Black British History – “It’s Like Black People Didn’t Even Exist”

In schools all over this country, we celebrate Black History Month with a solid emphasis on African American history – Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King are the only prominent black figures we are taught about, and, if you’re lucky, you might do a one -day – only character study on the more radical Malcolm X or the Black Panthers.

Despite its clear unimportance to the British syllabus, black people have in fact played a pivotal role in British history. Slavery in this country was abolished in 1833, 32 years before it was abolished in the US, and the government of the time paid out £20 million in reparations to slave owners – £16.5 billion today. You read that correctly – slave owners were paid reparations for the loss of their ‘property’ when slavery was abolished, despite the fact that Britain allegedly took a far less severe stance on slavery than our cousins across the pond. According to the Independent, “Some of Britain’s most illustrious stately homes were built or bought with money reaped from slavery”, thus proving that this country benefitted from slave labour, as much as it wants to try and forget about it.

Let’s not forget the African and Caribbean soldiers who were obligated to come and fight for Britain during the Second World War, and then invited from their home countries to the ‘Motherland’ to help rebuild the county post – war. They encouraged to come to Britain under the British Nationality Act of 1948, and were promised good homes and secure, well paid jobs in a society grateful for their sacrifices, only to find that they were given the absolute opposite. It’s for this reason, amongst others, why myself and many other people opt to not wear an iconic symbol of Remembrance Day – the red poppy. During the post – war period, black men and women, who, by right, were citizens of Britain as much as everyone else were subjected to horrific racial attacks, despite their efforts alongside their white counterparts, fighting for the freedom of their country. The poppy has become nothing more than a symbol of nationalism and patriotism for a country who refuses to acknowledge the bravery of the people they called on to help defend their country.
The Royal family’s Remembrance Day tributes at the Cenotaph.

I personally just can’t see how a mass – produced paper and plastic poppy (which, in the current environmental situation, isn’t very well – thought out) is symbolic of the lives lost during the First World War, despite the fact that it has now come to signify the troops in both World Wars and every war thereafter. If it is really a way to honour the the troops that served this country, why not go one step further and not send any more to war? Why not acknowledge Britain’s history of colonialism and the fact that the British government exploited the colonies to the fullest extent?

Heart Of The Race: Black Women’s Lives In Britain by Beverley Bryan, Stella Dadzie and Suzanne Scafe, depicts accurately the plight of black women in Britain during the post – war period. “It is no exaggeration to assert that without our contribution the NHS would not have survived, even in its present besieged and truncated form. Moreover, it was through our labour in the hospitals that many white workers and patients were first forced to question their own prejudices and assumptions about us”.

It is books like these that give us a real insight into black British history, and we can infer the reason as to why we are not taught about it. British culture and society as we know it really was built on the backs of slaves and people from the colonies.

For the Black Youth Project, Habiba Katsha has explained how “A lot of Black Brits also face the struggle of not knowing our own history. In our schools, we’re hardly taught about our past, and when we are it’s almost always centred around African American history and slavery, Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks”. I’ll say it again: we have all been brought up in a society built on the backs of slaves, and yet the history of those people has been blatantly – and deliberately – erased.
Habiba Katsha’s post for the Black Youth Project.

I spoke to Year 7 students, Tia and Kai, about their experiences learning about black history in school. Tia told me: “They only teach us about American black people when it’s Black History Month … I don’t know any black people from England that are historical figures”. Kai corroborated this, and said that “it’s like black people didn’t even exist … all they teach us about it slavery”.

“It kind of makes you feel like you can’t be proud of who you are as a black person in England … only Americans can be proud to be black because they are taught their history and we’re not”, Tia continued. 

British Jamaican student, Cory, told me why he thinks black British history isn’t focused on in schools: “It’s because the British don’t want to be exposed for the cruel things they did to innocent people; they want to be the saviours. They’ve now damaged these [African and Caribbean] countries beyond economic and political repair because they’ve exhausted all the natural resources”.

I know from my own childhood how little black British history is valued. Octobers in primary school would revolve around writing an “Africa – inspired poem” or learning about why Rosa Parks is a historical icon. Yet, for the most part, we spent the month learning about the Harvest festival, and why seasonal vegetables are oh so important.

You can see the profound impact that the lack of black British history taught in schools really has on children. According to an anonymous contributor for the National Union of Students ‘Race for Equality’ report, “Minority ethnic group students feel excluded from the educational process and this leads to natural withdrawal from the system. They are perceived to be disinterested, and as a result little effort is made to develop these students”, suggesting that not only does a lack of relevant historical teaching have a negative impact on self – confidence, but it also has a profound impact on how BAME – with an emphasis on black – students perform academically.

