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The University of Southampton
Centre for English Identity and Politics

Jim Baker

“YOLO. (You Only Live Once): Black English, Who's Shaping Whose Identity?”

20 September 2018

University of Winchester

Jim Baker, Independent Researcher and Consultant


This is a corrected transcript of talks given at the seminar held at the University of Winchester on 20 September 2018.  Please do not quote without seeking permission from the speaker.


 John Denham

Afterwards, two other things quickly, the next public lecture is on the 28th of November and it's called, “Who owns England?” We have Guy Shrubsole, who's an environmental campaigner, and Anna Smith, who's a data scientist. Anna is the person who built the Private Eye register of who owns land in this country. Some of which we know, much of which we don't know because people are able to hide their land ownership and they'll be talking both about what we know and about why land ownership is still important in England in the 21st century. And then, for those who are able to make a day's seminar on the 11th of January, we have our annual day seminar at the Paul Woodhouse Suites at the cathedral, and this year it's called “Roots to an English Parliament.” We have some of the country's leading constitutional lawyers, people like Sir Paul Silk leading, political scientists like Mike Kenny and Dan Wincott and people involved in deliberative polling and public participation…Jessica Garland coming to say, ‘Well, if an English Parliament and English devolution ever came about, how would it actually be done and what would be involved?’ So, there's a few things there for the diary

Tonight's speaker. I'm delighted to introduce somebody I've known for many years, Jim Baker. Those of you who follow the work of the centre know that we've engaged with ideas of Englishness, diversity and ethnicity from the very beginning because it is one of the most challenging issues about English identity. Gareth Southgate was absolutely right when he pointed to his football team as being young and diverse and a symbol of a modern English identity, but that's not the only English identity you can find, and you can find other people who insist on Englishness as an ethnic, white identity. It's something in flux, it's something contested, which is why we've had a number of speakers and seminars around the topic. And putting his own, I suspect, unique stamp on that debate tonight is Jim Baker. Jim was, appropriately for the Centre for English Identity and Politics, born in Wales with a Barbadian grandfather, who had settled in there in 1910. He was the first member of his family to obtain a degree, the first director of a local government ethnic minorities department, the first BME appointment on the Regional Development Agency for the Southeast, the first black councillor on Southampton City Council. He's been the chief officer of numerous charities and an activist in many other organizations. As an activist, he's been involved in challenging racial harassment, an active member of several European equality networks, and has been an adviser to the home office and government. His hobby is listening to world and soul music on radio stations, including the Local Unity 101, and his historical focus, certainly at least in recent years, has been particularly on people from the British Empire, their involvement in the Merchant Navy, and their settlement in the UK. So please, to talk about black people, English identity, and to ask the question, ‘Who is shaping whose experience?’ please welcome Jim Baker. Jim...

Jim Baker

It's always bad when you've got to start by correcting the person who's introduced you [laughing]. Born in London, but Welsh…it's an important difference. 

The title of this event is, "YOLO. (You Only Live Once): Black English, Who's Shaping Whose Identity?"

I'll explain who I am in a moment. But first, I'm going to try and share something with you. There are two broad sections for this performance, and if it's a performance, it's worth being at. If it's a lecture, then I'll leave before you do. Firstly, black "English." Are we shaped by how society sees us? On what England has done to us, historically? Am I English when you need me? And then, second, smaller bit, how have we changed and shaped the English identity? So…could really do with less stairs on this side. It's okay, I've just been back to the car and I just got to say there's far too many stairs for someone over 60.

So, who am I? Obviously, this is important to me. But, it's also important to this evening because it allows me to show there's no singular black experience and that, in my opinion, for the last six months, we've been diverted away from black history and black identities. This is critical if you're to consider whether our identity is English or British or neither.

In June 2018, Trevor Phillips, a former journalist and noted black intellectual thinker—I know that's true because he told me...get an idea of how I feel about Trevor—stated in an interview—I was told by my partner I should behave today, and so I'm really going to try—stated in an interview for the New Republic Magazine in a section headed, "The Caribbean Immigrants who Transformed Britain," quote, “If you refer to a person of Caribbean origin in Britain right now, you tend to be talking about somebody who's got two black parents, like me. Somewhere between now and 2030, the majority of people of Caribbean origin will either have a white parent or a white grandparent.” That's quite a substantial thing. It's the fastest growing demographic in the UK and I think it is, as a phenomenon, unprecedented.”

