Sound and vision blog

Sound and moving images from the British Library

28 posts categorized "Black & Asian Britain"

23 October 2023

Akyaaba Addai-Sebo on founding UK Black History Month

Guest blog by Rosa Kurowska Kyffin, interviewer for National Life Stories.

Akyaaba Addai-Sebo standing in front of the doors to the King's Library with the books in view behind him. Akyaaba Addai-Sebo standing in front of the King's Library at the British Library, St Pancras.

Earlier this summer the British Library recorded a life story interview with Akyaaba Addai-Sebo for the National Life Stories oral history collection Leaders of National Life. This in-depth interview covers his influential work as a campaigner and activist across three continents. From trade union organising in newly independent Ghana to his years in the US in the 1970s, where he studied peace-building in Washington and became close with many civil rights activists of the time, including Kwame Ture, Jewell Mazique and CLR James, who became a lifelong friend and mentor. The interview also covers his later peace-building work in Liberia and Sierra-Leone and environmental campaigning. In the UK Akyaaba has had a fundamental impact on politics and culture as one of the founders of the UK’s Black History Month. These clips explore the origins of this month, which today is as vital a part of autumn as the cooler days and bright colours of the turning leaves.

As a young child Akyaaba quickly developed a deep understanding of the impact of politics. In 1957 when Akyaaba was just seven years old, Kwame Nkrumah led Ghana to independence from British colonial rule and established one of the first post-colonial governments in Africa. Caught up in the ‘dynamism of the times’, Akyaaba spent his childhood observing the rallies and activism of his community: a close-knit, multi-lingual, multi-ethnic compound in Asawase, one of many new projects built by the socialist Nkrumah government. His early political memories are of excitement and promise, but these hopes were soon dashed as the backlash of the European powers began. One of Akyaaba’s early memories was the assassination of Patrice Lumumba which he describes here.

Akyaaba Addai-Sebo recalls his earliest memory of political consciousness [BL REF C408/37]

Download Transcript – Akyaaba Addai-Sebo recalls an early memory of political consciousness

This incident and the betrayals that followed as later coups in Ghana took Nkrumah from power forged a powerful activist in Akyaaba, who has led a life dedicated to confronting injustice. As a child he was also frustrated by his experiences of education in the British colonial system, where he studied European classics, religion, geography and literature rather than his own region’s culture and history. He recognised the importance of the few teachers who went against this system. Later as a teenager he saw the importance of finding ‘cultural synergy’ though learning about Ghanaian and African culture and history in Nkrumah’s Young Pioneers and the Pan-African Youth Movement. In the US he also saw the impact of what was then called Negro History Week for African Americans, and the beginnings of the campaign to rename the period as Black History Month which is still celebrated there in February. In the US he became involved in delivering workshops in Washington libraries and museums and spoke at celebrations of African Liberation Day in Malcolm X Park.

His activism eventually took him back to Ghana and later to London, where he found safety having narrowly escaped persecution under the Jerry Rawlings regime in 1984. Through CLR James he became involved with a powerful group of activists based in Railton Road, Brixton, including Leila Hassan Howe, Darcus Howe and the Race Today collective. At the same time Akyaaba had started working at the Greater London Council (GLC). At the time the GLC was a place of pioneering social policy under the leadership of Ken Livingstone, as was the Inner London Education Authority (ILEA), whose deputy leader Bernard Wiltshire Akyaaba worked closely with. The stewardship of Linda Bellos, Chair of the London Strategic Policy Committee (LSPC) and leader of Lambeth Council, and John McDonnell, Chief Executive of the Association of London Authorities (ALA), became crucial after the abolition of the GLC by the Margaret Thatcher government on 1 April 1986. It was an exciting time to be working in local government. With his boss and friend Ansel Wong, Akyaaba worked in the Ethnic Minorities Unit and it was there in the office that a chance encounter with a colleague set in motion the inspiration for Black History Month in the UK.

