By MURPHY BROWNE
Africans in Britain celebrate Black/African History Month from October 1 to 31. Akyaaba Addai-Sebo initiated the celebration after realizing that African youth in Britain did not want to acknowledge their African heritage because of the White supremacist distorted images of Africa and Africans that the youth were force fed through media and the education system.
Addai-Sebo, who was a special projects officer at the Greater London Council (the top-tier local government administrative body for Greater London from 1965 to 1986) and later at the London Strategic Policy Unit, knew that it was crucial to help young Africans in Britain change how they viewed themselves.
Addai-Sebo had immigrated to Britain from Ghana, where he had grown up during Kwame Nkrumah’s presidency and benefited from the Young Pioneers movement where the participants were educated about Pan Africanism and the history of Africans, including Africa’s contributions to world civilization.
Addai-Sebo invited Dr. Maulana Karenga to speak at the first Black History Month event on October 1, 1987. In an interview about why Dr. Karenga was chosen, Addai-Sebo said: “He was chosen specifically because of his relevance to what we were doing and because he had launched Kwanzaa which had become a successful part of the cultural calendar both in the U.S. and the UK.”
Similar to our experience in Canada, the knowledge of the history of Africans is marginal or non-existent in Britain. White people in Britain may be aware that Africans from the Caribbean immigrated to Britain in large numbers beginning with the 492 passengers who arrived in Tilbury, Essex on June 22, 1948 disembarking from the Empire Windrush. However, it is not generally known and certainly not part of the history curriculum that Africans lived in Britain for centuries before the arrival of the Empire Windrush.
Of course, there were Africans who were kidnapped from their homes and taken to Britain (during the time period in which Britain monopolized the trade in African bodies.) Kidnapped Africans were taken to Britain and sold in London, Liverpool or Bristol and some enslaved Africans were taken to Britain from the Caribbean by returning sea-captains, colonial administrators and plantation owners.
For the aristocracy and the newly rich (whose money was made from the slave trade), an enslaved African page or handmaiden was an asset to be shown off as evidence of exotic wealth so, in the 18th century, images of Africans were evident in the art and even in the writing of that time period.
By the 1760s, the African population in Britain had grown to somewhere between 20,000 and 40,000. Granville Sharp (a White abolitionist) estimated that there were 20,000 Africans living in Britain’s capital city (London) which, at the time, had a population of 676,250 people. Some of these Africans had gained their freedom but worked as servants because they could not find any other type of work.
Even before the Maafa (the 500-year period of European genocidal attacks on Africans) Africans lived in Britain.
From the Museum of London: “The first human remains in London were found in Swanscombe and are 400,000 years old. These humans were the descendants of people who migrated from Africa about one million years ago and arrived in Britain around 300,000 years later”.
The physical remains of an African presence in Britain are also addressed by the London Museum: “There is some evidence of an African presence in Britain during Roman times. A regiment of soldiers from North Africa was stationed at Hadrian’s Wall”. Hadrian’s Wall, which stretches 177 kilometres and is 15 feet high, was built between 122 and 126 AD. It still exists and can be seen even from an aerial view.
Although Africans have lived in Britain (as in Canada) for centuries they have not gained acceptance from White people who live in Britain. British based dub poet Linton Kwesi Johnson’s Sonny’s Lettah, which addresses racial profiling and police brutality (it can be viewed at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ydv0ryxZEmQ&feature=related) could be the experience of an African Canadian male.
While it is important that we know our history, we also need to realize that racism is not a result of White people’s ignorance of African history, achievement and contribution to civilization. Racism is about power and the refusal to share economic and political power resulting in a sense of superiority for those with White skin privilege. One strategy to bring an end to feelings of inferiority that some members of our community experience is to educate ourselves and refuse to see ourselves through the eyes of those who seek to oppress.
As we approach the end of the year (it’s just three months away) we need to begin planning our Kwanzaa celebrations and even African Heritage Month celebrations for February 2010. Those celebrations have to be about more than song, dance and food. We have to define who we are, expressing the second Kwanzaa principle Kujichagulia (self determination.)