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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

Zero Tolerance policies, a tool that entrenches anti-Blackness in UK Schools

By Ife Thompson

Since the advent of the US-based charter Schools in the early 1990s, there has been a steady increase in UK schools towards the use of zero-tolerance behaviour policies. This is a behavioural policy that increases the likely hood of pupils in general, but Black pupils in particular, of being placed in Pupil Referral Units (PRU) or Alternative Provisions (AP). The abrupt expansion and normalisation of zero-tolerance discipline policies has helped to entrench racist educational outcomes for Black children. This is because zero-tolerance policies severely limit discretion in individual cases, are not in line with equality law and solidifies the removing students from school.

Zero tolerance disciplinary policies warrant particular exploration, firstly because of the racially discriminatory impact it has on Black students, and because of questions regarding their effectiveness and legality.

In this short piece, I will explore how institutionalised racism is furthered and maintained through the education system under the guise of Zero-Tolerance policies. I will draw on secondary data alongside Blam UK’s personal caseload to unpack these points.

Before we begin, I have some explainers for key terms that will be discussed in detail within this piece: 

  • Alternative provision (AP): alternative provision is education for pupils who, because of exclusion, illness or other reasons, would not otherwise receive suitable mainstream education. AP education includes education arranged by schools for pupils on a fixed-term exclusion; and pupils being directed by schools to off-site provision to improve their behaviour.
  • AP academy: PRUs that convert to academy status become AP academies. PRUs can convert on their own, as part of a chain of academies, or with the support of a sponsor.
  • Pupil Referral Unit (PRU): an establishment run by a local authority which is specifically organised to provide education for children who would not otherwise receive it. This can be, for example, because they are excluded or have a mental or physical health condition that means they cannot attend their normal school.
  • Zero Tolerance Policies: Originally developed as an approach to drug enforcement (Skiba & Rausch, 2006), the term became widely adopted in schools in the early 1990s as a philosophy or policy that mandates the application of predetermined consequences, most often se- vere and punitive in nature, that are intended to be applied regardless of the gravity of behavior, mitigating circum- stances, or situational context. 

School exclusions in the UK disproportionately affect Black pupils, the evidence of these disparities is overwhelming and well documented. Just this February, The Guardian found that exclusion rates were five times higher for Black Caribbean pupils in parts of England.

These disproportionate exclusions are being fuelled by the zero-tolerance policies in operation in many UK schools. The use of these policies continues to be anti-Black, in that the headteachers applying these “policies” continue to do so in a manner that holds Black students to a different/ higher standard. Casella (2003) argues, “punishment negatively affects those who are already negatively affected by poverty, racism, academic failure, and other realities”

In all our school exclusion caseloads, we have seen white headteachers approach the exclusions we deal with from a racist standpoint. Many use racial stereotypes to justify the harsh exclusions and then hide behind the notion that the behaviour policy “ties” their hands due to the zero-tolerance approach the school has in place. This is in spite of the fact that all school policies must be read in line with the Statutory School exclusion guidance, which states exclusions must be a last resort. From our direct caseload, we see headteachers use the zero-tolerance policies to showcase that the only option available is a permanent exclusion.

International research from the Global North, can further help us understand the context in which disciplinary processes operate for Black children. A US study found that after controlling for more than 80 individual and school characteristics normally associated with poor academic performance, as well as differences in rates of delinquency and more serious offending, researchers found that Black youth were more likely to be disciplined and more likely to receive harsh discipline (such as out-of-school suspension) when those punishments were discretionary. In the UK, The National Education Union (NEU), have stated that zero-tolerance approaches to discipline were resulting in schoolchildren spending inappropriate and harmful amounts of time in isolation, and that they are “inhumane” and “damaging to pupil mental health”.

Some of the most rigorous research conducted on the subject of zero tolerance shows that out-of-school suspension can severely disrupt a student’s academic progress in ways that have lasting negative consequences. The UK’s Children’s Commissioner stated that “excluding a child makes them much more vulnerable to exploitation by criminal groups, and that currently if a child is excluded their prospects of returning to mainstream education are extremely poor”. This is of concern as the current exclusion system we have in place allows for a two-tier education system to thrive, the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) found that only 4% of excluded pupils pass GCSE English and Maths compared with 64% in mainstream school. These figures cannot be looked at outside of raicalisation, as Black children are overrepresented in exclusion figures and thus in the APs/PRUs themselves, meaning they are disproportionately being afforded inadequate education. Black Caribbean pupils make up 3.9% of children in PRUS whilst only 1.7% of children in Mainstream school. The current school exclusion system is setting Black children up to fail by mainstreaming anti-Black exclusion policies which lead to a high number of Black children accessing an inadequate and inferior educational provision that will not enable them to reach their full potential. 

Furthermore, the long-lasting negative effect of the zero-tolerance approach can be seen within the  ‘PRU-to-prison pipeline’ in London. According to the HM chief inspector of prisons in England and Wales, 89 percent of children in detention from 2017/18 have been excluded from school. This shows a direct link between school exclusions and young people being propelled into the criminal punishment system.

