Black History Month, October 2021
Black History Month is an annual observance originating in the United States. It has received official recognition from governments in the United States and Canada, and more recently has been observed in Ireland, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom. It began as a way of remembering important people and events in the history of the African diaspora, and is celebrated in October.
As we look forward to celebrating Black History Month this October, Robert, a member of Out In The City, tells us his story:
When I arrived in the UK (the Mother Country) in the mid 1970’s I had no idea that I would face racism and prejudice almost on a daily basis. Having come from Jamaica where the island’s motto is “Out of Many, One People” and having grown up with cousins who were black, white and all the shades in between and having gone to school with Chinese, Indian, European and other ethnicities whose parents or grandparents had made their home in Jamaica, it really was a shock to the system.
I was a 21-year old mixed race man and came here to study, with a view of settling down as my great uncle on my father’s side had been an Admiral in the British Navy. My father is white Jamaican of French and British heritage and my mother is mixed race, the offspring of a black father and a half Irish, half Scottish mother.
So perhaps now I could see why my dad’s side of the family had always come across as having an air of superiority. They sometimes looked down on the darker skinned side of the family but as my father explained this was something inherent from the old Colonial days. My dad tells me that when he told his parents he had proposed to my mother, they sat him down on the veranda and said, “Three questions!” “Is she coloured?” “Do her parents have money?” “Is there any lunacy in the family?”
One of my first experiences of being made to feel different was one Saturday morning in Birmingham, when I went to a mate’s house to go to a football match and his mother answered the door and then shouted up to my mate Dave, “There’s a coloured lad at the door for you”. Why the adjective? She could have just said, “There is a lad at the door”. A similar incident occurred when I was looking for digs at college. The man who phoned round on my behalf repeated the same mantra with every call: “He is coloured”. So what? I thought. I soon discovered that at that time some white people thought that young people like me would be cooking highly spiced foreign muck, playing reggae music full blast and cussing them in Patois English.
There are so many situations over the years where I have had to stand tall and just stay composed but one incident that sticks in my memory is during my first year of teaching and travelling home on the school bus. The driver suddenly stopped the bus and wiped the floor with me because I had followed the instructions of the Head teacher and asked the pupils to calm down and stay in their seats. This man abused me in front of the students by saying that it was his bus, he was in charge and how dare I give orders on his bus. It was quite obvious it was to do with me being a black teacher as in those days there weren’t many of us in the profession like there is today.
Those early years of teaching were far from easy as the stereotype mentality of some parents and visitors to the different school’s I taught in was quite embarrassing. On numerous occasions I was mistaken for the caretaker or some kind of “handyman” so when I said I was a teacher, you could see the surprise on the person’s face as if to say: shouldn’t you have a broom in your hand? I saw myself repeatedly passed over for promotion and even though I was almost a straight “A” student and was awarded a distinction for my Teaching Practices, I was scrutinised much more than my white colleagues. When my students did well in exams, no one mentioned good teaching, as their success was because they were bright and capable. When they failed it wasn’t due to their laziness or that they hadn’t applied themselves, no it was down to bad teaching. It was my fault!
I had a break from teaching and went to work as Cabin Crew for a few years and it was noticeable on how few occasions I got to work at the front in Business Class. I can only assume that these Cabin Crew managers / Pursers did not feel that a slightly older man of colour should be serving in this particular cabin on the aircraft. Yet in Training School we were told that we must work in all cabins on a regular basis.
I guess some Sociologist’s might call this a type of “Hidden Apartheid”. When I was given an award one month, for having the most letters of commendation from passengers on my flights by my Fleet Manager, one crew member was heard to remark “I bet he has his friends on his flights and gets them to write in to praise him”.
Looking at the funnier side of things, I remember a teacher at one school stating that she was sick of people stereotyping her as since she came from Wales everyone seemed to think her father was a Coal Miner and he was called Taffy.
Then I looked at her and said now you know how I feel as people seem to think because I’m from Jamaica my father was a bus driver and my mother a Hospital Orderly because those were the predominant roles that West Indian immigrants took on arrival in the UK. So when she enquired what jobs my parents did and I mentioned that my dad was an Electrical Engineer with his own company and that my mother was a trained Pharmacist with her own business, she seemed surprised!
Another funny incident was in my early days of teaching and I was walking around with my son in the hall at the end of a Parents Evening as my partner had come to collect me. A child in my class came up to me, had a good look at my child whose skin and features are more Caucasian and enquired, “Is he quarter cast?” No, I replied, he is fully cast because he belongs to the human race. “Oh”, he said looking rather puzzled and ran off.
When I separated from my wife and went on to the gay scene I was horrified at the language I heard in pubs and clubs. The “N” word was still quite often heard but of course I am talking about the late 1980’s. Who say’s gay people can’t be racist? I remember on one occasion thinking I had met a really nice guy at the bar as we bought drinks, chatted and laughed and then only to be told, “Oh, I have never been to bed with anyone coloured before but mind you I didn’t think your skin would be so soft or you would be so intelligent and you do smell nice”. “By the way, I hope you don’t live in Moss Side.” Needless to say, I made a hasty retreat out of that joint.
I can say that I am proud of my mixed race heritage whether it’s on my maternal grandfather’s side who was the grandson of a slave or indeed on my father’s side where there is supposedly some aristocracy as his great grandfather was the Count of Fosse. We need to remember that racism has been around for a long time. My father told me the story of his uncle who went to Scotland to lecture at Edinburgh University in the early 1900’s and when they heard he was from Jamaica, the students waiting in the hall started chanting “bring on the monkey” before he even got to the podium. Of course they were quite shocked to see a white man and not what they had imagined in their feeble cockroach brains. Apparently, my ancestor had a wicked sense of humour and his opening words were: “Well; now you’ve seen a white monkey!”
