by Lucy Parkhouse
DJ Fabio at an early jungle rave, London, 1990s

The emergence of jungle music in the early 1990s deserves a special spot on the timeline of Black British music. The unique blend of reggae, reggaeton, dancehall, hip-hop, soul and funk sounds was built on a foundation of Black British artists, yet enjoyed commercially by the masses. Jungle music and the surrounding community marked a safe space for young Black people to partake in their own ‘rave-style’ events.

“If jungle was for the [B]lack, working-class youths, then acid house was for white, working-class youths.”

The Great In-Between for Medium.com

The roots of jungle music are widely acknowledged as stemming from Black creators, inspired by the generational sounds of the Windrush generation. Black Jungle artists were viewed as pioneering creators: Goldie, Rebel MC (noted for popularising the label ‘jungle’), Shy Fx, LTJ Bukem, and DJ Ron were household names for anyone in the Jungle music sphere. Writing in the late 1990s, David Hesmondhalgh noted this public appreciation for the Black origins of Jungle music, stating:

“Just as house music gained credibility from its origins in a [B]lack, underground scene, jungle gained much of its significance for white audiences from its roots in ‘hidden’ [B]lack British institutions: pirate radio stations, and dance clubs attended by predominantly [B]lack crowds.”

The rapid rise and fall in jungle music’s popularity might seem, on the surface, to represent the fast-paced nature of modern trends. Unfortunately, the truth lies uncomfortably on a bed of anti-Black racism. Jungle music as a Black art form naturally drew audiences of young, Black people, looking to, for a moment, escape the pressures that accompanied being a young Black person in a post-Thatcherite society. And those who simply wanted to enjoy a party space created with their creolised history and identity in mind. Gatherings that attract significant numbers of Black people have always been police targets. Marc Mac, interviewed by Kwame Safo for Mixmag, spoke on this:

“I do think it’s got to do with a lot of the outside institutional pressures, from policing, from government and putting pressure on the clubs because they could see jungle being a very Black entity, so then you’re going to get this backlash.”

Two girls dancing at Voodoo Magic, The Empire, London, 1995

The solution? Jungle was rebranded and colonised into the much more palatable drum and bass: a genre that can be seen as the whitewashing and gentrification of jungle. Drum and bass was a repackaged version of jungle music, headed by white DJs and musicians such as Sub Focus, Netsky, and Chase and Status. The erasure of Black creators and listeners was noticeable and unsavoury, but unfortunately not unfamiliar.

“So I think those people making the policies were putting pressure on the clubs at the time, and the promoters could see that “ok if we call this a different night and we eliminate the jungle side of it, which is becoming very associated with the Black side of it, then we can get through and not have the hassle from the police and get out late licences and so on”. It’s almost like the hand was forced a bit to eliminate the Black side of it.”

Marc Mac for mixmag.net
Mikey Dread and Ras Kayleb pose with a soundsystem

The erasure of Black jungle artists paralleled the invisibility of Black women in the arena. Julia Toppin, a jungle historian, noted “[t]here were loads of women in the scene, but those contributions have not been appropriately documented. The women that were working in the background, the agents, the managers – all those things have been missing,”. It is important to acknowledge that even if the efforts of Black, male, jungle artists were re-written to conform to the white gaze, the efforts of the Black women involved were never even recognised.

Whilst jungle has attempted some mainstream re-emergence, its peak in popularity remains firmly grounded in the past. It is clear to see how racism and anti-Blackness played a vital role in its demise.

The History of Black Foods in Africa

by Rianna Wilson


Photo courtesy of @anniespratt

We all love food, right? Eating it, cooking it, even watching other people cook it. But have you ever thought about the history of the food you love to eat?

Today we are going to look at Black foods in Africa, mainly focusing on West Africa but we will take a quick trip around the rest of the continent too. When you think of (West) African food, what comes to mind? Jollof rice? Stew? Plantain? Pounded yam?Moi Moi? Egusi soup? Waakye? Cassava? Or Cassava Leaf stew? Let’s think about where these foods came from and why they are so important to the continent.

“African cooking is a part of

the universal human experience.

James C. McCann

As James C. McCann notes, ‘African cooking is a part of the universal human experience. Sauces, oils, herbs, and spices add flavour and texture to primary ingredients and remove food “from the state of nature and smother it in art.”A cuisine is thus a collection of dishes and meals that mark a distinct culture much in the way that styles of dress, music, or dance do. Cuisines behave like language families in that they are bodies of knowledge and practice “mutually intelligible” between several societies, locations, and ethnic identities.’

To fully explore  African foods and cuisines, we first have to establish our  geographical context. The first thing we know is that Africa has a warm and tropical hot climate. This of course has an effect on what can be grown and produced. Farmers have to base their harvests on the rainfall patterns and so they have to work smart and hard. Root vegetables and grains such as rice, yams, and cassava are staples in African dishes as they are easy and low-cost to grow. Peanuts are also a big part of West African cooking, often used to make soups and stews. Peanut oil is also used often as an alternative to palm and coconut oils. The grasslands found in these countries allow farmers to rear animals – cattle, goats and chicken, which is why these proteins are often in your favourite soups and stews.

The basis of almost all dishes are tomatoes, onions, and hot peppers. If you have not started your cooking prep with these three things, you are almost definitely not doing it right! We don’t make the rules, we are just here to enforce them. 😉

OUR FAVOURITE FOODS IN FOCUS
Jollof Rice
Photo courtesy of @simshomekitchen

The great debate, who’s jollof rice is better? Ghana or Nigeria? It’s a debate as old as time but did you know the dish does not even originate from either of these countries? Jollof rice can be traced back to the 14th century Wolof Empire, which was made of what is now Senegal & Gambia. It is believed that the dish then spread to other countries thanks to the far reaching Mali Empire.

