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  • Writer's pictureTyra Adeniji

Black Power in Britain?

“The conscious effort to erase the Black British Power Movement from Modern Day British History”.

Image of Black person's fist raised in the air as a representation of Black power
Image by Oladimeji Odunsi | Unsplash

Black History as we know it today has been Americanized; when one thinks about the Black Power movement we automatically associate this with the American Civil Rights movement and the associated African American figures, as they have been strategically pushed to the forefront of this movement. The global face of blackness has always been African Americans. Civil rights activists ranging from Rosa Parks to Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman to Malcolm X and Martin Luther King and the list goes on. However not much light has been shed on the Black British Power movement. It seems as though there has been a conscious effort to erase the Black British Power Movement from Modern Day British History. This has mainly been done for their own benefits to push the agenda of modern day Britain, no longer being a racist society via pushing the notion of the multiculturalism model with shallow diversity as a means of putting an ‘end to Racism’.

However, the façade which has been created by the establishment hides the brutality of the systematic, xenophobic and hate fuelled targeted campaign against the ‘other’, at this point in history the scapegoat being the post-war migrants from Africa, Asia and the Caribbean. Only decades ago was there such hostility towards black people in Britain, this has shown itself in the form of institutionalized racism via racialized legislation e.g. with immigration and discrimination in housing and education and other walks of life.

This year 2018 marks 50 years since the derogatory, vile and xenophobic propaganda also known as the ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech by a man in the establishment by the name of Enoch Powell. From the lexis used in this speech one can really encapsulate the thoughts and attitudes towards immigrants of the day and the hostility projected upon them from being black in post-war Britain. The western stereotype of the other has always been negative, derogatory and demoralizing. Edward Said discusses this in his book called ‘Orientalism’, he discusses how immigrants have been portrayed as being ‘primitive’ and ‘barbaric’. It is these stereotypes which are used to instil fear and hatred among citizens of the day.

By moving to Britain, they were expected to leave their cultural practices behind and assimilate into the so-called British way of life. Britain at this time had been described as a modern day ‘civilizing mission’. Racist attitudes resonating the tone of the ‘White Man’s Burden’ (Rudyard Kipling) were prevalent in this era. The idea of immigrants being a strain of Britain, the idea of Britain being some type of global savior, as a means to say they are giving countries ‘independence’.

As Britain became more and more intolerant and unwelcoming to the increasing number of immigrants. Hostile immigration legislation was soon put in place to limit the number of immigrants which would be allowed in.

The post-war migrants which had come from far and wide to Britain had been summoned to come and help and rebuild Britain and they were entitled to citizenship as being British subjects as being part of the commonwealth. Many of which were highly skilled but only given menial manual labour jobs, which of course caused of a lot of discontent and outrage and this generation of British immigrants were not at all prepared to settle for this.

The Black Power Movement was about empowerment, pan Africanism, and an act of resistance against the establishment. The American movement by the likes of Malcolm X and Stokely Carmichael (Black Panthers) soon sparked its own footing on British soil. The British Black Power Movement was more of a global phenomenon in comparison to its American counterpart in the sense that it wasn’t exclusive to only black people but focused upon minority struggles as a whole, there were also many South Asian activists fighting for the cause of empowering ethnic minorities in Britain. The British Black Power Movement really emphasized the concept that ‘Black is not the colour of our skin, but the colour of our politics’ – which really emphasizes the way in which minorities are able to share and connect with their experiences with racism and being treated as second class citizens. Leading figures in the movement included, Darcus Howe, Obi Egbuna (the leader of British Black Panthers), Michael X and also female figures by the likes of Olive Morris, Leila Hassan etc...

This movement was very empowering and all about resisting the racist agenda embedded in British institutions. The racism in Britain is very insidious. It is very much prevalent, but hidden and not obvious to those looking in, because it is not as bad as the events which have happened in America. The British media has continually made an effort to conceal racism in Britain and totally discard the whole movement resisting it.

There have been many movements, protests, riots and several forms of activism which Black British people have done to resist the treatment towards us as ethnic minorities.

The Brixton Riots in the 1980’s, the England Riots in 2011 sparked by the unlawful killing of Mark Duggan. Recent movements such as Black Lives Matter UK – 2016 – now (which had sparked interested from its counterpart movement in the US). Modern black British activism has now shaped itself in the form of hashtag activism due to the influx of new forms of technology and in particular the advent of social media. This can be seen through Black Twitter and its ‘cancellation’ culture, Black Girl Magic (challenging western beauty standards) and also through YouTube – providing a platform to debate about issues within the black community. The advent of social media has some advantages, such as it providing an ease of organization and capability of reaching a larger amount of people but also equally disadvantageous as people have become increasingly lazy and don’t participate in real activism – activism has turned into likes and retweets and this is quite problematic.

Although we have come very far, we still have many issues to combat, such as stop and search police brutality, the underrepresentation of black people in the establishment, disengagement and disenfranchisement from political issues. We as a community need to ensure that we don’t lose the legacy of people such as Darcus Howe and Olive Morris in Modern Black British History.

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