By Vince Hines
Joint Chair, Afrika And Diaspora Institute (AaDI)
We salute you for your dedications, consistency and tenacity in pursuing your causes. We hope that your evident campaigning spirit will be an example to others in our community. You sometimes got ‘knock back’, when you articulate your vision for a better and more productive Black Community, not only in the UK, but on the Continent of Afrika and in the Afrikan Diasporas.
Your approach to Black Community Development in the UK, along with a few others with whom I spoke recently, is reminiscent of the 1950s, 60s, 70s and 80s immigrants’, who arrived from the British Caribbean and came up against unprecedented racial hostilities, presented by members of the ‘Host’ Country.
Immigrants brought important gifts to British way of life
Those Black immigrants reached for ‘self-help’ in order to survive. They built and respected their own institutions, like black-led churches, which extended today to their mosques; the ‘partner’ hands (community credit unions); sound systems (mobile discos), which introduced to the UK, Diaspora and Continental music – Ska, Reggae, Socca, Calypso, Soul, RnB and Highlife, for black community entertainment – bearing in mind that the majority of Black immigrants could not enter social clubs, which were operated by members of the Host Community. A ‘colour bar’ was in place. One of the famous introductions by Black immigrants was the Caribbean Carnival Movement. The most well-known initiative is still operating in Notting Hill, West London, a shadow of its original purpose, and at risk of being disbanded.
Members of the Black Community also introduced grassroots multi-media community initiatives, like the ‘West Indian World Newspaper’; the ‘West Indian Digest’ and ‘Drum’ Magazines; and ‘Dread Broadcasting Corporation’ (DBC), the first pioneering community radio station in the UK, which catered for the grassroots.
Black people also founded community pressure groups for political actions and social changes; youth hostels for homeless black youth; private child care facilities; Caribbean supplementary Saturday schools; information and advice centres, providing legal advice for black victims of harassments and sometimes violent attacks by ‘Teddy Boys’, ‘Skin Heads’ - ‘white youth sub-cultures having racist beliefs and practices’, and renegade policemen, who drew heavily on section 4 of the Vagrancy Act 1824.
This Act applied to suspected persons and reputed thieves frequenting or loitering. “The sus laws”, Black people called it at the time. Members of the Black Community believed that the police used this section of the Act to justify their malpractices against them.
Campaigning Power of the Black Community
Through the campaigning power of members of the Black Community, obnoxious parts of the Vagrancy Act were repealed by Parliament. There was a strong sense of solidarity among the immigrants, partly because we were all feeling the racist heat, which demanded collective solidarity and actions.
Here are irrefutable evidence of black community creativities, residing in the citadel and ancestral home of British chattel slave owners. Creativities which fertilised Britain, as the Afrikan Nile fertilises Egypt. From this explosion of Afrikan initiatives, came a type of light, joy and hope, not only for the immigrants from the Caribbean; but also for the wider British community. This type of creative energy does not die or easily extinguished.
Today, social problems among members of a ‘settled’ Black Community, particularly the young, take on other forms. Some social commentators believe that today’s social challenges in Britain are more difficult than those experienced by earlier immigrants, who are now grandparents and parents and others have made their final journey to another realm.
The 1950s-1980s Black immigrants, through their ‘dedication, consistency and tenacity in pursuing their just causes’, were able to contribute significantly to the enactments of historical social – race, community relations and equalities, like the Race Relations Acts of 1965 and 1968, now in place on the Statutes Book. Some of these laws have far reaching implications for race relations and equalities in the UK, and now benefiting millions, yet to be matched by other European states. These early acts gave birth to gender, sexual, disability and age equalities legislations.
Probably, this same approach to injustices during the 1950s-80s, in Britain, was the same type of motivations by Afrikan ancestors in their painful and protracted fights against slavery, colonisation, imperialism, neo-colonialism, and later civil rights, anti-racist, anti-apartheid, anti-lynching campaigns in the ‘New World’ and in Afrika. History clearly demonstrated that Black people gained a great deal in adopting direct, fearless, give your all approach to securing progressive community development, not only for themselves, but also for others.
‘Bling Bling’ & Materialistic Cultures
Currently, significant areas of our communities seem imbalanced by ‘bling bling’ and ‘materialistic’ sub-cultures. This seems to have got in the way, clouding ‘real’ humanity issues. Members of our communities’ apparent hypnotic focus on personalities – ephemeral ‘celebrity sub-cultures’, at the expense of substance, continued to baffle many thinkers in our, and other, progressive communities. Meanwhile, well-placed and powerful groups and individuals seem to be using this current state of the peoples’ mental diversions, as cover to removing individual and collective civil liberties.
So-called black leaders, many of whom are supposed to team up with others and mount consistent challenges to social injustices ,and so inspire the people to aim for higher social equalities, progressive community development and quality of life, seem to have become complacent clones – facsimiles of those they seek to imitate in search of respectability, approval and validation. Some of these clones allowed the fire within to cool, at the expense of the poor and disadvantaged and ‘underclass’.