Due to the often lack of transparency with the school exclusion process and the lack of access to legal aid for parents, we are seeing schools get away with the unlawful use of Zero Tolerance policies. A recent report by the Legal charity Justice found ‘School do not often understand their legal duties when it comes to exclusion and that they often use Zero-Tolerance policies in way that amounts to an unlawful fettering of their legal duties’. We are concerned that these zero-tolerance policies not only promote decisions that are irrational, they also enable schools to (unlawfully) by pass their legal duties  under Equality Act s.149 to eliminate discrimination, in the contrary Zero-Tolerance policies further entrench racial discrimination. 

Further, research has found Zero-Tolerance policies  to be Anti-Black. In 2018, Researcher Stephen Hoffman, also found expanding zero tolerance exacerbated already severe racial disparities in school disciplinary outcomes. Such research has led to two US charter school chains that formed some of the biggest inspiration for the growing “no excuses” behaviour culture in England’s schools to review their tough discipline policies in the wake of the George Floyd killing. They stated they are doing this to create more equitable outcomes for Black students. UK Schools need to be attentive to the change in the wind and do away with institutionalised anti-Blackness, by ridding themselves of the constraints of Zero-Tolerance policies.

In order for us to have a more equitable school system school exclusions must be overhauled, in the absence of radical change, schools must stop using zero-tolerance policies altogether. The Government also needs to put safe guards in place to stop Black children from being subject to racist, exclusionary and illegal exclusions that in turn have an adverse effect on their futures and wellbeing. 

We at BLAM UK are campaigning for the total overhaul and subsequent removal of the current discriminatory school exclusions policy in place in England. It is important for schools, professionals and parents to support the important work that is done by other community organisations like Blam UK, No More Exclusions and National Education Union, in the campaign to remove the discriminatory policies in place within UK schools.

The 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival

By Rachael Banahan

On June 25th 2021, the well-anticipated documentary consisting of clips from the Harlem cultural festival ‘Summer of Soul’ (or When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised), was released. There has been much excitement surrounding it, which is likely due to the fact that the unreleased tapes were locked away in a basement for the past half-century. The festival is well known as the ‘Black Woodstock’ since it is widely compared to another more remembered festival by this name in the same year, located near Woodstock in New York. Performer at the festival with the 5th Dimension Marilyn McCoo notably stated ‘Everybody knew about Woodstock but no one knew about the Harlem Cultural Festival’. The 1969 embodies the shift in Black consciousness in African American communities and celebrates the creativity and musical of talent of the Black diaspora.

The festival was filmed with a multi camera television crew by TV hero Hal Tuchin and there were plans for a special broadcast. Despite Tuchin having 40 hours of footage, no distributor was interested in releasing the special. This was due to the lack of interest from white gatekeepers towards Black centred narratives, especially at a time when race relations were tense. Tuchin is quoted as saying that filming the Harlem Cultural Festival was a “peanuts operation because nobody really cared about Black shows”. However, he decided to take part in the production of it in the first place because he “knew it was going to be like real estate and sooner or later someone would have an interest in it”. The success of Summer of Soul has proved the tapes to be just that, with the movie grossing over $1 million dollars so far.

‘Summer of Soul’ documents the diverse nature and rich history of Black music during the tumultuous time for Black people that was 1969. The Harlem Cultural Festival happened a year after Martin Luther King  was assassinated and a year before Fred Hampton was killed. Malcolm X was also assassinated in 1965. The aftermath of losing such intrinsic members of the Black Power and Civil Rights Movement was dire. For example King’s death led to an outpouring of national mourning and anger- riots shortly followed and 40 people lost their lives nationwide. Malcolm X’s death shook the Black community, as over 20,000 people waited in the cold (he died in February) to visit his body at his funeral. The festival also happened right in the middle of the Vietnam War. Despite the Vietnam War being the first fully integrated war to be fought by American soldiers, Black soldiers were treated appallingly- especially after the murder of Dr. King. Soldiers were victim to regular racist attacks such as cross burnings, confederate flag spreading and bathroom graffiting at military bases insinuating that the real enemy were African Americans- not the Vietnamese. Black soldiers were also more likely to be allocated menial jobs, frequently denied promotion and often ignored when attempting to report racial discrimination and abuse. Furthermore, Black men were placed on the frontlines of the Vietnam War at a disproportionate rate. Despite making up only 11% of the population, they made up 23% of combat troops in 1967. Essentially, the Black community was in need of something to lift and guide their spirits towards hope of better things ahead.

