Unshackling the Afro-British mind in history month

Thomas L Blair

October’s Black History month comes again - full of contradictions.  It gives local worthies a chance to add undigested “facts” and swatches of colour, comedy and music to the events.

But the back-up money and thematic control is firmly not in their hands. Central and local government agencies, the media and advertisers have leading roles. Charities, churches, voluntary groups, primary care trusts, museums and libraries put on their annual show of tolerance. Of course, nothing confrontational, please.  Nothing “too political or nationalist”.  Only images that beguile and suit the tastes of the “wider society”.  

Therefore, the month unfolds with the usual cast of characters. Politicians mouth their “I’m so happy to support you” platitudes to invited successful celebrities in journalism, politics, sports, music and fashion. City officials and “race relations experts” cobble together a potpourri of walks, talks and exhibitions endorsed by servile self-seekers and dependent local groups.

However, to keen observers, three decades of these post-colonial events expose a fatal flaw. The origins and meaning of Black History Month are ignored – some say suppressed.  It is not widely reported that an African, Mrs. Akyaaba Addai Sebbo of the Greater London Council, is credited with originating the event in 1987. Significantly it is widely supported by Afro-Caribbeans.

We are deprived therefore of some essential information. Her inspiration came from the African American Kwanzaa creator Dr. Maulana Karenga, the invited host of the first assembly.

Furthermore, at its deepest roots, the month signifies the gathering of the African community in the diaspora. Originally, the celebrants shared their food, libations, dance and drumming, extolled their leadership and recited their common experiences in the citadels of modernism.

In this way, they affirmed two important principles in a hostile urban environment. They strengthened their confidence and awareness of their cultural heritages. They celebrated their triumphs since slavery and reclaimed sovereignty over their own humanity that has given so much to British society and world cultures.  

Ignorance of these origins and triumphs is no excuse and perversely  has negative effects.  It inhibits discussion of, and fails to contribute to, Black Cultural Progress. Hence, the misplaced zeal unleashed in October’s sponsored events masks a singular inability to be serious about Black culture.  Moreover, the hodgepodge of individual personalities and heroics creates no collective cultural and social capital for Black communities.

To be serious would require Black definition and direction. Celebrating Black culture would have to be rooted in thoughtful afro-centric analysis.

Alas, a historically challenged people have no major guiding and protective Black advancement institutions. There are no Black-led study associations and anti-defamation leagues. No authoritative, homegrown Black literary, business and political journals exist.  In addition, there are no dedicated Black Studies scholars, writers and artists working to bring cultural history to life.

Without these grounding, community building institutions and talents, Black pride and identity erodes, and cultural deformation and alienation surely follow. This is the hallmark of a postcolonial people in deep crisis.

To combat this dire prospect, it is essential to securely preserve, defend and invigorate authentic Black culture in the diaspora so that favourable conditions for development can be created. In a series of articles, I will be proposing a range of innovative ideas to unshackle the Afro-British mind. Questions will be asked and answered. What are the key issues shaping the crisis of culture called Black urbanism? How can cultural empowerment link to social, economic and political progress?  What are the best strategies to birth a new generation of cultural champions among Black youth, public intellectuals and policymakers?

* Thomas L Blair PhD, is a sociologist and internet journalist, has a distinguished academic career in social policy analysis, and is a well-known independent political commentator on Black urban affairs. His book THE AUDACITY OF CYBERSPACE -The struggle for Internet power is highly recommended by The-Latest.