Akyaaba Addai-Sebo on the inspiration for UK Black History Month [BL REF C408/37]

Download Transcript – Akyaaba Addai-Sebo on the inspiration for UK Black History Month

In both the US and the UK Akyaaba had seen the impact that this lack of ‘cultural synergy’ was having on Black children and their families. He was shocked that here in the UK – the ‘mother of imperialism’ – that there was so little understanding of African history and civilisation. To rectify the damage done to children like Marcus and to eliminate the odious racism that plagued the UK Akyaaba worked hard to establish Black History Month. Here he recalls some of the conversations that fed into the founding of Black History Month, and why the choice of October is so significant.

Akyaaba Addai-Sebo explains why October was chosen as Black History Month [BL REF C408/37]

Download Transcript – Akyaaba Addai-Sebo explains why October was chosen as Black History Month

Akyaaba built support from all political parties, a process which his time in the US civil rights movement had prepared him well for. The UK’s first Black History Month events began with a series of historical talks and events in London in 1986 to which people ‘came in droves.’ Those events have now grown to become an integral part of the year with countless events happening across October and beyond across the whole country.

Rosa and Akyaaba standing on the terrace at the British Library, St Pancras

Rosa Kurowska Kyffin with Akyaaba Addai-Sebo at the British Library, St Pancras.

Akyaaba Addai-Sebo was interviewed by Rosa Kurowska Kyffin in 2023 for Leaders of National Life. The interview will be available to listen to at the British Library in early 2024, collection reference number C408/37.

16 October 2023

Recording of the week: South Asian history and medical practices in Britain

Black and white illustration of Mahomed's Baths from 1826. The building is on the waterfront, with writing on the side advertising 'Original medicated shampooing' and 'hot cold douch & shower'. There are people and carriages in the street, and ships on the water in the distance.
Mahomed's Baths from 1826. Alamy.


The NHS as we know it today has been built – and continues to be sustained – by migrant contributions. South Asians have played a major role in this. But did you know that we can place South Asians in the medical profession in Britain long before the NHS was formed? In fact, in this oral history clip from the Millennium Memory Bank (BBC) you can hear Bari Chohan describe how his family arrived in England in the 1870s, having practiced homeopathy and ophthalmology on the subcontinent. They then opened a series of medical clinics in various cities throughout the UK, including in Brighton, Harrogate, Sheffield, Bradford and Manchester. It was Bari’s great uncle Dr Chirag Din who practiced in Harrogate in the early 1920s. He later married his colleague and practice nurse, Florence, moving to her hometown of Middlesbrough, where he settled.

Listen to Bari Chohan interviewed by Neil Gander © BBC

Download Bari Chohan extract transcript

South Asians have not only been in Britain for a long period of time – longer than common perception – but they have been circulating within professional and community networks, actively shaping the island nation we know today. Remaking Britain: South Asian Connections and Networks, 1830s to the present is a new research project that sheds light on this British history.

The project will reveal stories like Bari’s in a new digital resource, exploring the significance of South Asian people and communities as agents of change to Britain's cultural, economic, political and social life from the period of empire in the 1830s to the present. The project team will conduct their own oral history interviews, in collaboration with The British Library, as well as showcase testimonies collected during other projects. This will be in conjunction with archival research. Remaking Britain is an AHRC-funded research project led by the University of Bristol and Queen Mary University of London in partnership with the British Library.

We’d love to hear from anyone who has oral history collections on South Asians in Britain, expressions of interest in oral history participation, or any information relating to the rich history of South Asians in Britain from the 1830s to the present. You can find more information on our website or contact us on email: [email protected] 

Bari's interview (reference C900/01572) was recorded in 1999 by Neil Gander for BBC Radio as part of the ground-breaking BBC and British Library Millennium Memory Bank project which explored British life at the end of the 20th century. The Millennium Memory Bank holds over 5,000 oral histories recorded by local and national BBC radio stations, from which each participating station broadcast a series of programmes on 16 common themes. All of the full unedited recordings and the subsequent programmes are archived and made available at the British Library. The collection is copyright of the BBC.

