Unshackling the Afro-British mind

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A series by Thomas L Blair

October’s Black History month comes again – full of contradictions.  Local worthies recite undigested “facts” and add swatches of colour, comedy and music to the events. However, the back-up money and thematic control is firmly not in their hands.

The leading players are government and town hall agents, the media and advertisers.  Charities, churches, voluntary groups, primary care trusts add their balm of Gilead. Museums and libraries promise they care.  Of course, nothing confrontational, please.  Nothing “too political, or nationalist”.  Nothing “too black”, really. Only images that beguile and suit the tastes of the “wider society”.  

The usual cast of cardboard characters appear on stage. Politicians mouth their “I’m so happy to support you” platitudes to invited successful celebrities. 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 a Ghanaian,  Akyaaba Addai Sebbo of the Greater London Council, is credited with originating the event in 1987.

We are deprived therefore of some essential information.  The African American Kwanzaa creator Dr. Maulana Karenga, the invited host of the first assembly, was a major source of inspiration.

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. They extolled their leadership, sang praise-songs, and recited their common experiences in the citadels of modernism.

In this way, the celebrants of African heritage affirmed two important principles to safeguard them in a hostile urban environment. They strengthened their confidence and awareness of their cultural heritages. They celebrated their triumphs since slavery, colonialism and debt bondage. Moreover, they reclaimed their own humanity that has given so much to British society and world cultures.  

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 – greats this and the 50 that – does not create collective cultural and social capital for Black communities.

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

Alas, a historically challenged people are disempowered – rudderless, adrift in a sea of despond. They have no major dedicated, guiding and protective Black advancement institutions. No anti-defamation leagues.  Publishing houses are scarce. The one “black newspaper”, The Voice, is “foreign-owned”  by the Caribbean Gleaner company  whose interests are more representative of its “Go Jamaica” tourist, sugar, rum, soft drinks and minerals supporters  than those of the poor in the Kingston yards.   

Moreover, the wellsprings of wisdom have run dry. The early prize-winning students and Rhodes scholars vanished in the olive groves of academe. There are no Black-led study associations. No authoritative, homegrown, sustainable Black literary, business and political journals exist. In addition, there are no dedicated teams of Africana and Black Studies scholars, writers and artists working to bring cultural history to life.

Without  grounding, community building institutions, rock-solid organisations and robust 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, authenticate and invigorate Black culture in the diaspora so that favourable conditions for development can be created.

In a series of articles, I propose 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?

Text and photo are Copyright © Thomas L Blair 2009 and cannot be used without  written permission. +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

 Notes on the author: Thomas L Blair PhD is a sociologist and independent online commentator, and publishes the 12-yearold Internet news magazine The Chronicleworld http://www.chronicleworld.org.  Author of numerous books and articles, his most recent publication is THE AUDACITY OF CYBERSPACE -The struggle for Internet power in Black World communities.  ISBN: 978-1-906942-00-7  Published 2009. See The-Latest.com Books page. PREVIEW AND ORDER this new vision and plan for Blacks in cyberspace at  http://m-ybooks.co.uk/blair/index.html