Remember I told you about the three most important base ingredients of African cooking? No matter what country you’re from, your jollof must start with those three ingredients. Recipes start to differ after this; different countries use different rice grains (long grain versus  basmati), and some countries add extra vegetables  such as carrots and green peas. Regardless of how the dish is prepared, everyone can agree it tastes amazing!

Feel like trying out Senegambian jollof? Here’s a recipe you can use, make sure to let us know how it goes!

“West Africans have always had to be resourceful with their cuisine. Innovative and easy is the main theme throughout West African dishes but that does not mean that flavour has to be limited.”

Plantain
Photo courtesy of @evablue

Kelewele (Ghana), Alloco (Ivory Coast), Dodo (Nigeria), Makemba (Congo). 

These are some of the various names for fried plantain across Africa. Served as a snack, starter, or side dish; plantain is a staple in African food. There’s an art to plantain, different cuts for different dish types, Ghanaians add spices to make Kelewele, Nigerians pair it with gizzard to create Gizdodo.

It’s a simple but tasty food which is easy to prepare and is the first stove top dish that many West African children learn to cook alone. 

Puff-puff
Photo courtesy of @puffpuffministry

Also known as Bofroat (Ghana), Mikate (Congo), Akara (Sierra Leone), and Mandazi (Uganda). 

It is made of flour, yeast, sugar, butter, salt, and water. These little balls of dough bring joy with every bite. They can be eaten as a breakfast food or as a snack or sometimes even as a side dish. However you choose to eat them just know that one certainly will not  be enough.

Yam 
Photo courtesy of Specialty Produce

Fondly known as the ‘King of Crops’, yams are known for their large size, distinctive taste and ability to feature in everyday dishes. The food is so revered that the Igbo people and other West Africans hold annual celebrations called The Yam Festival. During the festivities, which take place between August and September, farmers give thanks for a bountiful harvest and discard old crops, making space for new ones to be grown. Many rely on farming as their sole source of income and so this ritual is an integral part of life. In some cultures yam is also seen as a sign of fertility and is used as part of wedding ceremonies. 

I could go on forever about Black foods in Africa but the main point is this. West Africans have always had to be resourceful with their cuisine. Innovative and easy is the main theme throughout West African dishes but that does not mean that flavour has to be limited. It’s also interesting to realise that many dishes are the same around the continent with just the slightest of alterations. And finally, if you take nothing else from this blog post, always remember – onions, tomatoes, and peppers are a must!!

The myth of “proper” English – How the ban on Black British English continues a colonial tradition of linguistic injustice

By Oyin Makinde & Eve Doran

Upon learning about the ‘language ban’ of Black British English (BBE) at Ark All Saints Academy, BLAM UK wrote an open letter detailing the harm caused by such practices and demanding the removal of it. In response, we received a short letter that ignored and misidentified language discrimination against Black British English (BBE) speakers.

The idealisation of Standard English, which we refer to as white mainstream English, that we experience today has been formulated over many years. In this article, we will cover how historically and currently, intentional practices are used to privilege standardised English and undermine BBE. To first understand what we mean when referring to BBE and Black Language, read our blog – Black languages throughout the Diaspora – BLAM UK CIC and Exploring Black Languages, a quick look at AAVE (African American Vernacular English).  

The myth of ‘proper’ English

The Middle English creole hypothesis, as it is known among linguists, provides evidence that English itself is a creole language. English is a mix of French, Latin, Celtic English and Western Germanic dialects. English borrowed many words from Old Norse following the Viking invasion and French was the official language of England after the Norman Conquest of 1066 by William the Conqueror of France until 1362. Prolonged contact between the two languages and the grammatical simplification of Middle English in comparison to Old English reinforce English’s position as a creole.  

The “proper” English which forms the standardised English imposed in our classrooms today was designed by a BBC committee in the 1920s. The non-regional accent reflected a small aristocratic minority in Southern England, it was a further 20 years before the broadcasters would allow a regional (Yorkshire) accent on the air. Hundreds of years prior, the English tried to stamp out Welsh and Gaelic knowing that gaining control over a group of people who kept a strong sense of self would be challenging. This implicitly recognised the relationship between language and identity and became a tool used across the English colonies. It is an example of English linguistic imperialism – enforcing the dominance of English by continuously upholding structural and cultural inequalities between English and other languages.

Language control and the cultural bomb

Ngũgĩ̃ wa Thiongʼo, the renowned Kenyan author, maintains in his book Decolonising the mind that the English language is an instrument of “spiritual subjugation” and native language should be embraced instead. He also believes that children learning through the colonial language will be forced to adopt the Eurocentric view of history that is told through the colonists’ viewpoint and presents images of what is civilised or barbaric. These negative images become internalised and association with their native language and culture becomes a source of embarrassment. (1986) He believes the enforcement of English acts as the wielding of a cultural bomb to: 

‘…annihilate a people’s belief in their names, in their languages, in their environment, in their heritage of struggle, in their unity, in their capacities and ultimately in themselves. It makes them see their past as one wasteland of nonachievement and it makes them want to distance themselves from that wasteland. It makes them want to identify with that which is furthest removed from themselves; for instance, with other peoples’ languages rather than their own’ (p.3) 

The new canon

Through Black British English, young Black Brits are taking back control of their language, and instead of encouraging them, schools are following historical patterns of linguistic injustice. April Baker-Bell (2020) dispels the myth that standard English is “the way educated people talk” and explores how Anti-Black Linguistic Racism persecutes Black-language speakers. She promotes linguistic justice as a way to centre the linguistic, cultural, racial, intellectual, and self-confidence needs of Black students. 

