Friday, 8 August 2014

Black History Second

Sylvester Williams, a Trinidadian who became a qualified teacher at 17, studied and taught in New York before moving to Hackney, East London in 1879 at the age of 22. He was the first black person to speak in the House Of Commons and founded the African Association, here is an extract written by Sylvester about his aims of his group:

To encourage a feeling of unity to facilitate friendly intercourse among Africans in general; to promote and protect the interests in all subjects claiming African descent, wholly or in part, in British Colonies other places, especially in Africa by circulating accurate information on all subjects affecting their rights and privileges as subjects of the British Empire, by direct appeals to the imperial and Local Governments.

… and over a hundred years later Hollywood, America's greatest propaganda machine, gets away with making casting decisions like this in a film about an ancient African civilisation.

If you think that's cutting, wait until you see the cast for 2016's Gods Of Egypt staring Gerald Butler

One of the reasons I teach is because I believe in the power of modelling truth. Art is a good way to look at it. If you see European art from the 1500's and the appearance of non-white faces surprises us because we are so used to our own non-presence, what has been communicated through these selective historical narratives? Africans and other non-Europeans had a presence in Europe thousands of years before slavery. In England there is a burial site of African Roman soldiers believed to date as far back as 42AD. Because that surprises so many people, we ought to have appropriate telling of culture and history so we can truly learn from it.

Often, as a poet I ask myself, "what are we not listening to that we should be?" and I keep hearing myself say, "our stories".

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