The Harlem Cultural Festival was definitely born out of a need for optimism within the Black community after such an unstable time and it also came from a place of cultural reevaluation and a positive shift in Black consciousness. During the summer of ‘68, the word ‘Black’ as opposed to ‘Negro’ was plastered all over Ebony magazine and by the time James Brown’s ‘Say It Loud- I’m Black and I’m Proud’ came out in the October, ‘Black’ was on it’s way to becoming the preferred term in polite society and media outlets. This was a united affirmation that Black people were proud of their skin colour and a complete rejection of slave culture. The Black Panther Party were also fundamental in instilling pride into the Black consciousness of the 60’s and 70’s, with an important element of their 10 point Program (which they based their party values on) being ‘We want education for our people that exposes the true nature of this decadent American society. We want education that teaches us our true history and our role in the present day society.’Just two years after the BPP was founded, they began ‘serve the people’ campaigns. After recognising the inadequacy of public schools to prepare Black children for life, The Panthers created Liberation Schools and breakfast clubs for the youth as they felt it was important to start with the future leaders of America. There were also educational programs for adults as well, such as nationwide political education classes which began a year before the festival. The Panthers aided Black university students in pledging to their respective universities to reform policy, making their voices heard on campus. The Black consciousness had been awakened with The Panther’s encouragement and created optimum circumstances for the festival to happen.

It comes at no surprise that this joyous space that was needed by Black people was designated to Harlem. The birthplace of the Harlem Renaissance, this neighbourhood in Upper Manhattan was a cultural mecca for Black art and was renowned for initiating better representation of the Black artists themselves through claiming control of their artistic expression. Harlem was an important hub of community values, art, music, innovation and revolution. The family oriented festival took place in Mount Morris Park (now known as Marcus Garvey Park) with a free attendance of more than 300,000 people. From the first concert, the New York Police Department refused to provide security, and so the Black Panthers stepped in to do the job. The NYPD eventually arrived, however the Black Panthers remained overseeing the festival to ensure peace. There were numerous concerts that took place over six weekends, with an impressive roster of artists who performed, including Nina Simone, Stevie Wonder, Sly and the Family Stone, B.B King, Mahalia Jackson, The Staple singers, The 5th Dimension and Gladys Knight and The Pips. Due to this, of course, there was a wide variety of genres played at the concerts, such as Blues, Motown, Gospel, rock, R&B and pop, reflecting the heterogeneous character of Black music. 

The Harlem cultural festival was another example of music being used as an act of resistance against oppression and in celebration of togetherness in the Black community. Nina Simone debuted her song ‘Young, Black and Gifted’ at the festival, a number which inspired hope and pride in the crowds with lyrics such as:

“We must begin to tell our young, there’s a world waiting for you

When you feelin’ really low

Yeah, there’s a great truth that you should know

When you’re young, gifted and Black

Your soul’s intact’’

                     …

“Oh, but my joy of today

Is that we can all be proud to say

“To be young, gifted and Black

Is where it’s at”

Is where it’s at

Is where it’s at

Many genres that were performed at the festival originate from Negro- spiritual music, a type of melody created by enslaved people not only to lift their spirits in dire situations, but to communicate coded messages amongst themselves that would be disguised as joyful singing to plantation owners. For Black people, music is a universal language of revolution, unity and pride, with much of the dancing, singing and spirituality within African-America cultures resembling the practice of African masquerades; entertainment provided by masked performers to invoke ancestral spirits.  Ultimately, the Harlem cultural festival was born out of a need for a safe, liberated, joyful space for Black people in America.

Black languages throughout the Diaspora 

By Sophia Purdy-Moore

Black British English, West African Creole, Jamaican Patois and more…

Although Black British people only make up 3% of the UK’s general population, Black British English has had a profound impact on British and global culture. Black British English is a combination of The Jamaican Language (Patois), West African Creole (Pidgin) and Black-British vernacular. The Jamaican Language is derived from West African languages such as Ibo, Yoruba and Mende, as well as English vernacular. Because enslaved Black people who lived on Caribbean plantations often didn’t share a common language, they communicated by using elements of West African languages and English vernacular. They eventually formed a distinctive creolised language – known as ‘patois’ – to express their new experiences and identities as enslaved people in the New World. 

In the postwar period, people from the Caribbean migrated en masse to the UK. The first to arrive travelled on a passenger ship called The Empire Windrush. 802 people from the Caribbean – including 492 Jamaican immigrants – arrived in Tilbury Docks in 1948. Many Caribbean migrants who came to rebuild Britain settled in predominantly working-class areas in industrialised cities such as London, Birmingham and Leeds, along with migrants from India, Bangladesh and Africa. Due to the presence of Caribbean migrants and the popularity of genres of Jamaican music, particularly reggae, Jamaican patois became very influential in the formation of Black British English. The children and grandchildren of Caribbean migrants developed Black British English through their intercultural interactions. Due to Caribbean migration to the US and Canada, there are also significant patois-speaking communities in Miami, New York City, and Toronto.

Featured image via English Heritage

Common misconceptions 

Most languages are creolised. English was once a West Germanic dialect spoken by Germanic tribes. Early Germanic settlers – the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes – brought their language to Britain in the 5th century. Its vocabulary has been greatly influenced by Norman French and Latin.

