BOOK REVIEW: Black British History: Black Influences on British Culture (1948 – 2018) by Robin Walker, Vanika Marshall, Paula Perry, Anthony Vaughan

As most of you will know, I didn’t grow up in the UK and attended school in my home country, South Africa. The history I was taught was very focused on World Wars and American history for one half of the curriculum. The other half was much about what is known as “The Struggle”, which is the history of the architecture of Apartheid and how it was dismantled. I will admit that at the time I wasn’t aware enough to be able to assess how accurate and unbiased it was. I also can’t remember a lot of the detail because I graduate high school 22 years ago.

Having spoken to friends who did go to school in the UK and from doing some research it seems very little modern Black British history is taught. This textbook aims to address this gap through a series of practical modules that could be used just as easily in a classroom setting as for your own personal learning.

The content looks at the arrival of the Windrush Generation, how they were perceived by the existing British communities they joined. This is followed by the impact that the growing new Black community had on British culture.

What I found most enlightening was how much Black music, fashion and ideas influenced the things we see as quintessentially British and how this influence has largely been erased from our understanding of where it came from. It’s another stark reminder that White people like to take what they think is valuable from other cultures and appropriate it without credit.

There are also modules that look at how Black British people were policed, discriminated against (by the very people who invited them to come) and endlessly challenged by their new home.

I loved the fact that the text included interviews, clips from newspaper articles and interviews. It’s a great resource if you want to learn more. I also think a must read for anyone who doesn’t believe or understand systemic racism in the UK or thinks this is a US problem. If you are an educator there are activities provided at the end of each module that help learners to solidify their knowledge and practise critical thinking. If I had a high school age child I would be thrilled if they were taught from this book.

My hope is that more schools will take the initiative to include Modern Black British history in their curriculum and I am personally looking forward to other publications from the authors. They are currently looking into modules on earlier Black British history.

2 Comments

  1. I was in school in London from 1957 until 1969. In primary school, theere were no black kids, and the only ‘outsider’ was a Jewish boy who didn’t have to go to assembly because of his religion. But his dad was the local barber, so he never faced any prejudice. In my secondary school, there were only two black kids out of more than 1300 when I started there in 1963. One was an African boy, and the other a West Indian girl. The were both quite bright, and also both in my class. The boy was a very good footballer, and readily accepted mainly because of that. I actually went out with the girl a couple of times when we were only 14, but her parents didn’t want her to have a white boyfriend, as they had experienced a lot of prejudice. They stopped me seeing her, which upset her immensely.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    1. Interestingly the book does talk about how sporting talent has been a factor for changes in how Black people have been perceived in the UK.

      I can see that it would have been hard for your friend’s family to trust white people at that time, probably for some people even now.

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