Black Britain and social change

“Change been long coming”:


There’s some truth in the saying: “When America coughs, Britain catches a cold”. Barack Obama’s “stand for change” in the US presidential elections has moved the cultural historian Alex Pascall O.B.E. to declare that “Change Been Long Coming” in Britain, too.


Drawing on his personal collection of thoughts about the ordinary and extra-ordinary aspects of Blacks in Britain, Alex Pascall says, “Blacks today have fought the good fight and stamped their demand for respect in lots of places”.

 We livened up old neighbourhoods
The old housing stock we met have been given new life, Caribbean’s with the ingenuity and pride for the home have transformed the housing culture, thus laying a foundation for their children, something which was not there at all on entry to this country for immigrants of colour. Change has come and more is yet to follow in the racially and ethnically diverse London boroughs such as Islington, Peckham-Lewisham, Camden, Brent, Tottenham and Lambeth.

 Food and marketing
In the past, stores and supermarkets had few Black. Blacks were told that they could not be hired because whites would not want to buy from them. Blacks today set the trends in fashion, the Black barber shops and hairdressers are crowded and the whites are fast moving in to capture a slice of this economy because it’s lucrative.

Putting some sweet stuff in British life
Go to the movies, follow the night life, check out the bars and Caribbean restaurants, watch who comes in and listen to them as they order and you will be amazed to hear them asking for curried goat, sweet potatoes, plantains, and as for ‘jerk’. Well the Notting Hill carnival has it all; not only has the carnival transformed some of the media and police behaviour, it has been a forum for real education. It attracts thousands of Europeans making a pilgrimage annually to sample Black and Caribbean cuisine and ketch up as the saying goes. They come to sap up the atmosphere while hold on to a dish of Ackee and salt fish, and a pint of Red Stripe beer or traditional Mauby juice to wash it down.

Jazzing up the Brits
The music that we met was ‘Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard’ far divorced from the rhythmic variety we were accustomed to. Whites could not dance; they were great at flinging a leg, like the Tiller Girls of London Palladium. Today the beat in London is soulful, and pulsating. The injection of the Black and Caribbean Reggae, Cuban Salsa, Calypso and SOCA has crossed fertilised with the American jazz, and other soul fusions and London is now a haven for clubs where the races “socialise and otherwise”.

 Adding colour and style
We landed in tailor made suits and dresses by seamstresses – a far cry from the British off the peg culture that was rigid and colourless. Photographs of our coming, our weddings and christening of our children are great to look back to. Now our Black British fashions and hair styles shape new innovations in pop culture.

Using gospel to lift the spirit and ease the pain
Today the Christian Churches which blocked us from entering to worship are empty, or sold into the housing market. Others have been bought up by Black and Caribbean people.  Now in urban London, there is a thriving gospel movement where the white folk are coming in to clap and shout hallelujah in the rhythm of true gospel like the Black Americans. 

 Forging a place in the labour market
The Caribbean nurses and transport workers of the past have left the national health and rail services looking for improvement. (Because the authorities chose not to use their creative abilities.) Now, their third generation children have moved into higher, better paying jobs in the public and private sectors.

We can say that the Black and Caribbean presence in London has certainly made a visible and spiritual impact far beyond what the first generation of Caribbean’s who arrived in the windrush of the late forties and fifties had to endure. The Caribbean culture particularly in London and the inner cities has become an integral part of the British economy and urban culture.

Nevertheless, in Britain, as in Barack Obama’s America, there is still a long way to go before the outposts of the African and Caribbean Diaspora can achieve justice and equality of opportunities. 

 “Everywhere I go I hear them saying,
Give time a change is coming
A change is coming, a change is coming
Give time a change is coming
Give time, give time,
We gotta change, we gotta change”
©Alex Pascall (From the song “Give time a change is coming”) ©Alex Pascall Website: 

Alex Pascall is a Cultural Historian, Journalist, Broadcaster, Playwright, Composer, Performer and Trade Unionist. Widely known as a cultural griot, Pascall has extensive knowledge and experience of Black and Caribbean cultural lifestyle in Britain. He has worked nationally and internationally in demonstrating the impact of creativity in education.