Many creolised languages spoken throughout the African diaspora are the result of contact between indigenous languages and a European language through the transatlantic slave trade. According to Hubert Devonish, a linguistics professor at the University of the West Indies, these languages “tend to borrow most of the vocabulary from the European language”, but employ West African pronunciation and grammar. This is the case in African American Vernacular English and Jamaican patois – for example the use of ‘dat’ and ‘dem’. The same is true of Black British English, which is regarded as a language in its own right rather than as a dialect – or version – of standard English. Black British English has a consistent system of grammar and speech, and a large, unique body of vocabulary. Rules and structures in Black British English include the unique use of the third person as the first person – such as ‘man don’t care’, meaning ‘I don’t care’.  

This is important to note, because Black languages throughout the diaspora have been stigmatised. Many people misconstrue Black languages such as Black British English and African American Vernacular English to be ‘slang’ or grammatically incorrect English. Although the majority of Jamaicans speak patois as their first language, English is still the nation’s official language. This is the same for Creole speakers in other Caribbean countries such as Trinidad, Barbados and Guyana. Black language speakers are often ignorantly misrepresented as ‘improper language’. This leads many in the US and the UK to ‘code switch’ when speaking in a professional setting or to people outside their community. 

The impact of Black languages on culture today

Famous Brits who speak Black British English to express themselves include poet Benjamin Zepheniah. He creates dub-poetry – a form of performance poetry that originates from

the Caribbean. He recites his poetry over a reggae beat. In his poetry, he expresses himself through a combination of Jamaican patois and Black British English. Like many descendants of the African diaspora, Zepheniah rejected his OBE due to its celebration the British empire, which was responsible for the enslavement, oppression and exploitation of people of African descent.  

Featured image via Spotify

In TV and film, we hear characters speaking Black British English – for example in Top Boy and Kidulthood. Many grime and British hip hop artists – such as Dave, Stormzy and AJ Tracey – express themselves speaking or rapping using Black British English. Due to the profound influence of Black British and Jamaican culture on youth culture in Britain, people from other cultures have appropriated the language to a certain extent. Some say that Sacha Baron Cohen’s satirical fictional character ‘Ali G’ is a parody of white young people who attempt to emulate the language. Others argue that this representation is just a harmful stereotype, caricature, and appropriation of urban Black British hip hop and Jamaican culture. 

Beyond the UK, patois has had a profound impact on Canadian language-ways. The country’s relaxed immigration laws in the 1960s meant that large numbers of people from Jamaica and other Caribbean islands migrated to urban centres like Toronto. Today, around 30% of Canada’s Black population has Jamaican ancestry. Due to this significant Jamaican population, and the weight of Jamaican culture, it has become part of Toronto’s mainstream culture.  

Some have accused Drake – a musician of African American and Jewish heritage – of appropriating Jamaican patois in his recent music. However, his upbringing in Scarborough (the heart of Canada’s Jamaican community) complicates his claim to this cultural heritage. Drake is not alone in his imitation of Jamaican culture. Indeed, many regard patois words such as ‘yute’, ‘ting’, ‘dun kno’, ‘ahlie’ and ‘mandem’ as Canadian slang, disregarding their Jamaican roots.

Black diasporic languages have had – and continue to have – a profound impact on global language and culture. They are a fundamental aspect of Black heritage, expression, and cultural memory. Created in response to the harsh realities of and resistance to enslavement, Black languages tell the diaspora’s histories of migration and resistance to white supremacy. Today, they bind Black communities together on an individual, local, and global scale.

FESTAC 77: The Revival of Black and African Cultural Values

By Oluwatosin Attah

‘For the first time since the Slave Trade, for the first time in 500 years, the black family was together again, was whole again, was one again.’ – May 1977 Edition of Ebony Magazine

This article highlights the cultural importance of the Second World Black Festival of Arts and Culture whilst underlining the effects it had on the unity of Black people all over the world. The festival itself took place in Lagos, Nigeria from January 15th – February 12th in the year 1977, as the name suggests. The festival was a celebration of African art, African music and Afro-inspired theatrical performances. The festivities consisted of about 50 plays, 150 concerts, 80 film screenings, 40 art exhibitions and around 200 poetry performances.  It was a celebration to be remembered not just for its appreciation of Black people but also for the ramifications faced by Afrobeat’s legend and founder, Fela Kuti, for boycotting FESTAC ’77 – which this article also touches on briefly. 

‘Ethnocide’ was coined and defined by Raphael Lemkin in 1944 as the destruction of the culture and  identity of a people, though Lemkin was talking about the atrocities happening to Jewish people in Nazi Germany, this was an effect of colonialism and the transatlantic enslavement trade on the global Black community. The First World Black Festival of Arts set out to repair the damage that was already done. The festival was largely influenced by the political context of post-independence Africa and through this served as a symbol for the decolonisation of the mind that needed to occur alongside the political decolonisation taking place on the continent. Though the First World Black Festival of Arts and Culture was a success this article will focus on the Second Festival [a.k.a. FESTAC ‘77] as it was the largest congregation of Black people from every continent in one place in the entire history of the Black man at the time. The timing was said to have a major role in its extravagance, as 50 of the once colonised African countries had gained their independence by 1977 and the celebration was amplifying Black pride in the face of adversity. 