He's of course talking about the Windrush generation. His parents are both from Guyana, I believe, so it's personal. However, he's the former head of the Commission for Racial Equality, a body that was supposed to deal with racial discrimination across the whole of the UK. And he's talking absolute nonsense.

But what he demonstrates is there are very different black experiences, and the Windrush London one, and the Windrush people were not all settled in one place. but the debate is a London one, in particular, it is the one that is generally dominant in people and the establishment's mind. It is looked at and used as a framework for consideration of race. I'm going to show you a slideshow, if I can make it work, that's being used on 2nd November by the First Minister, Head of the Welsh government, Carwyn Jones in Cardiff. He asked me to pull it together. The event is to honour those black and minority people who died in World War I and World War II. What I was asked to do was convey the word ‘sacrifice,’ and in war that's quite important because death ain't a sacrifice. Two days after you go to war, you think it's possible. So, what is the sacrifice? Now, I'd argue that the sacrifice for those of us from the British Empire will always be family. It doesn't matter how random your love life is as a bachelor. In the back of your head, nine times out of ten, you still think you're going to have a family, and somehow that is the dream. It's particularly the dream for black people and people from the British Empire because family is the context of so much of our lives.

So, these men were on the same ships as my granddad. (Pictures o Black Merchant Seaman from Caribbean) They'd been married nine months, she was 17, her family had disowned her. As John said, the Merchant Navy is my research area at the moment, so that's why… (picture 2) That's my granddad. He survived, his crewmates did not. So, his footprint could've been theirs. As it says, he was born in Barbados in 1887, he arrived here about 1910 in Barry. He had six children. He's from the Caribbean, by the way, married a white woman. So, sorry Trevor, third generation, this experience is already on the shores. (Picture 3 woman and children) That's my nan and those outfits are coal sacks. I said to my nan, “Was poverty terrible?” She said, “I was never in poverty, we always ate”. (Picture 4- Gwen, Darwin and May)) That's my mum at the top, my Uncle Darwin, my Auntie Gwen. My Auntie Gwen was the first black woman councillor in Wales, the first black mayoress in Wales. My Uncle Colin died young in 1978 and from that point on she was dedicated to local people. It was how she had been brought up. My Uncle Darwin was the first black councillor in Wales in 1965, he was mayor in ’75.  What that doesn't say was in 1963 he converted to Islam. So, he's a Muslim, son of a Barbadian, black Mayor of the Vale of Glamorgan, and he was only one of four Welsh speakers on the council because that's the expectation from migrants. The person, that's my Auntie Gwen on the right, next her is the beloved, that's my nan, can't say it without going like that, and my mom, who was a jazz singer, who'd never, ever been anything but dressed.

(Pictures) This is my cousin Robin and his family. There's one missing…the left-hand side on that slide, Reuben. He's the youngest, unbelievable. If I have to get my glasses back off him one more time I shall kill him. (Picture) That's me and my elder brother, Paul. (Picture) That's Paul's wife on the right and Vivian's wife on the left and (Picture) that's me, my son Jamie, and my two nephews Mark and Andrew. You'll notice my son is light...'til summer, a problem in school. (Picture)That's my son and my daughter-in-law, my daughter, and my grandchildren, and that's the reason statistics don't work. This is the black experience. (Picture) That's Vivian, he's just released his first single independently and he demanded I use that picture. Taj Mahal is his hero and…anyway, (Picture) and that's his family. All three of his children…no, I take that back, his daughter works in Hong Kong, she’s a corporate attorney, senior partner and the other two run their own businesses.