This week's recording of the week was written by Dr. Maya Parmar, Research Fellow for Remaking Britain, Queen Mary University of London. 

19 June 2023

Recording of the week: Windrush Voices

For this week’s ‘Recording of the Week’ the Library’s Schools Team celebrates Windrush Day.

Windrush Day is this week on June 22nd, the date in 1948 when the Empire Windrush docked at Tilbury.  This week, and all year round, the British Library Schools Team run a session that looks at the some of the personal stories of the Windrush Generation.  ‘Windrush Voices’ engages GCSE and A-Level students with oral history recordings and written sources to offer a different perspective to that found in textbooks.  Our session uses testimony from a wide range of the Library’s oral history collections.  Learners can hear the voices of people including educator and writer Beryl Gilroy, novelist Andrea Levy and photographer Vanley Burke.

My favourite recording though comes from, appropriately enough, An Oral History of Oral Histories.  It is a 2012 recording of Donald Hinds by Robert Wilkinson, and all 38 parts of it are available in the Sounds Collection.

Red double decker bus in London

A photograph of a London bus.

Donald, who died in March this year aged 89, was a writer, journalist, historian and teacher.  Listening to his recordings you get the impression of an incredibly clever man, sharp, interested in everything and with a very wry sense of humour.  Even when describing some very difficult subjects you feel an amused laugh is not far away.

Listen to Donald Hinds talking about being a bus conductor

Download Donald Hinds (bus conductor) transcript

Listen to Donald Hinds talking about being a history teacher

Download Donald Hinds (teacher) transcript

We use two clips of Donald, which you can listen to here, one about his experiences as a Bus Conductor and one about his experiences as a History Teacher.  So what do we get our learners to do with these recordings?  If you’d like, why not try yourself?

Read the transcript of each clip and think about what stands out for you from what Donald is saying.  Then listen, ideally twice, to the clips.  Think about whether something different stands out now and why?  With learners we delve into the power of the voice and the layers of understanding this can add to what is being said.

Did something different stand out for you?  It certainly does for us.  We find learners are often surprised by Donald’s wry detachment when recounting his stories, and a sense he is self-editing his account.  I’d really like to question Donald more about Sid Norris.  There seems so much more there he is not telling us.  As with many of the clips we use, racism is ever present in Donald’s experiences.  You do get the sense of a man who refused to be cowed by it at any point.

As an amazing History teacher himself, we think that it is fitting that Donald Hinds voice continues to be heard by young people studying the history of the Windrush Generation.

Today's post was written by Kate Fowler, Learning Facilitator.

15 February 2023

Working with teachers to develop sessions on teaching Partition

The Partition of India represents a pivotal moment in British history, and the new Voices of Partition resource is aimed at providing sources to teachers so they can gain an understanding of the nature of Britain’s relationship to India and Pakistan following over 150 years of colonisation. Working with A-level teachers Debbie Bogard and John Siblon, who led two Continued Professional Development (CPD) sessions at the British Library in December 2022, teachers were able to explore how oral histories are particularly powerful in opening up conversations and providing different ways of learning and analysing some of the resources at the Library. For this blog Debbie reflects on their experience of leading the CPD sessions...

Voices of Partition web graphic

For the last year, my colleague John Siblon and I have been working with the British Library on a project called 'Unlocking Our Sound Heritage - Voices of Partition’. Drawing on a range of British Library collections (including oral histories and archival documents from the India Office records), this new online resource includes many oral testimonies documenting the run up to the independence from Britain, the period of the partition of India and creation of Pakistan. We were invited to produce a student and teacher guide for the website, which we then delivered in two Professional Development sessions.

The resources provided a valuable opportunity to think about how to work with sources, particularly oral testimony, which is an area that many students (and possibly teachers) might not have encountered before. Source work can be challenging for students, who can often become unstuck and thrown off guard if unable to understand certain words or phrases within a text. Certainly, one common refrain in the history classroom is along the lines of, ‘Why didn’t people in the past just speak normally?’ Whilst this can be overcome in the classroom, struggling with sources can be problematic in high-stakes situations such as under exam conditions, where students can panic and consequently struggle to think clearly and critically.

