A Public Re-Memory

After watching this BBC episode, Black and British, last night and giving myself time to think before writing, the thing I found most surprising isn’t necessarily the information itself, but the ideas that spawn from the program. The fact that Britain is whitewashing their history when it comes to the topic is black people is not surprising, and neither is seeing how long black people have really been in Britain. But when you think of the two together — if Britain is whitewashing their history and if black people have really been in Britain for this long — you start to think of what this could mean for the true history of their people.

How were they able to effectively whitewash this information for so long? Were there people of some African descent that denied their heritage on their family tree? Were these people of power? There’s so much that is in question after watching this documentary, and that is what programs such as this are all about.

I was very interested in reading the Gilroy piece after watching this program, and it didn’t disappoint. Of all the passages, however, one stood out to me that plays on the questioning I have after watching Black and British. In the second paragraph on page 46 of the Gilroy reading, he talks about the limits of ‘race’ during the time of “the new racism.”

“The effect of this ideological operation is visible in the way that the word ‘immigrant’ became synonymous with the word ‘black’ in the 1970s. It is still felt today as black settlers and their British-born children are denied authentic national membership on the basis of their ‘race’ and, at the same time, prevented from aligning themselves with the ‘British race’ on the ground that their nation allegiance inevitably lies elsewhere.” (Gilroy 46)

It’s almost laughable that someone can be denied nation membership due to the color of their skin, but even more so because of the idea that their “allegiance lies elsewhere.” It makes no sense, and the hierarchy knows this, but it is their way of whitewashing their country. This aligns with the program and my questions because based on the information we’re given, there has to have been a large quantity of black people in Britain, but the fact that it has been whitewashed so well is the shocking part. After reading this passage in particular, it would seem that the people of Britain that were able to pass as European denied their heritage due to the fear of being labeled an “immigrant.” Thus, the history was able to be moreorless rewritten with little-to-no issue.

The public memories of these people are important because it refreshes the history currently taught, never allowing the information the fade away. Public history serves as a reminder for everyone that these people did, in fact, exist. It also brings the information to light for those who many be ignorant to these facts. They cycle each other.


Works Cited: 

Gilroy, Paul. Ain’t no Black in the Union Jack. University of Chicago Press, 1991

Photo Credit:

The featured photo is from BBC’s “Black to Life: Rethinking the Black Presence within British History”

I chose this still from the video because it represents the importance of black life in Britain throughout history, bringing light to the otherwise white washed representation of blacks.

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