Black British communities have a history of political resistance and protest against institutional racism.
The Race Equality Centre in Leicester has been advocating since 1967, born on the back of the Race Relations Act 1965. The Black Unity and Freedom Party (1970-99) fought against the effects of the racist Immigration Acts of 1962, 1968 and 1971. The Black Liberation Front (1971- ) and dozens of local Black organisations across the UK fought against the National Front and hostilities from mainstream British society. Put simply, this is not a struggle new to the Black British community.
So what of progress? What progress? During the 1990s and early 2000s we witnessed a boom in the use of the phrase BME or BAME. An abbreviation standing for Black and Minority Ethnics. The voice of the political Black British struggle was swallowed whole by the collective cries of various melanin donning children of the commonwealth, now commonly referred to as the BME community. This new term has proved problematic in the sense that issues specific to the Black British experience are no longer front and centre when we are addressing government and British society. The realities of British Born Asians, African Caribbeans and the Jewish community are not the same. By replacing just representation at the political table with a single seat labelled ‘diversity’ – the powers that be squashed – intentionally or not – the collective Black British political voice.
If the condition of ‘Minority Ethnic’ community has improved – the view is that life has improved for the Black community also. This problem in practice, e.g. Oxford University announced their 2019 BME undergraduate intake statistics boasting an uptake of more than 22%. This sounds amazing for the BME community. In practice African and Caribbean admissions accounted for 3.1% of their admissions. A victory for the newly created BME demographic is not a victory for British born Africans and African Caribbeans.
In my experience schemes designed to help address disadvantages are labelled BME. However, statistics on crime and negative portrayals of society always see Black. Black is always highlighted, always stands out, always stands alone.
Considering the Black British community arguably made greater headway under its own banner prior to the use of BME – is it time we refused to accept the given label? Progress in the BME demographic does not equal progress for the Black British demographic. If we should refuse the term BME, we are seemingly left with ‘Black’. #BlackLivesMatter so we should defend ‘Black’, protect ‘Black’, buy ‘Black’ right? I think so. What culture does ‘Black’ have? What cultural and geographic reference does ‘Black’ point to? As far as my understanding will allow, ‘Black’ points to nothing and nowhere. I consider ‘Black’ a gross mislabelling.
In big 2020 British society as a whole is struggling, so it’s fair to presume the Black British community is struggling also.
However – are the struggles faced by British born Africans overlooked because of the perceived success of the BME demographic? Probably. Does the word ‘Black’ strip our people of a cultural heritage? Most certainly. Is it all we have for the time being? Looks like it.
If we are to surpass the achievements of our grandparents, we must continue to organise, educate and advocate. We must see action as core to our betterment. Community action, political action, direct action, national and international action. Action in whichever capacity can be afforded. And Africa still needs our help.
Full article can be found in BlackInk new magazine of international voices from across the African and African Caribbean Diaspora and indigenous communities. Featuring over 30 artists, writers, poets, illustrators, photographers and more.
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Boston ‘The Orator’ Williams-Jackson
Boston ‘The Orator’ Williams-Jackson is a British Born African Poet, Author and Activist from Leicester, England. His latest collection, Florilegium is available now.
Boston is working with Serendipity as Community Reporter for Temperature on the Streets.