Within the guide, we adopted a metacognitive approach to source analysis, whereby students are encouraged to think explicitly about the processes of their learning. In relation to written sources, we provided a step-by-step framework, where students are encouraged to ‘think like an historian’ before engaging with source content, along these lines:

Given what the source is, where it comes from, as well as the wider context, what do I expect the source to say?

This process is designed to free up thinking so that students don’t become lost in the source but rather are able to engage with the higher level task of addressing its attribution (including provenance, context and purpose) in order to engage more freely and confidently with what it says.

Similarly, with the oral testimonies, students are encouraged to think about the kinds of questions the interviewer might ask. Examples include:

Given what we know about the wider context, what do I expect the questions to be? And what am I expecting from the responses?

Following listening (typically the testimonies are around three minutes in length), there are follow-up questions, such as:

Was this in line with what I was expecting? Any surprises / interesting omissions? If you were the historian conducting this interview, what would you like to have asked the interviewee?

This is also designed to create a more authentic encounter between listener and testimony, away from the restrictions of typical source-based questions and ways of thinking.

We then ran two professional development sessions, which aimed to introduce teachers to the oral testimonies, as well as modelling the session so that it could then be run in
the classroom. The sessions themselves brought together a wonderful and eclectic mix of teachers, oral historians, educators, archivists, activists, musicians and students. Consequently, the discussions that arose were vibrant and engaging, helping bring the materials to life. One participant introduced us to the concept of ‘deep listening’, whereby the very act of listening is itself an exercise in mindfulness. Another commented how listening to oral sources allowed them to imagine the situation in a way that merely reading the text would not have allowed.

We also discussed the importance of awareness around the nature of the questions asked, and how the methodology of oral history will have changed over time. For example, in the clip of Charles Allen’s interview with the female freedom fighter and activist Kamaladevi Chaddopadhy, the questions focus on the war rather than her own experiences, with one question suggesting that Indians displayed loyalty to Britain in the war, a claim that Chaddopadhy counters with a more nuanced position about lack of consultation and representation.

The opportunity to engage with a plurality of voices also featured in other discussions. In one group, participants noted the way in which the Quit India movement was seen and understood through a child’s perspective, with the testimony from Raj Daswani recalling the five key leaders of Congress before discussing the food that he remembered eating at the time. We discussed how this unusual level of detail is something that could really appeal to and engage students, offering a different angle from the high politics presented through official government records and papers.

Another illuminating conversation focused on how to handle emotionally disturbing content relating to sexual violence and other buried traumas. In particular, the extent to which the classroom is an appropriate place for listening to challenging and turbulent testimonies. One teacher reflected on the importance of engaging with these sources as a way of learning about and honouring these experiences, as to deny them would be to prevent developing a deeper understanding of how partition played out. Overall, the sessions helped exemplify the richness of the oral testimonies and an excellent opportunity for a broader, more complex and nuanced understanding of partition.

There are already some exciting plans for next steps including ideas for students to carry out their own oral history projects in their local communities, as well as a possible project with Welsh Pakistani communities, which would be a fascinating angle on migration stories. As classroom teachers and teacher educators, it was rewarding to be valued for our professional expertise and be given the opportunity to model a ground-up, teacher-driven form of CPD. Thank you to the wonderful learning team at the British Library.

Debbie Bogard, February 2023

16 January 2023

Recording of the week: ‘Reggae Fi May Ayim’ by Linton Kwesi Johnson

This week’s post comes from Daisy Chamberlain, Preservation Assistant for Unlocking Our Sound Heritage.

Linton Kwesi Johnson was born in Chapelton, Jamaica in 1952. His mother, Sylvena, migrated to Britain just before Jamaica gained independence from the United Kingdom in 1962, and Linton followed three years later, aged 11. His first home in the UK was in Brixton, South London, an area he described as ‘an oasis of resistance and rebellion’.