Black British English has been showcased by renowned poets Linton Kwesi Johnson and Benjamin Zephaniah whose uncompromising use of the collectively created language reflects the themes of resistance in their work, would the language ban apply to them? In 2018 Stormzy and Penguin Random House UK launched #MerkyBooks (award-winning imprint) with a clear aim – to publish books that will own and change the mainstream. Merky books are an inclusive and intersectional home to voices from untraditional spaces. It exists to break down barriers in the publishing industry. Merky Books are bringing the viral story Keisha the Sket to print, a book that’s language disrupts what is usually considered worthy of being in book form – ‘For so many of us Black Brits, the anonymous writer of Keisha The Sket – Jade LB – is as fundamental to the canon as Shakespeare or Dickens.’ (Gal-dem

Don’t say innit!

The policing of language is not exclusive to bans, but through tests and punishments pupils also are taught to reject the legitimacy of their bilingualism. The Ark All Saints Academy indirect language ban highlights the multiple ways in which linguistic discrimination takes place. From the research of Dr Ian Cushing he found teachers would often use statements like ‘[speak] properly’ when nonstandard English was used in lessons.

Together with this, tests are weaponised to reinforce the primacy of Standard English and conformity. An example Mr Cushing uses is a question from an English paper in 2017 where pupils were asked to identify which statement was in the correct form. “One option, ‘we was waiting in the playground’” was classed as wrong even though it would be accepted in multiple nonstandard forms (Cheshire & Fox 2009; Levey 2012). Naturally, these lower grades can then become evidence to justify the use of bans and further policing. 

Are you bilingual?

It is widely understood that BBE is slang, rather than another legitimate language in its own right. The lack of awareness means many children are misinformed at school as to their bilingualism. Instead, they are chastised and belittled when communicating in their most authentic way. In the working environment this manifests as ‘code-switching’ this has impacted even the likes of Michelle Obama through her career as detailed in her book ‘Becoming’. Moreover, Mrs Obama’s ancestry can be traced back to a people in South Carolinian, who were Transatlantic slaves with a rich cultural heritage. 

In the 1700’s, Georgian slave traders desired to monopolise the rice economy in America. Subsequently, they strategized to enslave and relocate those from West African coastal countries to the Southeast coast. Their plan was to profit from familiarity and expertises growing rice back home.The specific placement to the South Carolinian coastline resulted in the birth of the Gullah language. Gullah is unique in that it has a heavy African influence, with small aspects of Sierra Leonean languages wholly preserved. Gullahs are descendants of enslaved people captured from Senegal, Sierra Leone, Angola, Liberia, and other places along the western coast of Africa that resembled the marshland regions of coastal Carolina.

Their geographical placement provided a level of isolation from other cultural influences and allowed for the unique preservation of the Gullah heritage. 

Similar to BBE, Gullah is a creolised language that is crucial to the culture and identity of its people. This language was previously forbidden from educational spaces. However, four years ago Harvard University recognised a deficit in the knowledge available on this dying language and hired a Gullah Geechee instructor (Geechee being the Georgian specific creole) to teach this language. Black Learning and Mental Health UK (BLAM UK) is an organisation committed to ensuring Black heritage and culture is taught within its entirety within UK schools. Therefore, it is our aim that one day all educational institutions will take these same steps to teach, empower and celebrate Black British English!

Over to you

The fact that English is spoken so widely across the world speaks only to the lasting effects of British cultural imperialism and the empire’s attempts at control by eradicating culture. The classroom ban referenced is an attempt to maintain the sovereignty of Standardised English over Black British English in academic and professional spaces. This article provides an insight into the ways the languages of colonised peoples have been suppressed. We sought to expose the double standards of privileging Standard English and demonstrate how the classroom ban on BBE perpetuates a colonial tradition of linguistic discrimination. We as a society can begin to disrupt this tool of oppression in three simple ways listed below.

  1. Self-educate using the resources list below.
  2. Start a conversation – ask one of your contacts what they believe ‘proper English’ is and tag us on any of our social media to tell us how it goes (@blamcharity)
  3. Share an insight – post what have you learnt from this piece on social media and tag us on any of our social media to tell us how it goes (@blamcharity)

Self-education Resources

Type of resourceLink/where to findSummary
Readingwww.bbc.co.uk/voices/yourvoice/conversationExplanation of why the word “innit” is not slang.
Readinghttps://metro.co.uk/2020/03/03/what-is-code-switching-12221478/Article explaining what code-switching is and who it affects.
Readingwww.cambridge.org/core/journals/language-in-society/article/policy-and-policing-of-language-in-schools/Article by Ian Cushing highlighting harmful policies and practices against nonstandard English including his research findings.
ReadingThe Story of English: How an Obscure Dialect Became the World’s Most-Spoken Language – Book by Joseph PiercyThis book illustrates the history of how dialects spoken in what is now Europe became the most widely spoken language in the world.
Videohttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BmbzPzip4FsDr April Baker-Bell, Assistant Professor of Language, Literacy, and English Education at Michigan State University speaks about her book: Linguistic Justice: Black Language, Literacy, Identity, and Pedagogy

Campaign Update – Banning of Black British English at Ark All Saints Academy

On Monday 11th October we received a short letter from Principal Lucy Frame at Ark All Saints Academy in response to our open letter sent on 7th October. We were disappointed that the letter was generic and that it failed to respond to any of the points we raised in our detailed letter. 

The Academy’s letter stated that in response to the media attention, the term “banned words” has been changed to “Different forms of communication”. It is our understanding that with the new title the Academy will continue to police the use of Black British English (BBE) through an indirect ban.  The Academy’s response continues to make reference to BBE as informal language and claim that it undermines students’ ability to be heard or understood. Not only has there been a lack of acknowledgement from the academy to the harm it caused `Black British English speakers, the Academy’s decision to continue the policing of Black British English shows a failure to recognise the real issues and real-life implications caused by their institutionalised linguistic practices. 

We believe the ongoing denial of the legitimacy of BBE as its own language will ostracise Black pupils, and in turn have a negative impact on their racial and self-esteem alongside a sense of belonging which will, in turn, impact their educational experience.

If you are a student or teacher at the Academy and are affected by this policy, we would love to hear from you and provide further support and information. Please contact oyin@blamuk.org.