Outside of Africa, Black people in Europe and the Americas were also making breakthroughs in their fight against racist oppression and segregation, so they too were keen on visiting Nigeria to partake in this celebration of Black talent and identity. Lidge Daily, an American attendee wrote,  ‘I shared a feeling with my people. I looked into their faces and saw mine. Our smiles and laughter needed not a common language to be understood. To be appreciated. Welcome brother, they said to me. Welcome Home!’ 

The streets of Lagos, Nigeria were crowded with around 17000 natives, fellow Nigerians, visiting Africans, members of the diaspora and all appreciators of Black art and culture for about a month. The crowd was so huge that the Lagos State Government constructed a new housing estate for festival participants. The campus was once filled with the sounds of laughter and feet stomping on the ground as groups were dancing together in the one language understood by all the global participants – music. The estate still stands today, but the government has failed at maintaining its initial glory. 

The displays of unity, cultural enrichment and captivating entertainment that occurred over the 5 weeks, earned Nigeria the title of ‘a crucial nexus for Pan-African alliance building.’ The Guardian claims that Stevie Wonder’s headlining performance was what consolidated his ‘affinity with the continent.’ Communities within the continent also amplified their voice through the festival – with the logo being the Benin mask of Queen Idia it put the question of whether the Western world would return the artefacts they stole to their rightful owners and homes. Some say this was a bold move from Nigeria but it was necessary to show that Black people will not let the West get away with their crimes. 

The first President of Senegal, Leopold Sedar Senghor aka ‘the prime poet of Négritude’, declared that ‘Nigeria is to Africa what Greece was and still is to the history of Europe.’ The many Black people that were struggling with identity crises and feelings of belonging were said to have felt at home on the various stages when singing, dancing, acting or citing their poetry to the masses. The response from the crowd was a reassurance of the unity that existed between Black people and the festival was applauded for being the place where this reassurance was received. Though there was so much international praise for Nigeria’s contribution to the ‘revival, resurgence, propagation, and protection of Black and African cultural values and civilization’ there was some condemnation coming from within the nation – namely by renowned musician Fela Anikulapo Kuti. Many Africanists and jazz enthusiasts know that Fela’s music was a form of activism against the military government in Nigeria. When FESTAC ’77 went live, Fela boycotted it by hosting shows at Kalakuta Republic at the same time for the whole month. His shows enticed some of the major artistes that were to perform at the festivals and led them to boycott their own performances as well. Ikonne notes that Chyke Madu of ‘The Funkees’ said ‘What Fela was doing at the Shrine was more exciting and more raw than any other programs at the festival. So, everybody started to go there instead. And of course, the government didn’t like that.’ 

The festival served as a sanctuary for the unification of Black people all over the world, that inspired many to go back to their countries of residence and preach the message of bravery and freedom in the second verse of the Festival anthem – ‘Let a second generation // Full of courage issue forth // Let a people loving freedom //Come to growth’ – the residents of Nigeria themselves were still being silenced and oppressed by military rule to a degree. The first and third celebrations of Black creativity were held in Senegal, in 1966 and 2010, but couldn’t compare to the extravagance of FESTAC’77. The pressure to deliver another festival like FESTAC’77 shouldn’t mean the 2010 Festival should be the last. The Pan-African ideology is not dying anytime soon, and neither is the appreciation of Black art on a global scale, so who knows, maybe the 50-year anniversary of FESTAC ’77 will be acknowledged and celebrated once again in Nigeria. The rising need for havens, that are specifically for Black people, is expected to go on for many years and it is important that these safe spaces are made as they allow the Black community to not only find a sense of family in their identity but also be comfortable enough to just live freely. The Afronation Music Festival, by SMADE Entertainment and others, was said to have this impact as a review by Sosa Sharon said ‘Afro Nation felt like something for us, by us.’ The freedom that comes from being surrounded by ‘your people’ is said to be relieving and the Black community is due for that relief and has been for centuries. Hopefully, more events by Black people for Black people will take place for many generations to come.

BLAM UK Press Release: BLAM UK is now a AQA Award Unit centre

Black Learning Achievement and Mental Health UK CIC (BLAM UK) is now an Approved AQA Unit Award Centre. We are currently providing AQA award Units on Black British history and in the process of creating our own AQA BLAM Black History Module. We provide this service for All Key stages 1-5.

AQA provides the Unit award scheme as a record of achievement.  The AQA Unit Award Scheme is invaluable as it is an important pathway for our students to receive accreditation for their achievements. 

BLAMUK’s history module utilises oral and written history to build up the young people’s understanding of Black narratives both from continental Africa and in the diaspora. Participants are encouraged to complete independent research and make personal observations outside of the weekly sessions.  

The AQA award scheme is completed in conjunction with The Grounded project which aims to improve the racial esteem of young people by asserting truthful narratives about their history. To find out more about how your schools can take part in the Grounded project please email hello@blamcharity.co.uk

Pimlico Students’ Victory- BLAM UK and BPLS Joint Statement

Black Learning Achievement and Mental Health (“BLAM”) & 

Black Protest Legal Support’s (“BPLS”)

“Hair for people of African descent has always been a human rights issue.”