Photo of Linton Kwesi Johnson

Photo credit: Bryan Ledgard on Flickr / CC BY 2.0

In the following recording, Linton Kwesi Johnson recites his poem, ‘Reggae Fi May Ayim’ (British Library reference: C1532/14), written in memory of the Black German activist and poet, and his personal friend, May Ayim, at his birthday reception at Homerton College, Cambridge in 2012. May Ayim was the child of a German mother and a Ghanaian father, but was adopted by a white German family at a young age. She died on August 9, 1996, when she was only 36 years old.

Listen to Reggae Fi May Ayim

Download Reggae Fi May Ayim transcript

Though Linton Kwesi Johnson often works with a live band or backing track, this recitation of ‘Reggae Fi Ayim’ is performed without any music. His words have a rhythm and a musicality of their own, though, and the absence of any backing adds to the solemnity of his elegy.

From hamburg via bremen / den finally / Berlin

Ayim moved to Berlin in 1984, where the self-described ‘black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet’ Audre Lorde was working as a visiting professor in North American Studies at the Freie Universität Berlin. Ayim attended Lorde’s seminars while working on her thesis on the cultural and social history of Afro-Germans. Lorde soon became a close personal friend and mentor to Ayim, and the following year the pair co-founded the West Berlin Chapter of the Initiative Schwarze Deutsche (ISD), an organisation of Black Germans campaigning against racial injustice in Germany to facilitate bonds between Afro-Germans and create new cultural practices.

Photo of May Ayim (right) with her mentor Audre Lorde (left)

Photo credit:  Dagmar Schults / CC BY-SA 4.0

Afro-german warrior woman

The relationship between Johnson and Ayim was personal – the poem reveals that the pair met at a black radical book fair. It was also political – both Johnson and Ayim used poetry as a tool for inciting political change, and as a core component of their activism. Ayim’s own poetry dealt with the themes of classism, racism and feminism, and emphasised the potential of writing to build coalitions between Black Europeans and transform their social lives. As well as this elegy for May Ayim, Johnson has written poems for Blair Peach (‘Reggae Fi Peach’), a white teacher from New Zealand killed at a protest against the National Front in Southall in 1979, and George Lindo (‘It Dread Inna Inglan’), a Black man from Bradford who was wrongfully convicted of robbery despite a lack of evidence and a strong alibi. You can browse individual recordings of these poems in the Sound and Moving Image Catalogue.

Fallin screamin / Terteen stanzahs down

The opening stanza of ‘Reggae fi May Ayim’ sets the tone of the poem as a pained and emotional elegy for a close friend by highlighting the conspiracy between life and death to ‘shattah di awts most fragile diziah’ (shatter the heart’s most fragile desire). The lines ‘Fallin screamin / Terteen stanzahs down’ are a reference to Ayim’s tragic suicide in 1996. The poet jumped from the thirteenth floor of an apartment building after battling depression and a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis.

Before Ayim died, she received invitations from across the world to attend and speak at conferences about feminism, anti-racism and human rights. It was through her global activism and her commitment to Afro-diasporic coalition that Ayim connected with individuals like Linton Kwesi Johnson. ‘Reggae Fi May Ayim’ is just one of many tributes sent by her friends and colleagues following her death.

11 July 2022

Recording of the week: Trailblazers in women’s sports

This week’s selection comes from Sarah Kirk-Browne, Cataloguer of Digital Multimedia Collections.

EURO 2022 promotional flyer

Last week, the UEFA Women’s Euro 2022 competition kicked off in Old Trafford. This is the second time England has hosted the tournament, and there are live matches in stadiums across the country. With an exciting and inspiring summer of women’s sport ahead, I would like to highlight this conversation recorded for The Listening Project in 2021.

The Listening Project is an audio archive of personal conversations, collected by local and national BBC radio stations. Since 2012, people have been invited to have a conversation recorded and broadcast (in edited form) by the BBC and archived by the British Library. You can listen to over one thousand recordings in full on our Sounds website, and learn more about the ongoing project on the BBC website. In this recording, archived in full as British Library call number C1500/2124, two pioneering sportswomen discuss their successes and experiences.