Exploring Black Languages, a quick look at AAVE (African American Vernacular English)

By Temi Oyenuga

Surely, you’ve heard of the words ‘bae’… ‘lit’… ‘trippin’, ‘what’s good’.

In your music, on social media, or maybe just in everyday conversation.

But have you ever stopped to wonder where these words actually come from?

The renowned lingo forms part of a language called AAVE.

For those who don’t know, AAVE is short for ‘African American Vernacular English’ and is a language created by African Americans. This language also falls within a body of work known as ‘Ebonics’- “Ebony” deriving from the word ‘Black’ and “phonics” derives from the word ‘sound’. ‘

According to Mr. Williams, the definition of Ebonics is:

…the linguistic and paralinguistic features which on a concentric continuum represents the communicative compentencee of the West African, Caribbean, and United States idioms, patois, argots, ideolects, and social forces of black people…Ebonics derives its form from ebony(black) and phonics(sound, study of sound) and refers to the study of the language of black people in all its cultural uniqueness. 

AAVE is part of the long history of Black languages; it is a system of sounds, words and sentence structures with strong African semantics. So when speakers know AAE, they know a system of sounds, word and sentence structure, meaning and structural organization of vocabulary items and other information.

Try out these AAVE sentences!

“Stay”

(1) Live, abide in a place. (2) To frequent a place. (3) To engage in activity frequently. (4) To be in some emotional state on most occasions. (5) Stay being used in the habitual

(1) I stay on New Orleans Street.

=   I live on New Orleans Street.

(2) She stay in that bathroom.

=   She’s always in the bathroom.

 (3) She stay running.

=   She’s always running.

(4) He stay in the air.

=   He’s a frequent flyer; he travels by airplane regularly.

(5) He stay angry.

=   He’s always angry.

“Be”

(1) To be in a continuing state.

“He be mad.”

“Girl, he be talkin’ all the time.”

“It be like, looking all funny and stuff any time I put ‘em in the dryer”

AAVE has pervaded much of popular mainstream culture and, like many other attributes of Black culture, it is rarely ever credited for its origins.

AAVE + Its Origins

Black languages came out of the experience of enslaved African and their descendents in the Diaspora.

West Africans – who were enslaved in the Americas – were forced to understand English on plantations. Newly enslaved West Africans would have limited access to learn to speak English and there were laws in place that forbade them from being taught to read English. There were also policies and laws in place, which ensured that enslaved Africans were not allowed to speak in their mother tongue.

The roots of this African American language further lie in the resistance to the above oppression.

The resistance movement is where enslaved African American created a coded way in which they spoke that relied on the grammatical understanding they had from Africa. It also relied on other techniques like using negative words to describe positive things so the white slave owners would not be able to understand them when they spoke to each other. Thus, AAVE was a speech created as a communication system by Black people unintelligible to speakers of the dominant white class.

The shared Black experience has resulted in common language practices in the African Diaspora. AAVE is just one of many examples of this.

Black speech has historically been mislabelled by mainstream White culture as broken forms of English or “slang”. However, these misconceptions are wrong and steeped heavily in negative, racist and colonialists views around “Blackness”.

AAVE is not “slang”.

AAVE is a language distinguished from English’s traditional grammatical and phonetic structure. It is steeped in the richness of Black culture and has strong ancestral roots.

And strong influences too.

Words like ‘bae’, which were originally concentrated in the Black South, had spread through much of the urban areas in the Midwest, before eventually spreading across the country to the Northeast and the West, too.

Well, why is this relevant?

Linguistic Appropriation of AAVE

Simple. Language appropriation.

Language appropriation is when a non-Black person, company or brand steals a language preserved uniquely for one ethnic group and strips it entirely of its context.

Many words and phrases, originating from AAVE have made their way into the local vernacular with words like ‘bae’ and ‘lit’ being used commonly by our White and non- Black counterparts.

And no, this is not “appreciation”.

A lot of times, AAVE will go mainstream without people ever knowing where the language actually comes from.

As Black cultural expressions function as symbols of Black identity and solidarity, White and Non-Black people’s imitation of AAVE dilutes the heritage and cultural significance of this language.

Additionally, AAVE is a dialect that is typically deemed as an unacceptable way of speaking but becomes perceived as ‘trendy’ and ‘cool’ once White people imitate the language.

White people can also use AAVE when it benefits them (e.g. in urban spaces) and dispose of it when it is no longer convenient.

Even mass media groups capitalise off of AAVE and play a major role in the process of appropriation.

Language policing + Code switching

However, many Black folks who genuinely speak this way do not have the privilege of switching between two dialects. Instead, we, as Black people, are often looked down upon and seen as “uneducated” or “informal” for using AAVE.

It is very common for Black people to sometimes internalise these beliefs, which leads to conflicts within ourselves about our identity. It also causes us to code switch; this is when Black people switch their mode of communication to adapt to the setting they are in. Code switching is commonly seen in professional settings and is viewed as a necessary tool for survival in these spaces.

Let me explain to you why code switching is bad.

First, it causes Black people to develop a negative bias towards their own language.

Black people may also, consciously or subconsciously, display feelings of cultural shame around their language. These behaviours reinforce anti-blackness and perpetrate the idea that “whiteness” is supreme and ultimately the standard.

As Black people, many of us are most comfortable when using AAVE in any setting. 

Many of us can still recall instances in own lives where we have shielded away from using our language? 

Maybe at school or at work? 

Instances where you’ve adapted your mode of speech to appear “better” or “smarter”?

But think for a minute.

And assess… What ideas am I reinforcing when I do this?

As Black people, it is difficult for us to challenge these negative assumptions on AAVE because we are conditioned within a white supremacist society to internalise racism and demonise our language and culture.

But, listen.

AAVE is a legitimate language and should be recognised as such.

So, don’t be pressed y’all about any misconceptions around AAVE.

