Powering Black Diaspora Studies

By Thomas L Blair 5 November 2016 ©

Charmaine & Mark Thompson/tlb enhanced
Charmaine & Mark Thompson/tlb enhanced

It’s time to recognise that Black History celebrations need a value-adding tool: Black Diaspora Studies in community, schools and universities.

Black studies for community learning and action

One exciting “aha” project put heritage in the hands of communities in Hackney, London. Charmaine and Mark Thompson are “educating communities, to educate themselves”. A brave attempt in a district where 30% of residents are Black African and Caribbean, and issues of deprivation threaten to crush body and soul.

The Thompsons’ project has many advantages. Citizens, educators and policymakers working together build social capital and inspiration. Participants gather insights and reflections that enrich families and neighbourhoods.

Topics include:

Great Black Women in History
Black Economic Empowerment
African Holocaust (Maangamizi): The History & Legacy of African Enslavement
Black Londoners: History of Black People in London before 1948
African History Before The Slave Trade

Cause for Hope – Black studies short courses in the university

Another initiative advances Black Studies in higher education. Dr Kehinde Andrews of Birmingham City University heads the “first Black Studies course at a British university.

Author of Resisting Racism in Birmingham, Dr Andrews is keen to engage the city’s large African-Caribbean population. It is a social dividend for all citizens, Andrews has declared. “This city is one of Europe’s most diverse cities, with a “strong history” of community activism and engagement. http://www.independent.co.uk/student/student-life/Studies/birmingham-city-university-becomes-first-in-europe-to-offer-black-studies-degree-a7038131.html

Furthermore, networks of heritage communities and scholars shape Caribbean and Diaspora Studies Goldsmith College, University of London. Prof Joan Anim-Addo’s one-week short courses are the only Caribbean-led Centre within a University environment. Participants in the “Researching Black London:  Community, Culture and Family in Lewisham” courses, learn more about their family history or genealogy. Lecturers explore diverse Black histories of migration, race, gender and sexuality.http://www.gold.ac.uk/short-courses/researching-black-london/

Go Global – Towards a University School of Black Diaspora Studies

Short courses have value, but to carve a place in higher education, Black scholars must breech the gates of the olive groves of academe. Baroness Valerie Amos of Guyana, the first and highest-ranking British university leader should sit down among a half-dozen black scholars with the courage to found the first University School of Black Diaspora Studies. Planners can benefit from her deep well of “firsts” in the Cabinet, in the Lords and former advisor to the Mandela Government. 69i57.16165j0j7&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8

Info-point: Rest assured, this proposal is not fantasy, British universities house a plethora of “Studies” schools among them the School of African and Asian Studies, London School of Economics, headed by Baroness Valerie Amos.
In the USA, Black and Diaspora Studies rest comfortably on the twin pillars of academic excellence and social responsibility. From small beginnings in the civil rights struggle, Studies
departments, programs, centres and institutes have their market share of the academic turf in more than 200 American public and private academic institutions. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/may/14/british-universities-need-black-studies

Mission and Focus

Breeching the academic gates requires a strong expeditionary force. Not only do planners of Black Diaspora Studies need to gain a place in the university system, they need to define its mission.

  • The new School will focus on the languages, cultures and societies of Black World societies.
  • Highly motivated and outward looking, the School would be an indispensable interpreter in a complex world.
  • Scholars must have unparalleled expertise on the histories of the Black World in Africa, Afro-Caribbean, African American, Black British and Afro-Europe.
  • The School’s resident and international scholars will serve as guardians of specialised knowledge in Black urbanism and change not available anywhere else in the UK.
  • Tutors and students will grapple with pressing issues – democracy, development, equal and human rights, identity, legal systems, poverty, religion, global networks, cultural and sequential arts and literature.

Recruit Talented Scholars and Public Intellectuals

Course readings will feature major theorists in Decolonising “eurocentric knowledge”. Prof Stuart Hall founded Cultural Studies at the University of Birmingham. Professors Gus John and Paul Gilroy have added their expertise in the politics of cultural change.

Furthermore, University of East London’s Dr Kimani Nehusi explores African traditions in Libation: An Afrikan Ritual in the Circle of Life published in the Encyclopedia of African Religion edited by Molefi Kete Asante. Dr Robbie Shilliam, Senior Lecturer in International Relations in the School of Politics, is a Rastafarian and Ethiopian Studies expert.

Kwesi Owusu’s Black British Culture and Society reader draws attention to issues such as work, health, housing, education, feminism, ageing, community and race relations as well as Black culture and the arts.


The new Black Diaspora Studies School requires funding to begin and survive. Planners must source the philanthropy of celebrities and “Power List personalities”. Outspoken champions of business social responsibility should be tapped for strategic advice. Sonny Nwankwo is one – he directs the Black Business Observatory at the University of East London in The Noon Centre for Equality and Diversity in Business. Another is millionaire Tidjane Thiam, Head of Credit Suisse. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/newsbysector/banksandfinance/insurance/11507577/

Welcome community advocates and public intellectuals – Train professionals

This new School balance of knowledge and social responsibility represents a vital stimulus in the university system. The School will welcome external and associate lecturers in all courses, conferences, debates and forums. http://blackbritishacademics.co.uk/about/ and http://blacksisternetwork.blackbritishacademics.co.uk/

The School will train professionals in community education. To further this aim, the School will make recommendations to the Royal College of Teaching for a Black Studies teacher licensing scheme, managed through the curriculum process and involving the subject professional associations.


The evidence shows that the trans-national study of the Black World has profound educational and practical value. It supports “Homemade education” as well as formal instruction. It encourages learning and doing. It combines knowledge and regeneration. Implemented well, at all levels, Black Diaspora Studies is a fresh decolonising boost to British education.

Further readings include Decolonising Knowledge – Expanding the Black Experience in Britain’s heritage. http://socialwelfare.bl.uk/subject-areas/services-activity/community-development/editionsblair/decolonising13.aspx