Leah Caleb started playing football at infant school, joining in with the boys in the playground. As her love of football grew, her mum heard about a new women's football team called Chiltern Valley run by Harry and June Batt. Leah joined the club aged 11, and at just 13 she went to Mexico to take part in the 1971 Women's World Cup. At the time, the media were comparing her footballing skills to George Best, and interest and ticket sales for the competition exceeded all expectations. 

Although she was representing England and played in front of crowds of 90,000, the team was not recognised by the Football Association or the then Women's Football Association (WFA), and on their return home they were banned from playing for three months. You can read more about the WFA’s reaction to this event in the WFA Archive held by the British Library at call number Add MS 89306. However, this sequence of events paved the way for much greater recognition and support for women’s football, leading to the huge popularity and excitement for the 2022 Euros that we are seeing today.

In this clip, Leah describes her love for the game:

Listen to Leah Caleb

Download Leah Caleb transcript

Joining Leah in this conversation is Dana Abdulkarim, who was the first Muslim and Arab woman to represent England in any sport. Like Leah, she was also 13 when her football career was taking off. She was encouraged to go for trials to play for England, but an injury combined with attitudes around her faith and participation in the sport proved to be a challenge. Instead she focused on rounders, which at the time felt more inclusive. She had great success and subsequently gained 67 England caps. She then went on to become Britain's first hijabi Muslim PE teacher, encouraging future generations of girls in sport. She is also a speaker, writer, and trustee at the Muslim Women’s Sport Foundation and the Chance to Shine charity.

Leah and Dana talk together about their trailblazing experiences as women in sport across different generations. They also discuss the challenges they have faced and their hopes for the future.

In this second clip, Dana talks about how things are changing for the better in school sports, and how much she is looking forward to the Euros:

Listen to Dana Abdulkarim

Download Dana Abdulkarim transcript

Get involved with preserving women’s football online:

The British Library is part of the UK Web Archive, which has an extensive collection of content from sports clubs (amateur and professional), fan sites, football research and events. There is no distinction in the collection based on gender, and we are working to ensure that information, discussion and creative output related to the UEFA Women’s Euro 2022 competition is preserved for future generations. Anyone can nominate UK published websites for inclusion in the UK Web Archive by filling in our nominations form.

You can read more about the UK Web Archive’s UEFA Women’s Euro 2022 collection in this recent blog post by Curator of Web Archiving, Helena Byrne

13 June 2022

Recording of the week: More than a headteacher

This week's selection comes from Sandra Agard, Learning Facilitator. 

'More than a headteacher' is how cousins Michelle Campbell-Davies and Rachel Clarke describe Betty Campbell, or Nan, as they knew her, in their chat recorded for The Listening Project to mark Black History Month in October 2021.

Bronze statue of Betty Campbell in Central Square, CardiffStatue of Betty Campbell in Central Square, Cardiff. Photo by 14GTR via Wikimedia, Creative Commons attribution CC BY-SA 4.0.

As the two cousins recall their family history and 'Nan’s legacy,' they painfully remember that as a child their Nan wanted to be a teacher – the response from her headteacher was 'it was never going to happen!' She went on to prove that teacher wrong!

Betty Campbell not only went on to be a teacher, she became the first Black headteacher in Wales. She was a trailblazer in Education and Community in Butetown, Cardiff.

This recording offers an insight into her remarkable life, legacy and all that she accomplished for her school, her community and for multi-culturalism.

According to Michelle and Rachel, their Nan had a 'clear vision on what equality looks like.' This entailed the importance of representation in the positions of power. One has to have a seat at the table to make decisions. Betty Campbell made sure she was at the head of table. As they put it, 'Nan was the boss!'

