Beyond BBC Black and British season: how to learn more about Black Britain


Yesterday the BBC’s much celebrated Black and British season sadly drew to a close, ending what has been a fantastic series of programmes covering black British people culture and history past and present. The season was refreshing in its approach, allowing black British people to tell their own stories and making the strong case for this being an integral part of British history without which any understanding of Britain is incomplete. From watching the lovable Irwin family be transported through time in Back in time for Brixton to hearing David Harewood opening up about his mental health, the season has taken viewers on an emotional journey which they can directly relate to.

Black British people deserve more than a brief season of TV which they can identify with; programmes, particularly on the BBC (since it is paid for by all British citizens), should be diverse as standard. We can only hope that the BBC and the other main broadcasters will follow on from the success of this pilot project with the production of more quality television featuring black people and covering subjects relating to black British history and culture. In the meantime, let’s keep the buzz that the Black and British season has created going. There are some excellent facilities, media platforms, books and more which present conversations and ideas surrounding the black British experience all year round and are readily accessible for those who are interested.

Here are five ways you can keep yourself in the know about black Britain past and present:

1. Get down to the Black Cultural Archives Centre in Brixton.

A beautiful building in the heart of Brixton’s Windrush Square, the centre is home to archives documenting the black British experience along with a reference library, reading room and a bookshop well-stocked with books written by and about African diaspora in Britain and beyond. Next month they will open the Black is the New Black exhibition which accompanies the TV series of the same name. There are also regular talks and events where you can actively participate in exciting debates, discussions, poetry, music and more. Oh and there’s a rather nice café too!

2. Engage with media platforms that are created by and for black British people

There are a number of exciting digital platforms for black British people – Black Ballad, Black British Girlhood, The Move are prime examples. Other platforms more broadly cover subjects relating to ethnic minorities, these include Gal-dem and Media Diversified. These platforms present engaging, contemporary, relevant articles and topics for discussion. Not only that, they constantly promote talks, exhibitions, businesses and other events which are of interest to the community, so are also a great way to stay in the loop with what’s going on.

3. Become a historian – start delving into the resources available on black British history

Whether speaking to relatives and elders in your community about their personal journeys as black Britons, tracing your family history or accessing collections held by the National Archives, there are lots of ways you can begin to learn more about the history of black people in Britain. The National Archives have a section dedicated specifically to the history of black Britain. The BBC website has a handy guide and links relating to their Black and British season which directs you on how and where you can begin your own research. The Black Cultural Archives Google Arts & Culture platform is easy-to-access for those who prefer digital. If you are not the type to sit down and sort through documents and texts then why not go attend one of the historical walks led by Black History Walks, which take groups on tours through the streets of London detailing the black history behind some of its streets, buildings and statues.

4. Read books (fiction and non-fiction) which document black Britain

David Olusoga’s Black and British: A Forgotten History, the book which accompanies the recent TV documentary series, would be a good starting point for an introductory overview of black British history. Peter Fryer’s Staying Power: The History of Black People in Britain is another good read for those wanting to follow a chronological timeline of black Britain. When it comes to fiction there are countless great works capturing the multitude of black British experiences and perspectives, past and present: Andrea Levy’s Small Island, Alex Wheattle’s many titles including East of Acre Lane, Malorie Blackman’s Noughts & Crosses, Simi Bedford’s Yoruba Girl Dancing, Benjamin Zephaniah’s Refugee Boy, Zadie Smith’s White Teeth, Frances Mensah William’s From Pasta to Pigfoot, Carly Phillips’s The Final Passage and many, many more.

5. Enrol on a black studies course

Black History Studies, started aims to educate the community about black history in the UK and beyond. Black History Studies organise regular talks, presentations and also international trips where people can get to grips with black history – from film screenings to a ‘Best of Egypt Tour’ there is something for everyone. For those wanting a structured course, they have 30-week beginners or advanced programmes.

The Black Cultural Archives has offers black history courses; past courses have included 'Black Seafarers and Revolutionary Politics’ and ‘The African Fight: The Hidden History of WWI and the Battle of the Somme.’ The centre also has a schools programme, providing resources for schools and teachers wanting to bring black history into their classrooms.

As of September 2017 the UK will become home to Europe’s first Black Studies degree course – an extremely exciting prospect for those fascinated with black history and culture who would like to study it at university level. The undergraduate degree programme is being taught at Birmingham City University. For more information on what the course covers etc. please visit: http://www.bcu.ac.uk/courses/black-studies-ba-hons-2017-18

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