One year ago today, the world watched George Floyd die in nine minutes under the knee of a policeman. As a black Londoner, I remember watching the coverage on TV and feeling both outraged and saddened.
I had grown up in an era of racism in the 1970s and 80s, with my family coming here as part of the Windrush generation from the island of Dominica. I first experienced racism when I was put into lower-streamed classes at secondary school, due to being seen as less intelligent than white British students.
Later in life, I began to realise how my skin colour worked against me, particularly in finding work, and these issues started to affect my life. In 1997 I decided to learn more about my background and all the amazing things that black people have done, not only to boost my self-confidence, but my racial confidence too.
Now, one year on, the legacy of George Floyd’s murder has created an unprecedented interest in black history, with people of all ethnic backgrounds suddenly feeling a deep need for greater understanding of our experience. I have been inundated with non-black people wanting to attend the black history walks and talks which I run around London. The online black history course I teach with historian Robin Walker has gone from an all-black class to over half now being white attendees, hungry and eager to learn.
With the Black Lives Matter movement sparking a worldwide interest in black history and solidarity against racism, we as black Brits must take the lead on how history is discovered, explored, recorded, and shared. It’s our chance to reclaim it and define what it means to us, rather than accepting a white-washed version.
Black history is still buried away in academic guides, confined to a singular month in October, selectively taught and often skewed. But all you have to do is look to the streets of London to realise that it’s embedded in our society and alive on the streets that we walk through every day. Black history is British history.
This lack of accessible information written by black people themselves, coupled with the unprecedented interest in our experience, inspired me and my co-author Jody Burton to research and write the UK’s first travel guide to black history in London, Black London: History, Art & Culture in over 120 places, which will be released on Windrush Day (22 June) and invites people to discover London from a different point of view.
I met Jody at the No Colour Bar exhibition at the Guildhall Art Gallery in 2015. Growing up, she also experienced institutional racism in education and employment, but went on to study Caribbean Studies in the 90s and is now a librarian who is passionate about seeing wider representation of black literature. Together in our research for the guide, we recorded stories, studied artworks and visited landmarks, monuments, memorials and plaques across London’s streets, documenting the black contribution to local and global history, as well as black art and culture. We went as far back as 1460BC with Cleopatra’s Needle, through Tudor and Georgian times, to Windrush and up to the 2020 BLM protests.
As well as featuring well-known landmarks, we wanted to recognise the people, places and stories that are still missing from mainstream guidebooks. These include the African and Caribbean War Memorial in Brixton, which records the two million service-men and women who fought for Britain in both WW1 and WW2; Emma Clarke, the first black female footballer; and the fascinating naval history of the Windrush ship itself as a German warship.
Unlike other travel guides, Black London will help anyone, of any race, to explore, discover and celebrate an authentic version of black history, heritage and culture, through the rich and vibrant streets of London. You can discover the pink sphinxes at Crystal Palace, visit the Africa Centre in Southwark, see the Benin Bronzes in the British Museum, learn the story of the Jamaica Wine House, and feel the BLM words emblazoned in central Woolwich.
I hope the next generation will take a page out of our book and educate themselves about their own people’s history, and as black history becomes more widely accessible, more non-black audiences will welcome our side of the story.
Black London: History, Art & Culture in over 120 places, is released 22 June. To pre-order a copy, visit Amazon, Bookshop, or Waterstones or any good bookshop.
This content was originally published here.