Now, that's the sacrifice and that's the difference in the black experience. I'm born in London, but my family are from Wales, and when I was growing up in Wales and I was at my nan's every school holiday, which people will know if they do the math is actually the majority of your life when you're a child…so, I spent all my time at my nan's and I didn't realize ‘til I grew up that because I came from a Merchant Navy family, within seven streets of me—because they knocked down the houses ‘round the docks and we were all moved to the Colcot, which was the first council estate in Barry—seven streets I had 28 male cousins, who were less than five years younger than me and less than three years older than me. So, that's the kind of experience, not a good environment to be racist, trust me on that. I could never remember when I was growing up going to a club or a bar or anywhere across Wales or Bristol where there wasn't at least two of my male relatives there already. And not all of those are white…or black rather, I should say. At least 10% of them are white, some of them are Greek. So, you couldn't tell but they are my family.

So, by the time the Windrush arrived in 1948, my grandfather had been in Wales 38 years. He'd served in the Merchant Navy in World War I, received three medals, married my nan—a white woman—taken his revolver from his seamen's bag and travelled from Barry to Cardiff to fight the racist gangs attacking families in Tiger Bay in 1919, had six children, fought repatriation twice after both World Wars, been driven off the ships by the seamen's unions, become a coal miner, and died two months before the Windrush arrived. So, different black experiences. My experience is later than Liverpools.

I'm related to 48 families in South Wales. It's one of the reasons I left Wales when I was a kid…some privacy in your life would be nice. And we're from all over the Caribbean, Cape Verde Islands, Somalia, Yemen, India, Greece and Sierra Leon. We're a world of black people in the British Empire in a single family and we’re not the slightest unusual in Wales.

During school holidays when I was a child, I went regularly on a Sunday to collect a pot of curry from a boarding house in Thompson Street in Barry, which is the main street or was from the docks, and that was for my gran, and then...we would take it back, me and my brother, Paul, she'd heat it up to feed the visiting tribe from London. My experience of curry is that curry. That boarding house was owned by the Somali Farah family, whose son was Abdirahman Farah, who was born in that house and was to become under-secretary of the United Nations, Kofi Annan’s deputy, and secretary of the committee that acted to negotiate Nelson Mandela's freedom.

That's the Welsh, Liverpool, South Shields, all ports experience. That's also why the Windrush generation were never located in a port city because those working classes in those cities had already experienced something the government did not want the new group to have in their heads.

So, that black experience was not the first, but it was the first significant settlement…families, children and damn-it-all-I-ain't-leaving commitment to the UK. Many things are similar about the Ports and Windrush experience, except for two—I know people think I'm criticizing the Windrush generation, I'm not. But, you have to say what you think and what a reality is, Windrush generation is still seeking to protect and project its Caribbean nature. I'm not. My family is everything. Secondly, the Windrushees were middle class. My granddad couldn't write, but you had to pass a language test to get on the Windrush. These were people who were going to fill semi-skilled and skilled jobs, and, even after the war, they still believed in the British Empire. Whereas, the Ports black experience is working class, full of government-led racism and death encouraged by the unions.

And, of course, there is one other significant difference and it's the word ‘invited.’ When people found out some years after the first Windrushees were deported, actually, they never deported them, they simply refused them the right to come back in, which is kind of novel way of keeping people away. So, when this came to the public eye, the word that was in the papers, the word that was on people's lips was 'invited.' That's why there was indignation. The Windrush generation were invited to come to Britain because Britain needed them to fulfil jobs at the time of the creation of the welfare state, transport etc. So, they feel special because they were invited. The Daily Telegraph changed their headline and it was indignant because these people we had invited had been treated this way. Theresa May and the government said, “This is wrong because they'd been treated this way.” No, they did it, it's the way governments work, what can I tell you. Suddenly, there were apologies and now we're talking about compensation.

Look at it from my perspective as third generation…so, what am I chopped liver? I weren't invited. My granddad wasn't invited. They tried to kick him out twice, they kicked others out. So, ‘invited’ is almost another word for racism. It's that, 'You are okay, if we invite you. But, everyone else is not.' And I could be overreacting, but that's not new.

I research Merchant Seaman and make public their contribution. So, another brief slideshow that shows what the pre-1950 settlers experienced.

So. Black “English”

I was taught by my mother, my uncle Darwin (my mentor) and grandmother that I had a responsibility to succeed, however success was measured by whether I achieved the best I was capable of. My mum didn’t care whether the school thought I was bright, and my Uncle Darwin made it clear that natural and innate intelligence would only carry you so far, you had to put in the hours to learn the boring as well. Otherwise at some point you would hit a wall.

I won a grant to a fee-paying Grammar School (Raines Foundation) and became their first Black pupil. For 18 months I was told I would fail and then when I continued to excel, I was suddenly the golden child because my success would give the school fame, at which point I stopped trying. Pig headed me.

It was the 1960s and I knew I was Black, my family are somewhere in between Marxism and Welfare Socialism, we were innately political. In Wales I strolled around in Barry untouched by Police, the system and if racism occurred it was slapped down in the most direct manner. In London, I was first picked up by the police when I was 8 and spent the night on a bench with no-one ringing my parents. That continued to happen until I left London at 17, I was even arrested for theft because they would not believe my grammar school uniform belonged to me. Strangely, that side of life the police harassment is not a problem because it is so visible you get used to it and it becomes a badge of honour.

Recently reading a letter from a grandchild of the Windrush generation I was reminded of the most annoying and undermining thing about growing up in London. She wrote “countless times I’ve been asked “where are you from? When I replied “London” I was met with a sympathetic look followed by where are you really from?  As if I can’t be from London and must be something “other”.   Lauren King Sept 2018.. I was asked that from infant school through all my education. Then, even in my first jobs after school. It framed a piece of my perception of the world I inhabited. It's disturbing to know more than 50 years later it's still being asked. That ‘from-from question’ is offensive, but if you're not the strongest of characters, it makes you question who you are all the time. I was continually asked if I understood in school, and when they realized I did I was asked to perform in front of the...whenever they had a distinguished visitor. It was like they were trying to impress… if they could educate a black person, how talented were they, right?

You had to remember there was academic text at the time talking about the limitations of black people. These people weren't in isolation. That's part of the search for the black identity. If I must continually consider how an employer, a police officer, and local council officer...anyone sees me, and I know that the person behind me in the queue is white and they won't be asked those questions, how much does that make me hold back a part of me?

Possibly, the shining part, the bit that asks questions, the innovator gets held back…and does that make me question whether the inadequacy is mine?

Am I not answering the questions properly?

Am I not expressing myself in a way that can be understood?

Looking at an old degree text—and it is old in my case—I found this definition: “identity is the defining characteristic of a person that makes them an individual.” Having a solid sense of identity requires a thorough understanding of oneself. This hinges around what I call, "The YOLO. Moment." You may only live once, but does it start the moment you realize the importance of your life? I'll kind of labour that point. So, if you only live once and you just dismiss every day as being the same and then suddenly at some point you go, 'Hang about, who am I? What am I going to be? Why do they treat me like that?’ That's a ‘YOLO moment,' and it's earth-shattering.

Now, I was young when that happened to me. My Uncle Darwin had expectations of me that drove me mad. When I was nine years old, he gave me C. L. R. James' “Notes on Dialectics” to read. I didn't understand it 'til I was 19, and then I went to him and I went, “I get it!" And he went, "Yeah, about time." Like the 10 years meant nothing. But still, the point was that all he wanted me to do was keep going back to try.

For the Windrush generation, that ‘YOLO moment’ might have only just happened and it's rife with trauma because who you are is not who you thought you are. Some of them are over 70 years old when that moment hit, when they realized they were just as likely to experience the same racism as everyone else. Now, I used to be director of a Race Equality Council and the hardest people to deal with were the ones who'd done well in life and then hit a brick wall, a ceiling, when…and I'm thinking, for example, of one of them who was the captain of a P&O ship, who suddenly found he couldn't get a bigger promotion, but was expected to teach younger people who would go past him. And then he realized. But it took days of someone talking to him to go, "No, this isn't about the rules or the law or whatever. This is what's happened to your crew over and over and over, but it's just happened to you." I'm not sure he ever got over that because he felt special. At no stage in the state education system was I taught anything about black people's achievements. In fact, I received a great deal of teaching about how wonderful the British Empire was and how it civilized the world.

Let's consider—this is where I flatter my host having had a go at him first—let's consider what an excellent observation from John Denham actually means to black people and the black identity. Quote from John, I believe it was about Brexit, "As we learnt from the massive BBC YouGov Survey, England believes its best years were in the past." That was the 'USP,' 'unique-selling-point' of Brexit. To have been great and powerful, to have owned and ruled most of the world, this is what we're taught in school and therefore it's hardly a surprise that, in terms of austerity and hardship, people desire a dream even though the dream was only good for a small elite. It is a dream that makes people believe the past was a bus that only the British could ride on through uncivilized and uneducated places. Many white and some black people see themselves riding on that bus, even though most would've had to ride at the back and get out and push when it got stuck in mud or ran out of fuel, while the 10% or less demanded to know why there were no cold drinks or gin.

Politicians sell that dream, diverting people from today and decisions that have damaged their lives. I would suggest that that dream is central to being English. It's inherent in the English identity. To be a member of a private members club that any right-minded person would want to join, to have that membership card given to you at birth, knowing that anyone else who wants to join needs to prove they're worthy.

English identity is a halo. A sign of divinity at the best of times and a blanket of comfort during the worst of times. It's like religion, except that it's not seeking to increase the congregation, quite the reverse. Some of us would say that's why it's dying.

On Barbados, there's a group known as the Elly Bellies, the descendants of Irish plantation workers who became field managers etc. For generations they've intermarried, rather than marry black people, and now they're studied by academics all over the world because that intermarriage has led to physical and mental illness. They even, after centuries, burn in the sun. They are not racist and mix with black people, but they believe they're protecting their identity and their heritage.

If John is right, and I think he is, what is that past that is cherished? I was taught that the British Empire comprised the dominions, colonies, protectorates, mandates, and other territories ruled or administered by the British kingdom and its predecessor states. It originated with the overseas possessions and trading posts, established by England between the late-sixteenth and early-eighteenth centuries. At its height, it was the largest empire in history, and for over a century was the foremost global power. By 1913, the British Empire held sway over 412 million people. That's old money, 23% percent of the world population at that time, and by 1920, 13.7 million square miles, 24% of the Earth's total land area, was the British Empire. As a result, it's political, legal, linguistic, and cultural legacy is widespread. At the peak of its power, the phrase, 'The empire on which the sun never sets,' was often used to describe the empire because it was literally true. At one end of the empire, the sun was coming up as the sun went down at the other.

So, what does that mean for black people? Well, cotton and sugar wealth across the Caribbean and Americas required slaves.

The success of the British East India Company in Asia required the destruction and suppression of the Nawab of Bengal, the Moghuls, the Maharajas, the opium wars with China, the destruction of dynasties, while ensuring that a class and caste system that meant Hindus and land-owning, wealthy Muslims rose above all others.

Africa became a people-basket, with different kingdoms being fed wealth and weapons to provide slaves and then Britain was part of the colonization, the suppression of coastal Africa.

Then, after Britain's power waned, and the deals were done in 1918 after the end of the war, colonies disappeared. They became called ‘mandates.’ People found themselves with new boundaries and new country names that split communities. Such as the Ewe people who found themselves with a border now in the centre of their homeland. Some suddenly became French in Togo, and others were English in the Gold Coast. Nothing had changed except they were two different nations.

The Indian sub-continent was abandoned to bloodshed in an environment where religion and caste was ignored by speedily-exiting British viceroys and administrators and people driven from their homes in acts of brutality that will always mar the creation of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Even now, communities in Britain do not discuss partition. Too many lost families, too many women brutalized.

Each black group that arrives on these shores brings a piece of that story, a piece that has shaped part of the jigsaw that is their identity. At the point at which they move from gratitude, from being allowed to settle, to the YOLO moment, everything becomes conflicted. This is your home, but the names on the buildings you pass, the street names you see, the papers you read or even your own address, everything has a second meaning. Much that you've never examined or realized was built for money, acquired through slavery or India or Rhodesia, etc. For students learning, the gaps seem to appear, education becomes three-dimensional with shadows around the edges and unspoken questions that teachers lack the resources or will to answer. I hope they don’t punish kids, as they did in my time, for simply asking the question.

Let me be clear, I don't blame schools or teachers. For the last six years, through various Heritage Lottery projects, I have been giving information to schools in Cardiff, Barry and Southampton, information that I am asked to present to pupils in a one session thing. But it would not be built into curriculum, that’s a logistical problem. My projects are 18 months-funded, and that does not allow for the design of a new teaching plan. The issue is one of policy and that means politicians must decide that all facts must be built into teaching. We can't keep air-brushing history because it's inconvenient, even if we've rewritten it any number of times to make it convenient.

In a mosque group in Wales, they're using the choices of Arab men in World War II and the Cardiff riots of 1919 to challenge radicalism. Family, the sacrifice of grandparents, their commitments to being citizens of a flawed nation, is used as direct challenge to resentment that has always been felt by black, young people. It is a skilled teacher that can host that discussion, but I've heard the Imam say, “Decide who you are. What is your identity? Will you change this world by destroying your forefather's dreams? Denying their sacrifices? And by literally destroying your mother? Or will you change it by leading it forward?” I want to hear that more in schools. I want to hear people saying, ‘This isn't easy and comfortable, so there are no questions you can't ask. And if I don't know the answer, why don't we all try and find it.’

In my opinion, history shows there are hard times and whenever there are hard times, or even just bad times for a major political party, this country scapegoats. It is the ultimate fall-back. I'm doing a lot of work on the wars. After World War I, there was a need to rebuild. Men returned home and there were few jobs, women who'd come forward to help were immediately removed from those jobs and then it became about rights. In port cities across Britain, the shipping industry had been decimated, ships sunk, companies gone out of business, and unions were exerting real and dangerous pressure on government. The events of 1919 and 1920 are a forgotten passage in British history, a time when the government had to use heavy-handed tactics by deploying warships, tanks and troops to the UK's docks and streets because of social unrest. Striking workers brought chaos to cities across the country and forced Downing Street to use unprecedented force against its own citizens. The army had to be called in because the police officers went on strike, which is why we have a piece of legislation that meant the police can no longer strike. Soldiers were deployed to suppress disorder as fierce and violent riots involving British trade unions and communist crowds wreaked havoc. There is another piece of this jigsaw. Britain had started to go to war with Russia and there was a strong communist bloc within Britain. So, that fed it. Lloyd George admitted this could be the revolution and he told the Minister for War, one Winston Churchill, “Suppress the revolt.”

And when they had, and they crushed that revolt and the working classes were still frustrated. Then the unions and crowds turned on black people, demanding they be removed from the ships. In South Shields, a crowd chased Arab seamen to the district where they lived. Here, friends of the Arabs arrived to back them up. They should really recognize where these seamen had been, where they'd worked. Those Arab seamen then chased that crowd through the streets of South Shields, firing warning shots over their heads. The army and the navy patrols were called in and 12 of the Arabs were arrested, At Durham assizes three were acquitted, others received between three months prison and one-month hard Labour one white person (a union official who threw the first blow was charged with breach of the peace. In Liverpool, 120 black mill workers were sacked because white workers refused to work with them. More than 500 black ex-soldiers, many with lost limbs etc., were starving on the streets of Liverpool and at the same time seamen tickets were removed, fights were occurring all over the city. In Cardiff, three black men died, and local black, Arab, Greek and Italian people blocked off Tiger Bay, which is what the bay is really called, to stop the army coming in. Local politicians stood by the mob and repatriation and deportation was suggested. On the 30th of July, and this is just a little aside, the London County Council banned foreigners from all jobs.

Post-World War II, immediately after the war the British government received demands from trade unions and the army that non-British merchant seamen should have their tickets removed as there were not enough jobs for, and I quote, “returning heroes.” There was no act of Parliament, the government simply told the ship owners that all seamen must pass the language test before they could serve on a merchant ship. This denied many races. Most black empire seamen worked below deck, putting coal into a furnace. It didn't require a language for it. Then Parliament introduced a poverty act, which meant if you were unable to find enough money to feed yourself and if you were not born in the UK, you could be repatriated to your country of origin. So, first stop them working. Then say, 'How are you going to feed yourself?' Then kick them out because they can't. Thousands of merchant seamen were put on ships in Southampton, Liverpool and London and sent back where they came from.

This was a huge betrayal, but in Liverpool it was so much worse. Before and during the war, shipowners in Liverpool desperately short of crew had begged Chinese seamen from Shanghai, Hong Kong and Singapore to come to Liverpool. After all, they work for half pay, and they did. Remember there was no China, China was a series of fiefdoms. There was no nation, and China was at war with itself the minute the war ended. So, you had communists and others fighting each other. So, they demanded they be repatriated, these ‘Chinese.’ A total of 1,300 Chinese men were forcibly repatriated, marched from their social clubs over a two-night period. Their wives and children were not told, and until 50 years later, when an academic from Edge Hill actually opened the 50-year records, they never knew why their grandfathers or fathers had disappeared.

There's a website called, "Half and Half," the families are still looking. Only eight Chinese men have come back and part of the reason is they were told to take them back to Shanghai and Hong Kong. The ships took them to Singapore because they could pick up a cargo in Singapore and return it to Britain. So, they dropped them in Singapore, having taken away their seamen's tickets so they couldn't work on a ship. This pattern's been repeated over and over again, usually in less dramatic circumstances, but it's been a constant atmosphere since the 2007 financial crisis and the introduction of austerity. A growing political atmosphere led by right wing and extreme parties that has become a train jumped on at each station by people from all parties. I ask myself; would I be wrong in believing that there is an escape hatch that preserves historical identity? That is 'they,’ 'the outsider,’ we can recognize as not us by their skin colour or now their accent are the reason things are not working. It isn't because we made the wrong choices or because of our personal inadequacies. The problem is that white society may choose to abdicate responsibility, but that only works if we accept the burden. It's always been said that part of the responsibility of the British Empire was accepting the white man's burden because we could not help ourselves. It could be argued that the white English identity is only preserved if we accept our role, which is the black man's burden, the black person’s burden…and I really must stop saying that black ‘man's’ burden' thing.

But what effect are we having on white English identity? (Slide show of artists, clothes designers, musicians and actors) You might say this is my black history month thing because all the names you see will appear on this screen are British-born or British-based. We're the voice that when you go to sleep whispers in your ear and tells you what to dress in. We're the voice that tells you what music to listen to. We're the voice that changes your food and what you eat. We're that voice that never seems loud, but is actually slowly but surely changing who you are. If you take away Indian food and other food, you take away hip-hop and dress, you take away those things…who are you? My cousin Vivian, who love blues music, said, "A load of people listening to Bach." But I think that's a bit unfair because I listen to that.

These are just names, some of which you'll know. One of my favourite programs by the way is “Black Lightning.” I don’t know if anyone else watches it, it's on Netflix. His wife is Christine Adams, the teacher who's a Londoner…just thought I'd mentioned it. Not only does black Britain, and I use that in the widest context, change your music, it's now changed America and music. Jay-Z comes over and records Bhangra stuff, people have to join in, grime, acid, trip-hop, and you know that's just touching the surface. But it's that whisper in your ear. You can't listen to the radio without listening to a drum and a bass that comes from African music. The biggest selling band in British history—in everyone's history—is The Beatles. George Harrison? Indian music. The Beatles? Soul music. It's all over everything they did. Who the heck's Adele without black people? So, the music's there. Amy Winehouse…all of that. We are the voice in your ear. Now, thankfully, we started writing about our own experience, so that our youngsters can know about their backgrounds from a day-to-day experience. The good and the bad.

(picture) Stuart Hall, a man I've had so many arguments with…but identities that formed at the unstable point where personal lives meet the narrative of history. (Picture) Betty Campbell, by the way, is Cardiff, who's the first black head teacher in Wales. Some of these names you might not know, but you wear them. What a lot of black fashion designers have now realized is that they don't have to own the company, just be the one that designs everything it releases and then move from one to another. So many people go to the Olympic Centre at Stratford, there is a football team that plays there, but I'm a Chelsea fan so I can't remember them, and people go down that slidey-thing, well, that's designed by an Asian person. Stephen Wiltshire, brilliant, autistic and brilliant. I don't see Olive Morris mentioned very much, that's important. You cram a lot into a short life, and she did, so she certainly deserves it, so does of course, The Grunwick Strike changed politics and trade union politics massively.

