“Never forget where you came from and who helped you get there."

The closer we get to Black History Month, the more we appreciate how little the world has changed regarding how Black people are perceived by the wider population. The arrival of Black History Month should make all of us Black & White consider where we have come from, where we are going and who we are. The way the Black History story is told makes it seem that our history only began when western powers invaded the African continent, and stories of the great African civilisations are relegated to mythologies in fictional places like Wakanda; and much like the planet Krypton is a loveable and fanciful science fantasy that is very far from reality; despite historical evidence suggesting otherwise.

When my parents arrived in the UK in 1948, memories of World War 11 were still very evident , physically, and psychologically. I still recall the remnants of bombed buildings that became temporary adventure playgrounds for the ragged assortments of kids that sought escape from their family homes. As the only Black family on a white estate in an inner-city London suburb we were not seen as a threat but a colourful and exotic addition and perhaps an indicator that we were holding the door half open for others like us to follow and they did.

Little did we know that we were still to experience the Notting Hill “riots”., The Brixton uprisings, The New Cross Fire, The Stephen Lawrence murder and the impact of George Floyd and Black Lives Matter, and many other milestones that reminded us that no matter how far we thought we had travelled, we still had a long way to go. The recognition of this condition resulted in the establishment of the Race Relations Acts 1965, 1968 & 1976 and resulted in the formation of Councils for Race Equality all over the country and I was privileged to be part of a national team of young Black people eager and excited to be involved in this new movement of Black political awareness. Those days ignited something in the condition of Black youth and of course the response from the establishment was forceful and unrelenting and Stop & Search was a major tool and still is! Nonetheless, these were exciting times, and we were able to invoke not only Black Americans in the civil rights movement, but we had our own, people like John La Rose, Jocelyn Barrow, Linton Kwesi Johnson, Olive Morris, Stuart Hall, Paul Stephenson, Darcus Howe and so many others and the future for Black UK civil rights looked brighter than ever. However, one factor we did not take on board was the capacity of the state to capture some of us and use our skills against our own communities; a practice much rehearsed in the colonies. The issue that worries me today is the absence of Black civil rights leadership in the UK and the willingness of our own people to dilute the message.

Sadly, many who have a public profile are too happy to simply sit at the table and are a paleshadow of the calibre that once represented our condition. Many are often very bright, shiny,articulate, and incidentally Black, and those whose faces fit are courted enthusiastically by the liberalcommunities who are more impressed by the drama of their rhetoric than what they have to say; and aresometimes too frightened to criticise them lest they are accused of racism.  It seems to me that many of those have benefitted from the works of those in the UK black civil rights movement; are only tooeager to distance themselves from those ideologiesthat got them there in the first place especially if it gets in the way of their ambition. Some of you may be familiar with the English term “To Play the White Man” which is an idiom used in parts of Great Britain and is attributed to someone who is attempting to be decent and trustworthy in his or her actions. Too many of us play “The White Man”, even the women! Some argue that the Empire and Transatlantic Slave Trade has conditioned some of to a state which , in some case, creates a subliminal hatred and contempt for who we are and an unwarranted admiration for White societal values.

It is unfortunate that the political choices that we had back in the day, as slim as they were, are no longer there. There is now little difference between the political parties when it comes to issues of Race, and this is something that Black people are now painfully aware of and what binds all political parties is that Black people are clearly at the bottom of everyone’s lists when it comes getting behind the needs of Black people.  The refusal to acknowledge and respond to Stop & Search used primarily against Black people, the shameful treatment of the Windrush generation, the lack of acknowledgment of contributions made by Black people to the National Health Service and the high representation of Black people in our mental health institutions and prisons and the list goes on. Wouldn’t it be nice if those who say they are our allies get behind us on any of these issues….. and I have not even started on the issue of reparations and how significant parts of the UK economy benefitted from the Transatlantic Slave Trade and how many of the fine house and businesses all over the country and this very city are simply ill gotten gains.

Black History Month returns and offers a small moment to change the narrative and if we as Black people have little desire to do that then we have a problem. The 70s and the 80s was a time when Black people were front and centre in creating an environment where civil rights for ALL ethnic communities were on the table. Not only should this be acknowledged but those from all communities who have benefitted from those struggles should take time out and remember where they came from.

“Never forget where you came from and who helped you get there….because you might meet some of those people on your way down”.

Don John