Be proud of your language, rock it, and embrace it!

Press Release – BLAM Calls for the Immediate Reversal of a South London School’s Decision to Ban Black British English from the Classroom

Black Learning Achievement and Mental Health 

www.blamuk.org

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – THURSDAY 8 OCTOBER 2021

BLAM UK Press Release: Leading Black Organisation Calls for the Immediate Reversal of a South London School’s Decision to Ban Black British English from the classroom.

A South London Secondary School, Ark All Saints Academy, has banned the use of Black British English (BBE) in ‘formal learning settings’. Black Learning Achievement and Mental Health UK CIC (BLAM UK), a grassroots organisation, is calling for the immediate reversal of this decision to ban the use of Black British English (BBE). The policy degrades and harms Black students by reinforcing anti-Black linguistic racism, classism, and an ideology of white supremacy by reinforcing elitist forms of English as the “norm” whilst simultaneously othering and criminalising BBE.

Black British English (BBE) is a legitimate language and form of expression. BBE is the intersection between African, Caribbean, and white mainstream English and has its own syntactic and grammatical structure. Alison Donell states, ‘creole in Britain has since become the language of Afro-Caribbean and, more generally of Black youth culture.’ The creolization of these languages has a long history dating back to African enslavement by European powers and the American and Caribbean plantation systems, where enslaved Africans were forced to create alternative ways of communication. The white imperialist agenda stigmatised these languages to reinforce their racist view that Black people are inferior.

According to a Guardian analysis, Black students are between three to four times more likely to be excluded from school than their white counterparts. This disparity is clear evidence of institutional racism in British schools and the banning of BBE will likely intensify this figure further. The blatant privileging of whiteness and white middle-class identity is discriminatory and damning to Black students that already suffer from societal and institutional marginalisation. Would this infringement on Black children’s learning also extend to classroom material like Black British writers such as Benjamin Zephaniah and Linton Kwesi Johnson whose work would no longer be in line with school policies?

‘Code-Switching’ is the practice of policing Black individuals’ ways of speaking, acting, and interacting with white people and culture. This level of cultural policing is being institutionalised by this school and is being enforced on children. This creates a climate of fear, confusion, and low racial and self-esteem for Black students who should be celebrated for their bilingualism. This hinders creativity and expression by preventing Black students from normalizing BBE in spaces where it is fundamental, such as in various music, art, intellectual and other cultural spaces. There is no data to support the notion that the use of BBE hinders the educational achievement of Black students, children are able to navigate the duality of their language, it is the institutionally racist education system that is in fact the hindrance. 

Not only is this clear anti-Black racism, but this is also unlawful and violates the Equality Act 2010, The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989), The Education Act 2002 and lastly The UN Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

BLAM UK rejects the guise of whiteness on Black language and culture and demands:

  1. The reversal of the policy with immediate effect.
  2. Ensure staff attend professional training on language discrimination.
  3. An adjustment of existing school policies to honour BBE and other languages used by students from Black backgrounds.

Founding Director of BLAM UK Ife Thompson says: 

The implementation of this policy reinforces the ideology of the inferiority of Black languages linking to the historically racist and imperialist view of Black people as ‘less than.’ BLAM rejects the guise of ‘professionalism and preparation for the future’ as explanations provided by the school for the ban. There are Black professional work spaces that would require fluency in BBE. We also need to think deeply about the historical implications of what we deem to be ‘proper’ English. 

Please contact: 

oyin@blamuk.org or hello@blamcharity.co.uk for further comments. 

Sources:

https://www.google.com/amp/s/amp.theguardian.com/education/2021/mar/24/exclusion-rates-black-caribbean-pupils-england

https://www.theguardian.com/education/2021/sep/30/oh-my-days-linguists-lament-slang-ban-in-london-school

BLAM UK’s Open Letter to Ark All Saints Academy

Open Letter to:

All Saints School Academy 

140 Wyndham Rd,

London,

SE5 0UB

By Email Only                                                                                                      07 October 2021

Dear Ms Lucy Frame,

Re: Banning and Policing of the Use of Black British English  

This is a letter from Black Learning Achievement and Mental Health (“BLAM”), a Black grassroots organisation that supports the Black Community in the UK under three limbs: cultural education, advocacy and wellbeing. 

In a very short summary, we have a shared commitment to advocating on anti-Black racism/ injustice with particular concern for the impacts of these injustices on the wellbeing of Black communities and/or safeguarding the legal rights of members of our community. More detail  can be found about BLAM here

Fundamentally, we write to raise our concerns with your “banned” language list and demand that you reverse this policy with immediate effect as it is unlawful, racially discriminatory and harmful. We state this for the three following reasons:

  1. It harms the racial esteem and in turn well-being of Black children 
  2. It reproduces and normalises Anti-Black Linguistic Racism
  3. It is not in line with the Equality Act 2010, The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989) and The Education Act 2002. 

We note from The Guardian Newspaper, that Your Academy wants to ensure its students thrive in all areas of life. We hope to work constructively with you and your senior leadership team to address this issue and to ensure that your students’ rights are respected going forwards. 

History of the Black British English Language

Oxford Dictionary defines language as 

the principal method of human communication, consisting of words used in a structured and conventional way and conveyed by speech, writing, or gesture.”

Black British English (‘BBE’) is a language and a form of expression. BBE is sometimes incorrectly referred to as ‘slang’. BBE is the intersection between African and Caribbean languages and white mainstreamed English. The creolisation of these various languages was initially recognised as Black British Creole, but today is also referred to as Black British English. BBE has its own syntactic and grammatical structure which is different to white mainstreamed English. Recognising this language as slang or ‘poor English’ is harmful and degrading in particular to the identity of Black students who use this language. It can also lead to the internalisation of negative perceptions about themselves and their fellow language speakers.We explain this below.