Black Radicalism and Duty of Care
They exchanged their ‘duty of care’ for financial rewards and accolades from spurious outdated honour system, instead of painful, frontline community advocacy leadership. The greater pain in all this is their so-called ‘leadership’ positions. They are called upon regularly by policy makers conveniently, or out of ignorance, to make leadership pronouncements on behalf of ‘the black community’.
In some quarters, ‘Black radicalism’, duty bound to push for social, economic and political changes, seems to be seeking respectability and validation, by the same forces which currently hinder real community development of our peoples. And who are our peoples? – the poor, disadvantaged, socially excluded and voiceless, those of many colours, ethnicities and genders, marginalised by a crushing system, which will not let up until people of conscience, vision, courage, and commitment, stand together and say collectively ‘ enough’.
It’s time to start having significant reduction in poverty; inmates in our prison population and psychiatric institutions in Britain. It is time for the creation of real opportunities for our young people who are socially excluded, and have become harder to reach, and now feasting on delusions of becoming part of an ‘affluent’ ‘bling bling’ social set, while, in reality, holding badges of ‘under glass’ status.
Clone leadership and unfocused statements further alienations of disadvantaged members of our society. There is a need for creativity and inventiveness, the example of which was set by Black immigrants of the 1950s-1980s. They implemented ‘needs led leaderships’.
The black and white grassroots know who is true to their cause. It is very difficult for hypocrites to work at the ‘cynical’ roots. There is a built in test by fire. Left to their own devices, the socially excluded sometimes have unrealistic expectations, and often turn on those nearest to them, in the height of their frustrations.
Some so-called black leaders run away from this type of ‘ingratitude’, as they term it, only to reinforce in the minds of the poor and indecisive– ‘you see, they gone. They didn’t care for us in the first place.’ Activists in retirement and semi retirement come back to community work. Those who had not been in community work, come and join us. Your local community needs you. If you are true, the children and young people will listen and accept your positive guidance. They need it, though they can be challenging at times.
Black Children and Young People continue to populate prisons and psychiatric institutions
Our children and young people continue to populate the prisons and psychiatric institutions, at a higher proportion than their representations in further and higher education lecture halls, according to the British Government’s own Commission for Racial Equality (CRE) research findings. We now kill each other at will; disrespect black seniority and join with others to slander and put down our frontline leaders and black institutions, who are clearly promoting policies and activities for the good of the community. This is not unique in the UK. Some Caribbean Islands, American cities and Afrikan States have been experiencing this type of political, social and economic aberrations, part of the ‘post slavery colonisation syndrome.’ Some of us are the happiest when we fight each other. It was not always like this. As our history informed us during the 1950s-1980s in Britain. Things can change again for the best. It must and it will!
Religions do not seem to fill the void. We must be vigilant against being bounced into and along theological and anti-theological alleyways and cul-de-sacs. Social deprivations affect people of all faiths, including those without. Faith believers and non-believers, in their fight for rights, deserve the support of all progressive elements of our communities. There can be no ‘them and us’. Nature continues to teach us important lessons. Global warming and flooding and other natural disasters across our Planet, affect us all.
On the face of it, many living among us ‘don’t know better’. If this is true, it creates a burden of purpose to all those who care about the welfare of our communities. Evidently, many know better and also care, probably because of their declaration of being a practising Spiritualists; Hindu; Jew and their compassion; Buddhists; Jains; Christians; Muslims, being true to core charity tenets; Sheikhs; Taoists; Humanists; Socialist/Communists; Rasta; Pan-Afrikanists; and other individual personal belief systems that demand accountability for personal actions in the end. As such, you are probably of the view that you have important duties to humanity.
Caring about others can be ‘an expensive luxury’
Caring for others, however, can be an expensive luxury in an increasingly ‘smash and grab’ materialistic society, ‘promoted and delivered from the very top.’
Historical activities clearly demonstrated that members of the British Black Afrikan community had ‘a sense of purpose and belonging’, with clear objectives and direction, the bench mark against which campaigns were mounted and concluded successfully. Today, there seems to exist, in some quarters, social polarisations. And so, the hopes and aspirations of the people in need perish.
The Voluntary and Community Sector, including the Black Self-Help Movement, traditionally the foundation of innovations and creativities, in Britain are being straight jacketed into a contract culture, which seems to favour large established and traditional orientated organisations, who have little but no contact with grass roots members of our society, where significant unmet social needs are being generated daily.
No Height too high to reach
One must, therefore, appreciate current Community Activists’ burning visions and their calls for respect to be shown to members of the Black Community and their grass roots’ leadership; first and foremost by ourselves and then others. We must scale artificially constructed barriers placed in our way and re-kindle the torch of creativity to burn brightly and collectively again, in order that others will also have their torches lit. No height is too high for us to reach, when we apply ‘Self-Help’. Self-Help is revolutionary. Self-Help is anti-dependency. Self-Help demands our discovering and harvesting our innate abilities and resources. Self-Help is sharing and collective actions for the greater good. Self-help is not selfishness. It is not wanton greed.
Dr. Vince Hines is one of Britain’s civil rights stalwarts, enduring community activist, journalist and author. Recent work “Afrika Crucible and Resurrection”
Big Ben, London, England