They learn about Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela and Mary Seacole at this time of year. And as of this year, Barack Obama. And it all makes sense in inner-city schools, where the intake is multicultural and teachers hope a focus on Black History Month can help minority pupils centre themselves and aspire. But that doesn’t really explain why they have bothered with it over the past few weeks at Delce Junior School in Rochester. Save for a tiny proportion of the school population – 20 from 400 – everyone is white. But they tell me that they do it because they think it helps prepare seven- to 11-year-olds from a largely white working class community for a world of different backgrounds and myriad histories and varied cultures. They do it because they think it’s right. Headteacher Karen White, newly transplanted from the mosaic that is Hackney, east London to the relative homogeneity of Rochester in Kent, tells me that no one has balked, which wasn’t a foregone conclusion.
And so, with the harvest festival a recent memory, the children go on to learn about the SS Windrush, and Bob Marley and Lewis Hamilton. They eat Jamaican patties, jerk chicken; they colour maps of St Lucia.
Freeman’s comments echo complaints by black British actors, including David Harewood, who starred in the hit American drama series Homeland. In February, Harewood said he was forced to go to America to win a starring role. ‘Unfortunately, there really aren’t that many roles for authoritative, strong, black characters in this country,’ he said.
Patrick Robinson, who has appeared in television series such as Casualty, claimed that he was ostracised by one of the BBC’s executives for almost a decade after he spoke out about the lack of opportunities for black actors.
‘Ask any lay person to name five British black actors and they wouldn’t be able to,’ he said. ‘Idris Elba had to go to America to make it in The Wire before they asked him back here.’
bibelot #3: windrush
I’ve just now realized that there was an extended section of the opening ceremony dedicated to the Empire Windrush, the ship that landed in London in June 1948, carrying almost 500 Jamaican immigrants. The Windrush is now seen the symbolic beginning of massive Caribbean—and eventually from the rest of the empire—immigration to the metropole over the next two decades. Indeed, you could argue that the Windrush’s landing was the beginning of the vibrant, multicultural society that Britain has now become. This is of tremendous importance to me personally because so many of my family members, including my mother when she was 12, travelled by ship to London in the 1950s. There was the briefest glimpse of the Windrush during the NBC coverage, but only those in the know would have seen it. (You have to really know what you’re looking for to decipher something that vaguely looks like a ship in one frame, followed a few frames later by black men in Sunday finest striding around purposefully.) Originally I thought the fleeting glimpse was due to director Danny Boyle. Nope. It was NBC making another cut.