The freedom to use and embrace BBE is crucial. When describing the progression of Black British culture author Alison Donnell states

 “Creole in Britain has since become the language of Afro-Caribbean and, more generally of Black youth culture.” 

Negative attitudes towards BBE is a widely studied and well-known area amongst linguists and scholars. Professor Vivian Edwards as far back as 1979 conducted a study that highlighted linguistic misconceptions and negative attitudes towards Black Creoles historically. She noted Black Creoles have been strongly associated with disadvantage and not recognised as a distinct language. Another 1979 study showed Creole as an “integral part” of a Black person’s identity. 

Banning this language in formal environments amounts to institutionalised code-switching, with the acceptance of punishment as a given, if not adhered to. It is of note that in the UK Black Children are already over-punished within the education system; they remain 3 times more likely to be excluded from school than their white counterparts. We at BLAM UK along with many Linguistic Activists reject code-switching because it places whiteness and white mainstream English on a pedestal while showcasing Blackness and Black Language as inferior, lesser, and secondary. Instead, we encourage, utilise, and elevate the beauty and brilliance in Blackness and Black Language. The American academic April Baker-Bell explains that Black students 

” – – are being asked to switch their language, their cultural way of being and knowing, their community, their blackness in favour of a white middle-class identity.”  

We reject the guise of professionalism and preparation for the future as explanations for the ban. The exclusive application of the policy to formal learning settings reinforces the ideology of the inferiority of Black languages. This links back to historically racist and imperialist views of Black people that position us as less than. It also doesn’t allow for the normalisation of the fact that some Black students may be going to work in Black spaces like music, arts, journalism, film and other cultural spaces. These are spaces that would require them to be fluent and well versed in Black British English. It is in fact:​​ “super ironic that Black English speech is dismissed and devalued as being linguistically broken, and at the same time is one of the richest sources of lexical innovation in English”. It should be treated and celebrated as such in all spaces. 

The Equality Act 2010

The Equality Act 2010 (‘EA 2010) imposes a number of legal obligations on the workplace, public bodies and wider society to protect against unlawful discrimination on the grounds of “protected characteristics” which include race and ethnicity.

Section 13 of the EA 2010 prohibits direct discrimination based on a protected characteristic.

Section 19 prohibits indirect, which includes policies that are seemingly harmless, but disproportionately affect any group because of their protected characteristic.

Section 149 places a Public Sector Equality Duty on authorities exercising a public function. In doing so, they must to have due regard to 

  1. eliminate discrimination, harassment, victimisation and any other conduct that is prohibited by or under this Act;
  2. advance equality of opportunity between persons who share a relevant protected characteristic and persons who do not share it;
  3.  foster good relations between persons who share 

Therefore, if your current policy does not allow for the lawful exercise of Black British English, a Black language, in the learning space, then that policy is unlawful. Black children who are bilingual speakers and those who speak Black British English as a second language will be indirectly more affected by this ban than their racial counterparts who do not speak this language. The ban disproportionately notes words used by Black British English speakers. Any decisions taken in the application of the policy must be proportionate and in accordance with the law, including that set out above.

Education Act 2002

Section 78 of the 2002 Education Act which applies to all maintained schools states; 

General requirements in relation to curriculum:

  1. The curriculum for a maintained school or maintained nursery school satisfies the requirements of this section if it is a balanced and broadly based curriculum which—
  1. promotes the spiritual, moral, cultural, mental and physical development of pupils at the school and of society, and
  2. prepares pupils at the school for the opportunities, responsibilities and experiences of later life.

Academies are also required to offer a broad and balanced curriculum in accordance with Section 1 of the 2010 Academies Act.

The current Language ban does not allow Black British Students to have access to an educational curriculum that accounts for their bilingualism. They are instead punished for speaking two languages which instead harms the cultural development of pupils at the school. Language mastery should not solely be limited to white manistreamed English; children should have the option within their learning environment to become well versed in language that they and their peers regularly use. If the school was promoting a broad and balanced Educational curriculum they would have a language curriculum that is in line with the Education Act 2002, s.78 (1b) that prepares them for opportunities and experiences in later life as Black- British English speakers. 

It is also of note that the decision to ban Black British English from the learning space would mean that the works of Black British Poets like Benjamin Zephaniah and Linton Kwesi Johnson could no longer be studied within classrooms at your school. Benjamin Zephaniah is a poet that has been widely read and studied in schools across the UK. 

If the school was acting in line with its duty to provide a broad and balanced education, Black Language would be acknowledged and studied within the current curriculum. In providing a broad and balanced education teachers must engage their students with an understanding of anti-Black linguistic racism whilst providing them with the tools to have the agency to critically decide when to use their language, whilst giving them an understanding of the current white linguistic hegemonies in society and ways in which they can disrupt and dismantle this.

UN Convention on the Rights of the Child

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, in which the young people at your Academy are individual rights holders under, emphasises the importance of minority children being able to enjoy their own culture or use their own language (Article 30).

The Convention highlights minority groups as including linguistic minorities. 

The BBE words identified on the list allow for expression, personality and creativity. Subsequently, enabling Black students to enjoy their own culture. While a distinction was made by the headteacher in the Guardian article that this policy will not apply to “general use” and “social interactions” the article does not stipulate there is a limitation as to when the culture may be enjoyed.

As a Public Body the school should be promoting the enjoyment of international children’s rights within its learning environment, the current school policy directly prohibits this for Black British English speakers.

Conclusion 

We invite the school to use the current experience as a chance to promote the understanding of the culture and history of Black people. Especially, given the present timeliness of Black History Month. Our organisation BLAM UK would be happy to assist in a collaboration to educate as to Black British English and heritage and find ways your school can promote linguistic justice.

BBE is a rich language and a form of expression amongst Black children in particular. The association of this language with ‘slang’ and seeing those using the language as unable to articulate clearly and accurately is racist. The ban of a language used primarily amongst Black students is disproportionate and is incompatible with the Equality Act 2010 and Education Act 2002. Further, the ban amounts to a gross failure to comply with the Public Sector Equality Duty under s.149 EA 2010. Finally, it appears that the policy is contrary to your own policy and ethos as well as the school’s common goals.