The cousins emphasise that their Nan was a pioneer for Black History Month. She made it her mission to promote the experiences of Black people and their contributions to British society through education. She also got involved in local politics by becoming an Independent Councillor. Originally, she planned on being a candidate for the Labour party in the local elections, but she was not selected. Undeterred, she decided to run as an Independent and, of course, she won! The words 'no' or 'can’t' were certainly not in her vocabulary.

Michelle and Rachel discuss their Nan's legacy [BL REF C1500/21254]

This then is the public face of Betty Campbell - head teacher, pioneer, councillor, trailblazer - but there are also the intimate memories of family moments.

Betty Campbell was not a very good cook. She also took terrible photographs, never waiting for anyone to be ready. No posing for her!

She loved singing in the choir.

She loved to travel and she made friends everywhere. Her granddaughter Michelle laughs at the memory of them all going to Canada to stay with people her grandmother had recently met in Butetown. For the cousins she was 'young at heart,' despite her advancing age.

As the cousins reminisce, they constantly say that they could not have progressed in their respective careers if it had not been for their Nan.

'I wouldn’t be the person I was if it was not for Nan,' says Michelle.

Nan gave them the confidence to pursue their dreams and destinies and the strength to navigate the constant challenges that they encountered in their daily lives.

Indeed, one of Betty Campbell’s mantras was, 'if you want something you have to go out and get it,' and she definitely did!

Betty’s achievements have earned her a spot among the 100 Great Black Britons; her place certainly deserved.

Betty Campbell left a lasting legacy for her family and the community.

---

Sandra A. Agard is storyteller, writer, playwright, poet, cultural historian, and author of children’s books including, ‘Trailblazers: Harriet Tubman’ and ‘Amazing Women in Black History’. Sandra is a member of the British Library staff CRED Network and Learning Facilitator.

The Listening Project is an audio archive of personal conversations, collected by local and national BBC radio stations. Since 2012, people have been invited to have a conversation recorded and broadcast (in edited form) by the BBC, and archived by the British Library. You can listen to over a thousand of the recordings in full through British Library Sounds. You can also learn more about the ongoing project on the BBC website.

The British Library is currently hosting an exhibition entitled Celebrating Beryl Gilroy which explores highlights from the archive of Beryl Agatha Gilroy, one of London's first Black headteachers. You can explore the free exhibition in the Sir John Ritblat Treasures Gallery at our St Pancras site until 26 June 2022.

Follow @VoicesofEnglish and @soundarchive for all the latest news.

08 March 2022

Recording of the Week: Filling in the gaps of the feminist movement in the 1980s – Southall Black Sisters

This week’s selection comes from Amal Malik, Community Research Intern for Unlocking our Sound Heritage.

Content warning: this blog contains references to domestic violence.

This Recording of the Week for International Women’s Day looks at the work of Southall Black Sisters activist and case worker Pragna Patel.

A pink, purple and orange banner featuring outlines of five women and the words 'Hate is your weapon, courage is ours - Southall Black Sisters fighting inequality and injustice since 1979'‘Let’s put race back into equality’, designed by Shakila Taranum Maan, 2008. Banner © Southall Black Sisters.

Southall Black Sisters (SBS) formed in 1979 and is a campaigning group that was established by women from African, Caribbean, South Asian and other minority backgrounds in West London. Faced with the onslaught of violence and marches by members of The National Front in Southall, the organisation formed as an anti-racist campaign group, influenced by the Black Power groups in the US and UK. As a result, they used ‘Black’ as an umbrella political term for all minorities, ‘born out of common experiences of colonialism and imperialism’.1 SBS addressed both the gap within the wider feminist movement concerning race and the neglect of gender in anti-racist movements. A Black feminist space gave women an environment to articulate their concerns with gender-based violence in the context of their racial identities. It emerged at a pivotal moment, with the important rise of feminist consciousness from 1979. Through active organisation, including conferences and the establishment of activist groups, British society was made to hear women’s demands.