  • Hair Equality Report 2019

BLAM and BPLS are delighted to announce that Pimlico Academy has now agreed that no students will be excluded for exercising their right to protest against institutionalised racism. The students’ demands also challenged poverty, transphobia, the Eurocentric curriculum and sexual assault.

After interventions from both of our organisations, we were able to provide legal support to the students threatened with exclusion. Coupled with the immense tenacity of the students themselves, the support of their families, as well as political, public and legal pressure, we were collectively able to achieve this outcome. However, we maintain that it was shameful these students were ever threatened with exclusion in the first place. 

BLAM and BPLS continue to stand with Black, Brown and Racialised pupils at Pimlico Academy, who made it their duty to fight for our rights and condemn the school’s racist uniform policy. The policy is plainly discriminatory against pupils with afro hairstyles, given it banned hairstyles that “block the view of others”. Additionally, the school had imposed measures regulating hijabs – measures which are clearly Islamophobic. 

Black hair represents more than just a hairstyle: it represents personal history interlocked with generational stories, customs, and legacies. BLAM and BPLS condemn any attempt to suppress afro hair in order to appeal to the white gaze. As Maria DeLongoria stated, in defining the desired beauty aesthetic, the white majority viewed Black hair as the ‘loser’ in the game of respectability politics. Pimlico Academy’s uniform policy only sought to uphold this.

The hijab is a deeply personal expression of faith for Muslim women and girls. It is a wholly illegitimate interference with the practise of their faith to impose limits on the way hijabs should be worn or the colour of hijabs allowed (where there is no school uniform policy). This is another form of controlling Muslim students who wear the hijab and stifling their agency and independence.

Since the student-led protests, Pimlico Academy has revised the uniform policy to accommodate Black students and students wearing hijabs. We continue to stand by their actions and will continue to support them to defend their right to protest against racism.  

UN Experts Respond to BLAM UK Urgent Communications about No10 Race Report

BLAM UK is a Black-led educational, advocacy and wellbeing Non-Profit. Through our advocacy arm we work with the United Nations to support and protect the human rights of people of African Descent in the UK. 

On the 6th April 2021, BLAM UK in response to the dubious, ill-written and dangerous Race Report sent communications to a UN Body requesting that they condemn the UK Government and remind them of their international human rights obligations, particularly those under the International Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination ICERD.  We also requested that they inform the UN Human Rights Council and other Human Rights Mechanism about this report. 

We can now confirm that the UN has responded to our communications and we welcome this timely and sound intervention on this. UN Experts from the UN Working Group of People of African Descent note the following, “In 2021, it is stunning to read a report on race and ethnicity that repackages racist tropes and stereotypes into fact, twisting data and misapplying statistics and studies into conclusory findings and ad hominem attacks on people of African descent.  The Report attacks the credibility of those working to mitigate and lessen institutional racism while denying the role of institutions, including educators and educational institutions, in the data on the expectations and aspirations of boys and girls of African descent. The Report cites dubious evidence to make claims that rationalize white supremacy by using the familiar arguments that have always justified racial hierarchy. This attempt to normalize white supremacy despite considerable research and evidence of institutional racism is an unfortunate sidestepping of the opportunity to acknowledge the atrocities of the past and the contributions of all in order to move forward. That this report comes only six years after the British taxpayer finished paying reparations to nineteenth-century enslavers, without any talk of reparations to those enslaved and exploited, is particularly telling.”

The UN Experts also call for “ The UK Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities should be disbanded or reconstituted to prioritize an authentic and rigorous examination of race, rather than a politicized erasure of the racialized realities Black Britons navigate”

We welcome the UN Experts sound scholarship, findings and recommendations on the report and the next steps for the UK Government. 

Please see further media reports on the response here- BBC, Guardian and Independent. 

For Press Comments please email- Hello@blamcharity.co.uk

The Race Today Collective: Why Press and Media are Vital in the Fight for Racial Equity

By: Michelle Aboagye

Race Today was a collective focused on uplifting Black communities, showcasing our narratives and pushing back against racist institutions and interpersonal racism in the UK . The collective produced  a journal  of the same name, where they platformed art, culture, and gave a voice to Black communities in the UK and the rest of the world. In this piece, I explore the importance of community solidarity through the work of the race today collective

The beauty of history is its duality. It may serve as a sobering warning for some, and a gentle guide for others. In the case of Black communities in the United Kingdom, it is not only an inspiring guide showcasing  their strength and persistence, but a testament of the power of union and campaigning. The Race Today Collective is an example of this testament. It was bi-monthly (and at a time, monthly) journal and political collective that was centred around the plight of Black people and Black liberation. Race Today was an example of just how radical anti-racist press can help to bring long-lasting social change. In this, I will explore what we can learn from Race Today, for I believe that history holds impactful lessons hidden between dynamic timelines and striking dates.