Please, therefore:

  1. Reverse the policy with immediate effect;
  2. Ensure staff attend professional training on language discrimination;
  3. Adjust your existing school policy to honour BBE and other languages used by students from Black backgrounds.

We are open to collaborating with your school and provide appropriate training and education on Black British English and heritage and find ways your school can promote linguistic justice.

In the event that this letter is ignored, we will have no option but to take further action in regard to this matter.

Yours faithfully,

Black Learning Achievement and Mental Health (BLAM UK)

Queenie Djan,  Barrister
Roxy Legane,  Kids of Colour
Temi Mwale, The 4Front Project
Jodi-Ann Johnson – Teacher
Florencr Cole, Solicitor at Just for Kids Law
Andréa Hounto, Lawyer
Eve Doran, BLAM UK
Ife Thompson, BLAM UK Founder, UN Fellow and Lawyer
Pamilerin, Cultural Worker
Patricia Daley,  Lawyer
Kayleigh Broughton, Consultant Social Worker
Daria Karim, Doctor
Chris Daley,  Engineer
Donna Guthrie, BARAC UK Women’s Officer
Zehrah Hasan, Barrister, Garden Court Chambers
London Bell, UN African Descent Fellow, OHCHR – United States
Zita Holbourne, National Chair and Co-founder BARAC UK
Fatima Jichi, Barrister, Garden Court Chambers
Tinu Adeshile, Solicitor
Dr Feryal Ryan, Kings College London
Grace Saunders, Trainee Teacher
Akil Hunte, Trainee Solicitor
Ayo Sosanya, Solicitor
Olamide Ogunrinade, Barrister
Janice Browne, Therapist
Benedicte Balande, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer
Cyrilia Knight, Partner
Ikram Warsame, Global Black Collective Institute, Human Rights Lawyer Canada
Brenda Efurhievwe, Lawyer
Dr Feryal Ryan, Kings College London
Oyin Makinde, BLAM UK
Monty Onanuga, Banker
Jon Lewis-Darke, Every Interaction 
Zachary Whyte, Solicitor, BPLS
Maria Uzor, Artist
Sonia Larbi-Aissa, Paralegal
Carlene Jones, Student Mentor
Justin’s Obaoye-Ajala, Kentyna Solicitors
Farheen Ahmed, Paralegal)
Nicole Modeste – Solicitor
Jessica Perera, Oxford University
Omowammidokun – Mental Health Support Worker
Rachel P, LSWU
Phoebe Sally Fisher, BLAM UK
Tsungai Chikwanha, BLAM UK
Yashna Patel BPLS
Charlie Sharp, GARA alumni
Jessa Mockridge, Goldsmiths Library
Edain Bradley, Student
Rita Rasheed, BLAM UK
Sepphiah Barrett, Studio Assistant
Victoria Eyabunoh, General Adviser
Sophie Taylor, Baby People UK
Princess Gayle, Actor
Bernice Ackah, Lawyer
Niya Namfua, BLAM UK
Ciara Bowen, Red Fightback, Student
Lauren Desjardins, Stage Manager
Charmel Koloko, Hackney CVS
Khallum Caller – HCVS – Youth Leader
Neil Barrett, Rackspace Windows Operations Engineer
Deborah Martins – Paralegal
TOFUNMI DA’COSTA KINGS COLLEGE LONDON
Joshua O’Connor – Software Engineer
Laura Siebenhaar, student Goldsmiths UoL
Jamila Thompson – Educator/Researcher
Samuel Fisher – PhD student
Student at Goldsmiths College
Sarah Adejuwon
Emily Rose Budinger, Southern Rail
Grant McPhillips: Red Fightback
Lyndon Walters I-Coach
Hazel Faye Davis, AudioActive – Youth Worker
Abigail Asante, Hackney CVS , Youth leader/musician
Corinna Ritch BLAM UK
RH – Red Fightback
Jodyfindley Lecturer
Emmanuel Akin. Political Lead (YoungPeople) Hackney
Sheine Alexander, Employee Engagement Manager
Jacalynn Ryder RFB
Daniele James, Community worker.
Gabriel Okafor – Student, Goldsmiths University of London
Eva Goodwin, Student at Goldsmiths
Julia Evans, Student at University of Edinburgh
Dominika Lloyd-Brown, Asset Management Intern
Zahra Abdi
Sam Glasper – Red Fightback, IWW, UCU, ACORN
Angela Sun, student
Rahma Musd
Lynn Holden
Ellie Walton, Goldsmiths College
James Foster, Teacher
Juhi Patel, King’s College London, Student
Ashleigh Thompson-Brown, Fertility Nurse
Matthew Hayhow, Collections Associate
Clover Lewis-Darke
Damon Hotz
James Cuttell
Luke Sullivan
Prisca Miansiantima
A Ahmed
Jon Lewis-Darke, Every Interaction
Ms C Lewis-Darke
Jane Morris, Playwright
Juliana Amaa
Matthew Lee, NEU member
Georgina Hodges
Imma Koigi. Health Promotions Programme Coordinator
Siobhan Daley
Davina Dhallu
Riana Meli Browne
Jesse Gilbert
Deborah Reavey

The historic significance of community-based collective action in decolonising education By Eve Doran

The discourse around decolonising education has been brought to the public stage in recent years. Activists, academics, educators, parents, and students alike have voiced their concerns about the whitewashing of British history and anti-Blackness in all levels of education.  

An important early initiative towards the decolonising the curriculum movement as we know it today that tackled anti-blackness and racism in schools was the ESN (Educationally Sub-Normal) campaign, spearheaded largely by Black mothers roused by Bernard Coard’s exposé ‘How the West Indian Child is Made Educationally Sub-Normal in the British Education System’. [1] Teacher prejudice placed Black children in specific schools for the so-called educationally sub-normal, the stories of these children have been brought to light in the recent BBC documentary ‘Subnormal: A British Scandal’. Western scientific theories about race and intelligence developed to justify the colonial subjugation of African peoples ensured that, for many Black children, going through the UK school system in the sixties was a traumatising experience. School textbooks compounded the negative stereotypes and racist beliefs held by many teachers and their low expectations for Black pupils affected pupils’ performance, reifying the misconceptions. Black parents’ anger towards these injustices fuelled a collective community response that gave rise to The Black Parents movement and the Black Supplementary School movement.[2] Radical book publishers Eric and Jessica Huntley formed the Black Parents Movement in 1975 following the assault and arrest of 17 year old Black schoolboy Cliff McDaniel. The Caribbean Education and Community Workers Association (CECWA), of which Eric and Jessica Huntley were founding members, was the first specialist Black education group to have been established in the UK. The Huntleys were key figures in the grassroots campaigns that fought for the British African-Caribbean community. They were also involved with a movement organised by the North London West Indian Association (NLWIA) that challenged Haringey Council’s plan to assess all pupils using IQ tests, which are now discredited.[3] Community action must always be centered in discussions about decolonisation, the mobilisation of the Black community provided young people with learning that would not only supplement their schooling but that would instil in them a sense of pride and identity.

Photo credit Jelvon Shadrache

For many reasons, the university has been the primary focal point in decolonisation efforts. The decolonising the university movement has a long transnational history visible in the Negritude movement of Aimé Césaire, Senghor and Damas, African diaspora students’ response to their encounters with racism in French educational institutions, inspired by the Harlem renaissance Negritude asserted Black identity through creative expression. Like the African-American students who during the Black Power era protested and occupied campus buildings in demand for reforms to racist institutional practices. Student activists centred Black experience and studied the knowledge produced by people of African descent in their own experimental universities.[4] Recent student-led campaigns denounce the colonial tradition being upheld by university institutions that retain pillaged treasures from colonised lands and commemorate imperialists and slave traders.[5] Rhodes Must Fall in Oxford addresses Oxford University’s colonial legacy on three levels: colonial iconography such as statues, the selective and Eurocentric narrative of traditional academia, and underrepresentation and lack of welfare support for “BAME” (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) staff and students.[6] The UCL Why is my Curriculum White campaign challenged the culturally homogenous curricula across UK universities. Movements advocating the decolonisation of the curriculum vary in the elements they address spanning across different curriculum areas and subjects, stages of education, empires, regions, elements of colonial tradition, there is also not consensus on just one conclusive definition of decolonisation.[7] These movements have been extremely influential and empowered many students to initiate similar campaigns in the universities they attend.

Photo credit Scottie Grills & Zoe Doran

Nakagawa[8] argues that we have located decolonisation within modern knowledge, standards, and norms that are based on colonial ideologies. Therefore, any real decolonising movement must seek to dismantle all colonial legacies, including structures and ideologies that sustain a belief in the superiority of Western knowledge. Lived-experience and community-based knowledge should not be minimised, we need to ask who we trust to tell our stories? The Free Black University maintains that we cannot ‘decolonise something that is built on colonisation itself’. The project offers a space that can produce decolonial knowledge, outside of the confines of the Western university. By providing free, decolonial, accessible education they seek to address the impact coloniality is having on Black mental health. BLAM offer school-based projects and Black history education that takes place within the community. Black narratives should not be additional or alternative, Black history is all of our histories. It is necessary to remember that decolonisation is an ongoing process and involves a deep collective unlearning[9] to divest from colonial practices and beliefs that invisibilise Black Britons contributions to this country and beyond. 

To learn more – 

Read: Heart of the Race: Black Women’s Lives in Britain by Beverley Ryan, Stella Dadzie & Suzanne Scafe – Book

Read: The Black Supplementary School is as Essential as Ever by Fiona Rutherford https://blackballad.co.uk/views-voices/saturday-schools–black-supplementary-schools-movement – Article

Watch: Small Axe (TV mini-series 2020) by Steve McQueen. Episode 5: Education

Watch: Subnormal: A British Scandal (2021 documentary) directed by Lyttanya Shannon

Listen: Pluto Books podcast – Radicals in Conversation: Decolonising the University https://www.plutobooks.com/blog/podcast-decolonising-the-university/ 

Visit: https://www.blackhistorymonth.org.uk/

Sources

[1]Coard, B. (1971). How the West Indian child is made educationally subnormal in the British school system: the scandal of the black child in schools in Britain. London: New Beacon Books.

[2]Bryan, B., Dadzie, S., & Scafe, S. (1993). The heart of the race: black women’s lives in Britain. London, Virago Press.

[3]https://www.blackhistorymonth.org.uk/article/gallery/test-diane-julie-abbott-politician/

[4]Pimblott, K. (2020) Decolonising the University: The Origins and Meanings of a Movement. The Political Quarterly. 91: 1, 210-216. 

[5]Bhambra, G. K., Gebrial, D. & Nisancioglu, K. (2018) Decolonising the University. London: Pluto Press.

[6]Peters, M. A. (2018)Why Is My Curriculum White? A Brief Genealogy of Resistance. In Arday, J. & Mirza, H. S. Dismantling Race in Higher Education: Racism, Whiteness and Decolonising the Academy. Cham: Palgrave MacMillan

[7]Bhambra, G. K., Gebrial, D. & Nisancioglu, K. (2018) Decolonising the University. London: Pluto Press.

[8]Nakagawa, S. (2021) Auto-decolonisation: Lifelong education for decolonization. INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL FOR LIFELONG EDUCATION. (ahead-of-print), 1-13. 

[9]Yancy, G. (2008) Black bodies, white gazes: the continuing significance of race. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Pub.