From Black culture crisis to liberating action


By Thomas L Blair — 20-12-10 ©

At its best, Black culture offers rich cultural experiences, the drive for achievement and an endless love of justice – along with some rhythmic soul. Rooted cultural awareness is a powerful motive force for creativity in all institutions of culture.

As Paul Robeson, one-time resident in London said “In my music, my plays, my films, I want to carry always this central idea: to be African. Multitudes of men have died for less worthy ideas: it is even more eminently worth living for.”

However, not all of Britain’s 1.4 million people of African and West Indian heritage, colours and faiths can be expected to tread a single path to progress. Contenders in the movement towards renewing Black Britain range from youth-saving Christians to ministers of the Black Muslims and the Nation of Islam, from disillusioned marxists and Labour stalwarts to obama-ists, integrationists, mixed-race rights campaigners, Rastafarians and cultural nationalists.

Nevertheless, all face a common crisis. Failure rates are quite high – peoples pride and identity erode, self-hatred sets in and complacency limits horizons in often racist and crisis-ridden societies. That is why I have identified a “new Black urbanism” — in which all people of colour can share in the rescue, revival and representation of Black culture.

Robust talents drawn from youth, professionals, policy makers and community building leaders will share their strengths and spirits. “We must learn to use Black culture as springboards to the future”, says Wole Soyinka, Nobel Prize winning writer, cultural activist and member of the Society of African Culture. By networking, learning to listen and communicate, developing team building skills and fraternal relationships, they will enrich the International Year for People of African Descent 2011

Furthermore, I have identified the actions that are crucial to success in the the Decade for Black British Culture and Development 2010 to 2020, they are:

• Explore Black culture and identity in the citadel of urbanism,

• Link the talents of parents, elders and youth,

• Affirm Black Culture’s link between tradition and modernity,

• Transform intellectuals, artists and writers into vanguard activists for Black people,

• Mobilise new cultural policy leaders,

• Cyber organise for culture and development and

• Commit to a positive future.

By these actions, people will secure their place in the atlas of history and human geography. “[Cultural} history tells people who, where and what they are and where they still must go, and what they still must be”, said the eminent Africanist John Henrik Clarke.

Forward looking Afro-Britons must use their talents to inspire “cultural creativity, influence policy and effect change in the interest of social justice,” said poet-writer-activist John La Rose. So to a conclusion. Cultural power without economic and political power is no power.


This is the final of ten instalments in his Black History Month 2009-10 series on the crisis of Black urbanism. It is hailed as essential reading for anyone who wants to chart the present failures and future prospects in the State of Black Britain. The tags are: Introduction. Black British culture is in crisis’ says leading scholar, Unshackling the Afro-British mind in history month, Talented newcomers call for action to ‘Save Black Britain’, Aspiring Black youth are the solution not the problem, Jail or empowerment for Black youth?, Why aren’t Black deaths in custody an election issue, New African Caribbean faces in parliament are high-flyers, ‘Play Mas’ at carnival but challenge cultural racism, Sancho’s children: Are “new Africans” the future for Black British political culture, Let’s make 2010/2020 Black Britain’s decade for culture and development.

Notes on terminology and statistics

Black British, as used here, refers to British people of Black African/Caribbean descent. It has been used primarily from the 1950s to describe those from the former colonies of Africa, and the Caribbean, i.e. the New Commonwealth. More recently, it has come to define a British resident with specifically Sub-Saharan African ancestral origins, who self-identifies, or is identified, as “Black”, African or Afro-Caribbean. Black British is used as a category in UK national statistics ethnicity classifications, where it is sub-divided into Caribbean, African and Other Black groups.

Census categorization is a minefield of suspicious and inaccurate terminology. However, the best official reports are used here. Black Britain, Black British or Afro-British, refer to the total 2million descendants of African heritage in Britain. Afro- Caribbeans in Britain are a sub-category and refers specifically to the people of Afro-Caribbean or West Indian heritage (600,000-estimated population). Further sub-categories of Black British include Black African (800,000) and others (120,000), and a significant, growing number of mixed-race children with whites (400,000), according to the Office of National Statistics, Neighbourhood statistics 2009.

Useful resources

Look for well-written books by Black social scientists. These include The Oxford Companion to Black British History by David Dabydeen, Black British Culture and Society by Kwesi Owusu (Editor) and After Empire: Multiculture or Postcolonial Melancholia by Paul Gilroy. Readers will benefit from Susan Okokon, Black Londoners 1880-1990, Hakim Adi West Africans in Britain 1900-1960 and Harry Goulbourne Race Relations in Britain since 1945.

Cultural theorist Stuart Hall links prejudice and the media in racially constructed societies and has influenced contemporary cultural studies. John La Rose, the poet of Black and working class unity has demonstrated the power of poetics. His colleagues Roxy Harris and Sarah White at the George Padmore Institute have revealed the progress of Black Britons in “humanising and transcending the limitations of British society” in two volumes on Changing Britannia and Building Britannia.

Notes on the Author

Thomas L Blair, PhD and Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts FRSA, is an African-American sociologist resident in Britain for over 40 years. Immediately relevant is his companion article, “Urbanism and Poetics” in Présence Africaine 175-176-177, 50th Anniversary of the 1er International Congress of Black Writers and Artists, 19-22 September 2006,Volume II, p.246-252.

He is editor and publisher of the Chronicleworld at, the Internet magazine on the Black experience in Britain and Afro-Europe. He also blogs on and has a professional profile on His online web sites are an important “representation of British Culture”, according to the national British Library, a leader in “conserving world knowledge”. See his Cyberaction for Social Change, and Changing Black Britain

His book The Audacity of Cyberspace: The struggle for Internet power (2009) ISBN 978-1 906986-81-0 describes how Black communities in America, England, and language groups in sub-Saharan Africa are taming the new information technologies. It complements this series and is available through bookstores, libraries and online via Google and Amazon books.