The Origins of Race Today

Created in 1969, it was originally a publication produced by the Institute of Race Relations (IRR) in Britain. At the time of its debut until 1972, the journal was considerably more academic and neutral in terms of its attitude to racism in Britain. It was far from the radical, anti-racist journal and collective we know it as today. The switch from neutral to definitive and radical was no accident. In 1972, an internal coup in the institute was led by Ambalavaner Sivanandan, a British Sri-Lankan novelist and activist. It was a radical signal of the direction the publication was going to turn and was followed by a snowball of change. First, was a new editor. The appointment of Darcus Howe on 6th November 1973, a prominent Black radical activist and former British Black Panther Party member, allowed the journal to go in this new radical direction. Although editorship would later go to his wife Leila Hassan, Howe’s impact will always be remembered.

Darcus Howe, activist and editor of Race Today journal from 1972-1985. Photo from Shades of Noir.

With Howe’s extensive knowledge on global Black Liberation, in addition to his experience in media, political organisation, and mobilisation he was able to drive the journal  to centre and uplift the voice of Black working class communities. Gone was the neutral stance on racism, and removed was alienating diction. Instead, we saw greater accessibility and definitive stances – Race Today was now staunchly anti-racist, and in solidarity with all those who were fighting to be liberated from exploitation, colonialism, and racism. It was a group, and a publication dedicated to this. It included Darcus Howe, activist Linton Kwesi Johnston, poet Farukh Dondy, amongst others. Darcus Howe even moved the office of the journal from its institutional office in Kings Cross, London, to Brixton during the years of his tenure. The act of moving the place of operation for the journal from an institutional building to a place which was very much, at the time, seen as the hub of the Black community in London was a powerful act on its own. The presence of the Collective in Brixton symbolised a dedication to the Black community. It is for this reason why one of the first lessons we can take away from the Collective is the importance of community.

The Power of Community

To be in community, we speak of the sentiment of togetherness because we share identities, similar or identical experiences, and more. Race Today was devoted to community and celebrated it in many forms, one being culture. Culture unifies the people and is one of the first instances that we, as humans, are able to feel a sense of belonging. The Collective understood that culture was a vital element of liberation movements. It’s for this reason that the journal used its platform to celebrate Black art, literature, music and sports during its operation. It displayed works from major Black icons, such as Toni Morrison, Grace Nihcols, and James Baldwin on expression and Black identity, and incorporated the ideals of Marxist historian and Pan-Africanist C.L.R. James. The Collective also organised cultural events such as book fairs, and with support from local musicians in Ladbroke Grove they also formed a masquerade band known as the Race Today Mangrove Renegade Band which performed at the Notting Hill Carnival. The Collective continuously campaigned for the Notting Hill Carnival and defended its cultural significance. To be in community is also to support one another in endeavours that benefit the community as a whole, and offer solace. For Black communities, community was one of the only forms of support many people had due to the racism and xenophobia they faced from those in their places of work, schools, and neighbourhoods. For Black people, community ranged from financial support, childcare, and other types of mutual aid. In community, we uplift each other and amplify our voices – this was an aim evident in the Race Today journal. Press and media devoted to the fight against racism capturing the essence of community and doing the aforementioned is what we should mirror today. 

The Race Today team. Photo from Novara Media.

The Importance of Solidarity

The Collective understood that liberation and equity were global needs. The international coverage in the journal helped to paint this picture. Topics touched upon transcended borders and showed the extent of solidarity the Collective extended to the exploitation and dehumanisation of Black communities and the effects of colonialism. It’s for this reason that, alongside accounts of Black people in the UK being harrassed by the state, there were extensive discussions about the struggles of workers and citizens in the Global South. Race Today analysed the links between anti-colonial liberation movements, class struggles, and the need to rally behind organisations such as theirs at that time. Race Today was committed to challenging racist institutions and exposing the very real horrors of racism, police brutality and xenophobia, amongst others. It is important to note that though centred on Black people, the Collective was committed to anti-racism in general and often showed support for issues in Asian communities within the UK. 

By utilising aspects of intersectional politics, the Collective were able to relate the experiences of Black people in Britain with other socio-economic categories which contributed to the mistreatment of black people by the state. For example, the Marxist ideals of class as well as racism, created unique experiences for Black working class individuals, who frequently had their voices amplified by the journal, with accounts detailing their experiences. A famous example of this was their 1974 interview with Black nurses and healthcare workers following the first nursing strike in the UK. The Journal displayed how the intersection of race, class and gender increased discrimination for Black nurses. The Collective had effectively created a medium for individuals to be heard and relay their realities. Race Today was also committed to uplifting grassroots campaigns that aligned with them, such as campaigning for the Brockwell Park Three – three Black men who were victims of violence at a fireworks display. Although based in London, Race Today maintained links with groups similar to theirs around the UK, such as the Bradford Black Collective and created networks in Ireland. Solidarity is necessary in the fight for racial equity.

Some covers of Race Today journal. Photo from: Commune journal.