I can honestly say that I am happy with my station in life and I am pleased to say that none of the above has scarred me in any way. I feel there are times when you just have to shrug these racist incidents off and even laugh at yourself as perhaps we can all be a little too PC. Then, there are other times when you have to stand up and be counted and make a lot of noise, show your teeth and don’t let people trample all over you.
I believe things are getting somewhat better in the United Kingdom but racism is still alive and kicking. Our politicians need to step up to the plate and lead by example especially those in senior positions. We also need schools to practice what they preach and not just pay lip service to racism. The Anglican and Catholic Churches need to speak up and stand up for those from foreign lands. They seem to forget that Jesus was a black man and a foreigner himself and yet so many Priest’s and Bishop’s pretend not to see what is going on and pass by on the other side! In the football world it is obvious that there is still a far way to go judging by the recent spate of racist tweets aimed at our black football players.
To my black brothers and sisters I would like to say that if you are ever challenged as to why you are here and not back in your own country always remember the words of my Sociologist Lecturer at University. He used to say, “tell them, you are here because they were there”. In other words when you think how our colonies in the West Indies, Africa and Asia were plundered and the profits from slavery, sugar and various minerals were used to build many of these big buildings we see today in Bristol, Liverpool, London and other cities, then we have every right to be here! In closing, perhaps a day will come when we will feel that there is no need to have a “Black History Month” but I dare say this is a long way off. Schools need to start teaching black history and not just British and European history. It’s not just the black children who need to know more about their roots and their ancestry but children of other races should also know too, so as to avoid perpetuating further stereotype views in the future. Perhaps some of us are too embarrassed to talk about slavery and wish to forget that it ever happened. It is important to remember the words of Malcolm X, “Our history did not begin in chains”.
Statue of Anne Lister, TV’s Gentleman Jack, unveiled in Halifax
Suranne Jones, who played 19th-century diarist regarded as the first modern lesbian, says she hopes the artwork will be an inspiration.
A bronze statue of the 19th-century diarist Anne Lister, known as Gentleman Jack, has been installed in Halifax, the West Yorkshire town where she lived.
The artwork was unveiled on 26 September by Suranne Jones, who starred as Lister in the recent BBC One drama Gentleman Jack, and Sally Wainwright, the award-winning creator of the show.
Lister, who is sometimes described as the first modern lesbian, is known for her extensive diaries detailing her life as a landowner and entrepreneur, her travels across Europe and her relationship with Ann Walker, to whom she was notionally married.
The £25,000 installation called Contemplation and created by sculptor Diane Lawrenson, is now on permanent display at the Grade I-listed Piece Hall.
Jones said it was important that Lister was visible to the mainstream. “[In Gentlemen Jack] She has to gender-shift, in a way, and is hiding in plain sight. She is constantly facing challenges every single day of how people look at her and view her. And now in 2021 she’s sat here in the middle of the Piece Hall, where everyone comes to have their family days out. I think that’s what’s important about this specific piece of art.”
She said she was “fiercely proud” of the show and that she was part of Lister’s story.
“To be able to be on the BBC at nine o’clock on a Sunday night, with this character in full glory, has been amazing, and also fans have welcomed me as a straight actor to play Anne Lister and I enjoy being an ally – I enjoy the responsibility.
It’s one of the hardest roles I’ve had to play, because the language is really tough and I’m in almost every scene. I’m fiercely proud of what we’ve created here. It just speaks to visibility that there’s Shibden Hall [Lister’s family home in Halifax, which is open to the public] and now this beautiful statue, which is just glorious. I’m just very proud to be part of it.”
Series two of Gentleman Jack wraps this week. Filming was disrupted several times due to the pandemic, the death of Jones’s father, and the birth of co-star Sophie Rundle’s baby.
Wainwright has spent years transcribing some of the diaries’ estimated five million words written in secret code detailing Lister’s liaisons with other women, as well as portraying the network of relationships between women of the gentry and aristocracy in early 19th-century Halifax.
She said the life sized statue “captured a lot” of Lister’s character. “I think it’s really sensitive but robust, and I love the way it’s deconstructed, where it’s just slightly abstract. It’s kind of rough and ready but it’s really alive.”
She added: “I hope [local people] will talk about Anne Lister, about who she was and why she’s important. I hope they’ll see this image of her, which is a very intelligent, very athletic woman, and it will inspire them. But I have no doubt people will put top hats and red noses on her at Christmas, they’ll be sitting on her and putting their arms round her and all sorts.”
Gay Times ends print magazine after nearly 50 years
Gay Times, one of the world’s longest-running print magazine for the LGBT+ community, has ceased printing, but will continue as a digital publication.
The UK-based magazine was first published in 1984, but its predecessors date as far back as 1975. During that time it’s been a vital resource for LGBT+ people in periods of misinformation and violent rhetoric, from the early days of the Gay Liberation Front through to the repeal of Section 28.
Over the decades hundreds of icons have graced its cover, including David Bowie, Elton John, Dusty Springfield and George Michael.
The magazine had been in print every month since its launch until 2020, when it moved to a quarterly publication, but is now going purely digital to reflect a decline in offline readers. Just two per cent of its readers consume the print magazine.
Gay Times says that the decision to cease the physical magazine had been planned for some time and says that it also considered the environmental impact of printing issues.
“Any print magazine production demands significant natural resources, so this was one of the main factors in the decision.” Although you won’t be seeing the familiar cover on magazine shelves anymore, Gay Times magazine will continue as a digital publication with 12 issues a year.