Pragna Patel was interviewed by Rachel Cohen for Sisterhood and After: the Women's Liberation Oral History Project. The interview Patel gave encouraged internal discussions about the place of SBS within the wider feminist and anti-racist movements. Patel raised important questions of how the SBS dealt with the difficulties of confronting issues of domestic violence within minority communities, whilst avoiding wider racial stereotyping. Women of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic backgrounds are, statistically, disproportionately affected by domestic abuse, and Patel’s work sought to address why there was a gap in support for Black and Asian women in cases of gender-based violence.

Patel joined SBS in 1982, at a point where the group had lost steam, but also at a time when concerns of addressing domestic violence had increased due to cuts in support and welfare services.2 In an interview with Granada TV in January 1978, soon after she became Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher asserted that the population were fearful of being ‘swamped by people of a different culture’.3 Thatcher presented foreign cultures as an ‘alien’ threat to the British way of life, in rhetoric that one can argue further fuelled racial stereotyping of minority communities.4

In this clip, Patel explains how SBS emerged at a time when Black feminists were seeking to assert their identity in the activist space by discussing issues such as Black female sexuality and domestic violence. At the time, despite a growing anti-racist movement and the rise of feminist consciousness, few organisations focused on the specific challenges faced by Black and Minority Ethnic women at the intersection of those two identities.

Pragna Patel on Black feminism [BL REF C1420/18] 

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Patel discusses the first meetings of the Organisation for Women of Asian and African Descent (OWAAD) and the Brixton Black Women’s Group. Most of the literature focusing on South Asian feminist activism has looked at 'two streams of South Asian political organising in Britain'. One, class solidarities in trade union mobilisation in the face of increasing privatisation; and the other, the anti-racist mobilisation of the Asian Youth Movements (AYM). These relationships have been mainly focused on male-dominated organisations, where the cultures were 'distinctly patriarchal'.5 SBS created a safe space for women to address the issues within their community and criticised the wider state’s handling of gender-based violence. In Britain in this period ‘it was the black women that helped keep the names’ of women suffering deportation threats within the public consciousness. Patel’s interview brings in the legacy and continuing ‘living history’ of British imperialism, cemented further by hostile anti-immigration policies. SBS and OWAAD looked to battle hostile immigration policies, challenged the targeted use of the dangerous contraceptive Depo-Provera for minority communities and established trade union solidarity in a period of rising women’s employment. SBS, alongside the organisation AWAZ (‘Voice’ in Urdu), also played a major role in protesting against the virginity testing at Heathrow airport and the ‘X-raying of immigrants’.6 SBS enacted effective campaigns to challenge government policies; in 1992 they gave evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee’s inquiry into the one-year rule in immigration, showing how it could trap newly married women in violent relationships.7

Confronting the visceral effects of racist polices on Black and Asian women immigrants, these organisations implemented important grassroots campaigns to support their communities. In breaking the silence on domestic violence in Asian Communities, the public campaigns of SBS showed the faults in the systems that let vulnerable women slip through the cracks.

References

  1. https://www.ucl.ac.uk/racism-racialisation/transcript-conversation-pragna-patel
  2. https://www.ucl.ac.uk/racism-racialisation/transcript-conversation-pragna-patel 
  3. Sivanandan, A., and Jenny Bourne, ‘The Case for Self-Defence,’ Race & Class 58, no. 1 (2016): p. 65.
  4. Avtah Brah, ‘Women of South Asian origin in Britain: issues and concerns,’ South Asia Research 7, no.1 (1987), p. 45.
  5. Anitha Sundari, and Sukhwant Dhaliwal, ‘South Asian feminisms in Britain: Traversing gender, race, class and religion,’ Economic and Political Weekly 54, no. 17 (2019), p. 2-4.
  6. Ambalavaner Sivanandan, ‘From resistance to rebellion: Asian and Afro-Caribbean struggles in Britain,’ Race & Class 23, no. 2 (1981), p.147-8.
  7. https://southallblacksisters.org.uk/about/southall-black-sisters-timeline/

You can listen to more clips from Pragna Patel's interview and oral history interviews with other feminist activists in our two digital resources, Sisterhood and After and Women's Rights.

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