Race Today was a publication centred on the plight of Black communities that was birthed during a period of global anti-colonial liberation movements, persistent calls for change, and the emergence of strength in racial identity.  As mentioned earlier, history holds lessons in its chapters. It sometimes is a graceful and generous teacher. I believe Race Today is one of history’s more gracious lessons. The Race Today Collective is a clear example of just how vital the role of community-led and community-focused media is in the long fight for racial justice and equity. From their operation, we were able to glean several lessons; the power of community, and the importance of solidarity. This can be seen in their dedication to uplifting voices in Black communities through platforming Black art and forms of expression, their platforming the accounts of Black workers, their campaigns against institutions and their racist actions, and more. Once we commit to holding the values of community and solidarity, they will be reflected in our media, and will allow us to take further steps to racial equity. 

To learn more about the Race Today collective, visit The Working Class Movement Library and have a look at the news article from London News Online outlining the work The Collective did.

BLAM UK Press Release: BLAM UK Issues UN Body Communications over UK Government’s Race Report

Black Learning Achievement and Mental Health UK CIC (BLAM UK) has triggered the Urgent Action Communication procedure of a UN Body, over No10 Report that denies Institutional Racism exists in the UK, arguing that this report violates a number of the UK’s legal obligations under International Law.

The Racial Justice civil society organisation warns that such a report will be used to justify and further racially discriminatory outcomes against Black, Brown and racialised groups in the UK.

On Tuesday 6 April, BLAM UK a Civil Society organisation sent an Urgent Procedures Correspondence to the United Nations’ Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, in response to the UK Government’s recently published race report. The Racial Justice non-profit believe that the report requires immediate attention from the UN Committee in order to prevent or limit the scale of serious violations of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, of which the UK has legal obligations under.

Immediately after the publication of the race report on 31 March, BLAM made an official comment on their website: ‘We do not need a report from a government rooted and built on anti-blackness to confirm our realities as directly impacted persons.’

The Non-Profit have now taken their concerns to the United Nations’, highlighting issues such as Black generational trauma, the dismissal of the atrocities of the Transatlantic slave trade by the Government, and the controversial Policing, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill to illustrate the UK’s perpetual and consistent institutional and systemic racism.

The Correspondence to the UN states that ‘this report will be used to validate the Government’s current strategy which can only be understood as a colourblind approach to race’, noting the potential impact this will have on recently resurged far-right groups such as Neo-Nazis or ‘All Lives Matter’ groups, who may ‘use the outcomes of this report to justify and further their own racially motivated agenda’.

BLAM UK Founder, Ife Thompson, states: 

“In the words of James Baldwin – “It is certain, in any case, that ignorance, allied with power, is the most ferocious enemy justice can have”. 

The UK Government through this report, has shown us it remains a ferocious enemy to racial justice in the global north. At BLAM, we do all we can to ensure we can create a more racially equitable, just and decolonised society. We know this report, if unchallenged, will be used by those in power to dismiss our lived realities and further our oppression. This is why we are doing all we can to hold the Government to account and to that affect defend the human rights of the Black community in the UK.”

BLAM UK Volunteer Lucy Parkhouse, states: 

“The Government’s race report makes a mockery of the lived experience of all Black persons and people of colour in the United Kingdom. Cherry-picking contributors based on their willingness to ignore the realities of discrimination is, in and of itself, a perfect encapsulation of institutionalised racism. 

This report had the potential to provide a genuine opportunity for the Government to address its shortcomings in response to the Black Lives Matter protests last year, in response to the continuously appalling stop and search statistics, in response to the disproportionate numbers of people of colour that we have lost to COVID-19. Instead, it now represents a wasted opportunity and a tool to be used to the detriment of Black people – their hurt is discredited and ‘disproved’.

It is totally unacceptable to attempt to sanitise the traumatic and inhumane transatlantic slave trade, in order to appease and serve only the white gaze. Moreover, this is being put forward  by a political party in Government which has its own Wikipedia page dedicated to accounts of racism. At times such as this, we must work not only to amplify, but to truly listen and act on the voices of Black and Brown people in the United Kingdom.”

Contact BLAM UK for further comment – hello@blamcharity.co.uk

BLAM (Black Learning Achievement and Mental Health) UK is an award-winning educational, advocacy and mental health not-for-profit that champions Black British cultural capital and creativity, improves the mental health and wellbeing of peoples of African descent, provides a comprehensive and decolonised education system, and supports social inclusion of the Black British community. Among other programmes, BLAM work with schools to ensure the curriculum is reflective of African-Caribbean culture, history and heritage. The organisation delivers after school clubs and workshops and provides teacher training on developing an anti-racist pedagogy and creating a Black inclusion curriculum. Through our advocacy work, we also promote and protect the human rights of Black people in the UK. This includes challenging racially discriminatory school exclusions against Black pupils in the UK.

BLAM UK Triggers UN CERD Committee intervention over UK Government Race Report

BLAM UK has sent an Urgent Action Procedure communication over the recent publication of the Race Report by the UK Government.  An Urgent Procedures Correspondence is issued by the UN CERD Committee to respond to problems within a State parties jurisdiction requiring immediate attention to prevent or limit the scale or number of serious violations of the Convention.

Read the full communication below: