Professor Adi, an expert on the struggles of Black people in Britain through the centuries acknowledging the root and calling for an end to racism, he examines the times in historical and current context.
Dr Adi is the first Professor of History who was of African heritage and his scholarly insight is highly respected. His book, The History Of African and Caribbean Communities in Britain written specifically for children at key stage 3 level is due for release later this month.
The recent upsurge against racism, especially state racism, and the public glorification of slavery, human trafficking and colonial oppression has again put the spotlight on Britain’s history. Britain was the world’s leading trafficker of African men women and children in the 18th century and the world’s largest colonial power in the 19th and 20th centuries. In those three centuries many crimes were perpetrated in Africa and the Caribbean, as well as in North America, where the colonial government encouraged the importation of enslaved Africans as early as 1619. It is for this reason that the famous Jamaican historian J.A. Rogers once said that “England was the grandmother of prejudice and Virginia the mother,” when he claimed that ‘white supremacy…was born in British North American colonies.’ That racism, was the necessary justification for the trafficking, enslavement and colonial conquest of Africans and others, is now well-established. It became central to the ideology of Britain’s rulers and was not even illegal in this country until 1965, not least because successive governments refused to take any legal measures to outlaw it.
The history of anti-racism in Britain, however, is as long as the history of racism. In the 18th century the struggle against racism was a central part of the campaign to abolish human trafficking in which Olaudah Equiano, Ottobah Cuguoano and others played such a leading role. Writings by these and other Africans, which refuted racist notions that Africans and Africa were inferior to Europeans and Europe, became part of the one of the largest political movements in Britain’s history, involving millions of men, women and children. It was so large that every attempt has been made to remove it and the abolitionist campaigns of the early 19th century from Britain’s history – perhaps to prevent everyone drawing the appropriate conclusions.
In the 20th century the struggle against racism continued, often in very difficult circumstances, since the ‘colour bar’ as racism was referred to, existed in accommodation, employment – including the armed forces, sport and elsewhere. The British government passed legislation such as the Special Restriction Coloured Alien Seaman Order of 1925 that were openly racist and used to discriminate against black workers and their families for decades. During both World Wars a colour bar existed in the armed forces and in particular to prevent black people from becoming officers. To whatever extent official racism was relaxed during the wars because of protest, it was generally reinstated with full force when the conflicts ended. Before 1948 black boxers were even prevented from competing for British championships and belts. In that year Lionel ‘Dick’ Turpin became the first British boxer who was not of ‘pure European descent,’ that is, the first Black man to be allowed to compete for a British title, when he became the British middleweight champion.
All of the major black political organisations of the twentieth century, the African Association, African Progress Union, West African Students Union, League of Coloured Peoples, Pan-African Federation, Colonial Peoples Defence Association, Committee of African Organisations, were all forced to campaign and organise against the scourge of racism.
So too were the coalitions that appeared in the 1960s, such as the Coordinating Committee Against Racial Discrimination and the Conference of Afro-Asian-Caribbean Organisations in the 1960s. After the passing of the so-called Race Relations Act in 1965 the struggle against racism continued and, in many instances, became even more necessary.
It is sobering to recall that nearly every major Black historical personality in Britain has either been forced to take a stand against racism, or been the subject of it, and sometimes both, everyone from Olaudah Equiano to Claudia Jones before 1965 and countless others since. Even the celebration of Black History Month itself is a recognition that for the rest of the year racism and Eurocentrism remain major obstacles. The times cry out for us to make history and abolish racism in all its forms.
His new book The History Of African and Caribbean Communities in Britain is essential reading for those who wish to have a greater understanding of the history of African and Caribbean communities in Britain and to understand the inter-relationship of Britain’s position as a wealthy country and a major world player.
It supports Key Stage 3 and 4 of the National Curriculum where pupils should be taught about ‘the diversity of national, regional, religious and ethnic identities in the UK.