So, the cultural influences are there. I was going to shout about them and then I thought, 'Hey, they just happen.' The effect we're having on British culture…we've placed ourselves within Britain's cultural psyche by using individual talents to express ourselves. It's not an angry challenge against racism, it's actually about their individual ‘YOLO moment’ when someone went, 'I'm good enough to do this, ain't no one stopping me.' And if it isn't what you want to wear, and I make it as clothes, then that's fine because I'll do that anyway. If you think art’s made with a paintbrush, then I'm going to win a prize making it out of elephant dung…Now, that talent is accepting its own talent and not being suppressed by, 'You must do it like Constable,' or 'You must do it a certain way.'

So, how does that effect how black people, or any minority see themselves? As I've said, the black experience is different, mine is Welsh and in my experience, family outweighs race. If people know any of my family, they accept me and vice versa. Racism occurs, but as my family and many others reach a situation of welcoming the great-great-great-grandchild of the black forefather, statistics on race become a nonsense. I can't persuade family members to fill in the equal ops form. They just go, “I'm Welsh. I'm from Barry. What do you want from me? Who cares what London wants to know?” And I'm saying, “Look, it affects budgets.” “And?” Because we are generational. However, if you ask my grandchildren about racism, I'm their granddad. They are worse than I'll ever have been when it comes down to the arguments, but they're also better educated.

We are installed in all walks of life in my family in a way that black people in London, Birmingham etc. are not. The identity seems clearly defined as Welsh first then Barbadian, Somali, whatever. Maybe being mixed race, whatever that means, helps. In school, when they pushed me to know where I was from, that ‘from-from question,’ I intentionally took them down my father's family line, he's white. I could hold them for ten minutes and end up in the 16th century in farming in north Wales and then I'd say, “Oh, you mean why am I this colour? My granddad is from Barbados.” Used to wind them up. In one regard, Trevor Philips is right to mention the change that will occur when all of the Windrush generation's children are all mixed race. But he was wrong to talk about it in dramatic terms. It is a process, based upon that moment when a grandparent holds a child in their arms, who is shades lighter but no less cherished.

This country will never be one skin shade, but it will also never be white again. You can't protect a dream of identity against the inevitable tide of reality. However, that reality can make the new shared identity so much stronger and the country so much richer when everyone share's a migrant’s drive to move forward to a better life. Rather than assume the best of us is in the past. There is no migrant who thinks yesterday is better than tomorrow. By any current definition I have seen, I simply do not possess an English identity. So, what am I? I suppose I'm British, London, Welsh, Barbadian. I think London replaces England in my mind. Just as many people are Liverpool-British. When I reflected yesterday and considered whether there can even be an English identity, I realized that what is wrong is that it’s built upon a country rather than a people. When I go to a World International Rugby Match, I somehow remember the Welsh I learned in a few terms in Welsh in school in Wales. I can sing in Welsh, I have no idea where it comes from, but in those moments I can. The choir is the crowd, grown men cry and they're passionate and proud, but somehow it doesn't feel like nationalism. Or even simple patriotism. It feels like a joy to be Welsh. It's not based upon a criticism of the opponent’s nation; it is simply good to share a moment of ‘hwyl.’ In Welsh, that’s further excitement, emotion, powerful…there's no one word for it, but it's always full of joy.

If I allow the past to be the central factor in my identity, then my identity is full of tragedy, brutality and loss. Emancipation is not about freedom; it is about the freedom to choose. And black people, I hope, choose to learn from the past and create identities that are strong enough to ensure theirs and everyone else's future. The English identity's dying. Politicians need to accept responsibility for past failings and stop stoking fires that need a bucket of water thrown on them. They need to start saying how wonderful the people of England are and the majority are. I never hear politicians comment to the press on new businesses in rundown areas in cities. New businesses started by new arrivals in closed down blocks of shops. The simple things are having more and more positive effects than complicated research statistics and, I'm sorry, black history statements about the past. When Mo Salah scores for Liverpool, the song sung is about how much Anfield loves a Muslim. And when advertising agencies want to sell a product, they use black images, black music, black clothes, dress sense and it works.

Thank you for your patience.


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