If the only thing you learn about your ancestors is that they spent over 300 years in horrifically violent and deprecative captivity, what will it do for your self – perception other than predispose you to low self – confidence and racial trauma passed down from generation to generation?

The National Curriculum needs a complete overhaul: accurate and inclusive history should be taught at the forefront of the syllabus like Maths, English, Religious Studies and the Sciences are, in order to nurture our young black British generation.

Social Media: The Battle Between Self-Worth and Self-Loathing

Being an Ugly Betty in a world full of Emily Ratajkowski’s, Elsa Hosk’s and Yasmin Wijnaldum’s is a difficult job, but someone’s gotta do it. I would think something self-deprecative like this at least 50 times a day. Funnily self-deprecative, though, to mask the fact that I was deeply uncomfortable with myself.

Waking up and going about my day feeling excruciatingly insecure about the way I look: my face, my outfit, whether or not you can see my stomach through my clothes – it was an everyday occurrence. It got to a point where I wouldn’t leave the house; I’d take days off from university or miss events that I had been previously really excited about because I would be crying over how bad I looked in an outfit that looked perfectly acceptable not even an hour prior.

Lusting over someone’s gorgeous thigh gap, and someone else’s beautifully concaved stomach, it became an unhealthy obsession, and both my Instagram and Twitter feeds were filled with the likes of Kim Kardashian promoting “literally unreal” appetite suppressant lollipops, and a plethora of other influencers gushing about the benefits of Slim Tea. The repetitive diet and weight loss ads on TV, in newspapers and magazines, and, of course, social media failed to help too.

Image result for kim kardashian appetite suppressing lolly

Social media was the tool that allowed me to feed into my own warped body image. With the promotion of stick-thin supermodels like Emily Ratajkowski, paired with the bombardment of girls like Jorja Smith who are well – endowed in all the right places, it dawned on me that I had none of the physical attributes that everyone found attractive. At 5 feet and 11 inches tall, I stand two inches taller than the average British man, in conjunction with being heavy – set but not curvy, and very much boyish in every other way. I’ve been mistaken for a boy more times than you could ever imagine.

It stunned me that there were other girls who were feeling the same way as I did – more down to innocence and wishful thinking than ignorance or a lack of common sense. Even the girls who had my dream body were insecure. According to the Centre for Change: “… research suggests that 86% of all women are dissatisfied with their bodies and want to lose weight. Women and adolescent girls regard size, much like weight, as a definitive element of their identity”, meaning that, unfortunately, this is a womankind issue, not an isolated one. 

I spent a large amount of my time trawling through social media, looking at girls who I would kill to look like, who were pretty and successful with an equally attractive boyfriend, and basing my worth on the way I looked as a result. Because, surely, if I was skinny, I’d be pretty AND I’d have a boyfriend to match. I would spend hours on Brandy Melville’s online store (being too embarrassed to go instore), compiling expensive “one size fits all” outfits and imagining how I would treat myself to one of the ensembles when I reached my goal weight; which would result in me being extremely underweight for my height. It was a vicious cycle that I had put myself through since I was 14, and it wasn’t until recently that I decided something had to change.
A typical Brandy Melville post, depicting the super slim white girl with her identical friends, and holding them as the standard of beauty that every other girl should aspire to be.

Following influencers/models like Sonny Turner, Barbie Ferreira, and Iesha Hodges, amongst others, was a good place to start. I am a firm believer that you can’t rely on other people to make you happy, however, positive influencers, especially on social media, is one of the best places to start. Many of them speak candidly about how they too used to struggle with accepting their body image in a world where skinny, blonde and Caucasian is the pinnacle of beauty.

Sonny Turner, a 20-year-old model who has amassed 300k Instagram followers over the span of her career, and a staunch supporter and advocate of the #BeautyBeyondSize and Iskra Lawrence’s: #everyBODYisbeautiful movements, posts frankly about her body. Unapologetically posting pictures with visible and untouched stretchmarks, stomach rolls and thighs that actually touch, she uploaded: “Holding my bloat because this is my reality. Behind all the smiley beach pics, snatched outfits & curated photo shoots is a real body. My body … a body that is still worthy of respect … So quit policing my food intake & giving unsolicited health advice to women. Remember you are not alive just to pay bills & lose weight”. Turner also appeared alongside model friends Felicity Hayward and Hayley Hasselhoff on Channel 5’s mini-series: ‘Curvy Girls Stripped Bare’, the first show of its kind giving the public an insight into the world of plus size modelling.
Turner with supermodel friend, Felicity Hayward.

Watching Iesha Hodges on Youtube is also inspiring. The 24-year-old who has graced countless campaigns such as Urban Outfitters and Target, as well as walking for Victoria’s Secret last year exudes happiness and a pure heart, and advocates self-confidence in spite of whatever flaws you may have. Adorned with a tooth gap, a bald bleached head, acne scars and hyperpigmentation – things that society deems ‘unattractive’ – she takes it in her stride, vlogging about her struggles and her journey. In her own words: “you have to own who you are … you have to own every aspect of you, every single flaw … you pick those flaws that you don’t like and you turn them into your superpowers girl!”

Iesha Hodges talking about herself and her “big announcement” on her YouTube channel.

I’ve started to become more at peace with myself, and even though I could blame social media’s algorithms for making 14-year-old me hate herself by promoting the accounts of beautifully thin girls on my timeline, I could also commend social media’s algorithms for eventually promoting the girls who looked like me, who ate like me, who had hair like me, who had acne like me, all while being successful models, influencers and entrepreneurs.

We are moving into a time where bigger and curvier body types, darker skin and hair with more texture than the standard ‘long and straight’ are being accepted as standards of beauty in their own right. It’s a work-in-progress, and we cannot truly change our mindsets until we are shown a wider variety of beauty.

The 21st Century’s Young Communist Revolution

Communism. You’re probably thinking of the Soviet Union: dark, desolate tower blocks and largely impoverished cities and towns, with a sprinkle of execution, tyranny and a long stint in Siberian exile. Joseph Stalin, Vladimir Lenin, even Mikhail Gorbachev, spring to mind. Or maybe you’re looking to South American communism for guerrilla warfare, torture and militant anarchists like Fidel Castro and Che Guevara. You’ve got Marxism, Trotskyism, Leninism, Maoism and Bolshevism, but I bet you didn’t think about your average young Briton.

Through the far – right’s revival, the far – left has seen its own resurgence, through memes and the media. As more and more young people begin to discover the works of Marx and Engels, form opinions on the current austere state and then start to outwardly declare that we should “eat the rich”, where does this leave this country’s elite? In a pretty sticky situation.
Communism memes are not only allowing young people to joke about the shortcomings of the ideology, but also educate others.

What is it about communism that has drawn in so many young people around the country? Leeds Beckett University student Elijah Inowa told me that it was the “foundations of communism” that attracted him after he decided to read The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. “… Free education up to the age of 18, free healthcare, the outreach projects and after school clubs are all government funded. Capitalism encourages competition and the need to ‘get one over’ on each other, yet communism is about the greatest good for the greatest amount of people. It makes the most sense”.

It is these policies that are reminiscent of the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn, who, is revered by many for his socialist ideologies, and disliked by many others for the same reason. Corbyn describes himself as a ‘democratic socialist’ , which advocates political democracy alongside a socially owned economy, with an emphasis on workers’ self – management and democratic control of economic institutions within a market or decentralised planned socialist economy. Elijah said: “The idea of collectivism has been demonised because the first thought that most people have is of the USSR where the vast majority of people actually began to struggle at Stalin’s expense, but under Corbyn’s Marxist – Leninist ideals, everyone who needs to be benefitted, is”.

Corbyn is seen as a radical by the centre – right, and it puts into perspective just how blind the government is to the type of people they are supposed to be helping. If a completely nationalised NHS with free dental checks for adults, free bus travel for under 25s and the abolition of Universal Credit – all things that will be put in place to help this country’s neediest and most vulnerable – is ‘radical’, then is our current government really fit for purpose?

Corbyn’s proposed manifesto for education.

I spoke to a representative from the small – yet growing – Communist Party of Britain, who describe themselves as ‘a Marxist – Leninist organisation’, and I was able to gain an insight into why more and more young people are turning to the collectivist ideologies of the 19th and 20th centuries and abandoning the more traditionally British centre – right loyalties. “Today, the children of [economic] crisis grow up into a world of permanent austerity, where public services are being systematically run down, and our future has been shot through. The vision of a secure job with a decent pay, an apartment, a chance at higher education without being burdened with debt, these things are no longer possible, and we feel that“. They also told me that, “… there were a series of movements which pushed left [wing] alternatives … along with an uptick in trade union efforts around organising low – paid workers. Those efforts drive political consciousness, putting the question of class power back into popular discourse”.

“Putting the question of class power back into popular discourse” opens a can of worms in itself. The world of popular discourse is one that is heavily influenced by media – the sharing of memes and videos, thoughts and feelings all contribute in some way to our belief systems and ideologies, meaning that pushing a certain topic into the media inevitably makes it become part of popular discourse, which means the establishment are able to take a good luck at what people really think about them.

Samia, a Brunel University student, corroborated the point from the Communist Party of Britain, telling me that: “More young people can identify with communism because we are not blinded by false promises like the generation before us was. What have the Conservatives done that has actually been helpful? They’re letting poor families and kids die, cutting off benefits and school meals … people with serious illnesses who are living below the breadline can’t afford their medication, but can’t be treated in hospital due to lack of beds – how can they capitalise on our health?”

There has also been a shift in the way communism has been portrayed in mainstream media. From the era of the Reagan Doctrine, the policy of supporting anti – communist insurgents wherever they may be, to Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn, democratic socialists running for leadership of the United States and the United Kingdom – we are witnessing an unprecedented shift in our political alignments. And there’s good reason for this shift, too. We have seen both Sanders and Corbyn pushing the outlying agendas into the mainstream, and thus has allowed many people, especially the working classes in the respective countries, to openly reject and fight against austerity – the same austerity that has killed dozens of people during Flint, Michigan’s water crisis and left thousands of children around the UK going without meals on a daily basis.

The working class is becoming increasingly discontent with the current social order, and it seems Labour is the party who can relieve us of our strife. As aforementioned, Corbyn and Sanders have pushed fringe ideas into the main sphere, and they may soon have the power to put them into practice, as we stand in the overbearing shadows of the US presidential race and the British general election.

2019 psychological thriller, Joker, sheds light on the emerging collectivist ideologies of the working class. Many claimed that it would incite violence, but I think it incites conversation. Conversation amongst the ‘lower classes’ that things as they are aren’t working, nor are they fair. During a riot scene, a masked protester is seen holding a sign that says: “Anti – Authoritarian. Anti – Capitalist. A job is a right. Capitalism does not work for you”, highlighting the fact that civil unrest caused by the capitalist institutions we are used to is starting to reach boiling point, in Gotham City, and the real world. Joker has become the poster child of anti – government, anti – income inequality riots across the globe. Joker puts forward a very real and very possible situation that governments in the West could be faced with; an anarcho – communist revolution, reminiscent of the 1917 Russian Revolution with the ousting of the rich and middle class, as well as the royal family. 

Communism is emerging in the news and daytime TV, as well, which is a surprise because hardly anything remotely controversial makes it onto TV before the 9p.m. watershed. Whilst Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has been called a communist in an attempt to smear his reputation and delegitimise his 36 year political career, Novara Media contributing editor, Ash Sarkar takes it in her stride. She told intolerable Piers Morgan on Good Morning Britain that she’s “literally a communist you idiot!”

Communism and socialism are no longer a dirty words associated with the tribulations of millions of people in the former Soviet Union. Now, they are reclaimed among Millennials and Gen Z as a word of unity and strength in numbers. Despite the fact that we cannot ignore or forget the atrocities that became commonplace under Stalin’s iron fisted rule – excess mortality, Gulags and Siberian exile – we move into a new age of de-Stalinised and very much welcomed collectivism, because, just like those in the 1917 Revolution, the working class is not happy with the way things are.

Ash Sarkar telling Piers Morgan that she is “literally a communist”.

We have to ask ourselves: where is the communist movement going? Will it be shut out and pushed to the back of everyone’s minds like it was during and after the collapse of the USSR? Or will it continue to gain momentum in western societies, through memes and its continued emergence in the mainstream? At this point, it’s a hard call to make, and we can only sit back and watch as the movement gains momentum.

In the meantime, enjoy this video:

University Stress

I travelled up to Leeds to talk to Michael, a first year student at Leeds Beckett University. He speaks of how much stress he has been under during his first year, and how psychiatric help could be his answer.

Listen below:

CTRL Fashion Show – the Fittings

After being selected in a casting for a UAL graduate fashion show, I went to meet Cara and Maryam at the London College of Fashion, to have my outfits selected and to speak to them about where they found the inspiration for their collections.

A huge thank you to Cara (@cara_edden) and Maryam (@mamoussav) for choosing me, and allowing me to interview them.

Listen below:


Attitudes Towards Cancer

I spoke to two – time cancer survivor, Lesley Charrier about attitudes to cancer and cancer treatments. In addition to this, she told me about her personal battles with cancer, first getting diagnosed over 30 years ago with cervical cancer and then again in March this year (2018).

Listen to her story here:

The Artistry, Science and Impact of Makeup

I spoke to  Jade Bradley, a young freelance makeup artist about makeup and its impact on society and herself.

Jade is a first year student a the prestigious London College of Beauty Therapy, and has done party and prom makeup, charity makeovers, and has also gave a special Halloween makeover to Walthamstow’s very own Nathan John – Baptiste, aka @thewolfofwalthamstow on Instagram.

Check out the rest of Jade’s looks on her Instagram account! @jadelilsbmua

Watch the video: