I’m black again.

By K. A. Dilday who is a columnist for the online magazine Open Democracy.


I???M black again. I was black in Mississippi in the 1970s but sometime in the 1980s I became African-American, with a brief pause at Afro-American. Someone, I think it was Jesse Jackson, in the days when he had that kind of clout, managed to convince America that I preferred being African-American. I don???t.

Now I live in Britain where I???m black again. Blacks in Britain come from all over, although many are from the former colonies. According to the last census, about half of the British people who identify as black say they are black Caribbean, about 40 percent consider themselves black African, and the rest just feel plain old black. Black Brits are further divided by ancestral country of origin, yet they are united under the term black British ??? often expanded to include British Asians from the Indian subcontinent.

Read K. A.’s story.

Mary Seacole

Crimean war veteran nurse and original lady of the lamp

Mary Seacole’s reputation after the Crimean War (1853-1856) rivalled Florence Nightingale’s. Unlike Nightingale, Seacole also had the challenge to have her skills put to proper use in spite of her being black. A born healer and a woman of driving energy, she overcame official indifference and prejudice. She got herself out to the war by her own efforts and at her own expense; risked her life to bring comfort to the wounded and dying soldiers; and became the first black woman to make her mark on British public life. But while Florence Nightingale has gone down in history and become a legend, Mary Seacole was relegated to obscurity until recently.

Mary Seacole was born in Kingston, Jamaica in 1805. Her father was a Scottish soldier, and her mother was a practitioner of traditional Jamaican medicine and had a boarding house where she cared for invalid soldiers and their wives. Mary learned about medicine from her mother, soon gaining her own reputation as a ‘skilful nurse and doctress’.

Visit her official website.

Bonnie Greer

Playwright and critic Bonnie Greer was born in America. She studied theatre in Chicago with David Mamet and in New York with Elia Kazan.

She has lived in Britain since 1986, where she has worked mainly in theatre with women and ethnic minorities. She has won a Verity Bargate Award for Best New Play and has played Joan Of Arc on the Paris stage.

She has had many plays produced by Radios 3 and 4, including a translation of The Little Prince, and her latest play, Jitterbug was presented in London in 2001.

She is working on a play for the National Theatre Studio. Her musical “Solid” had a workshop production in Stockholm for the National Theatre of Sweden. Her co-produced documentary, “Reflecting Skin” was shown over the BBC in 2004 and she is currently in pre-production with another about the education department of the Royal Opera House.

Bonnie’s second novel, Riding The 903, was published in 2005. Other books include How Maxine Learned to Love Her Legs and Other Tales of Growing Up, and Hanging by Her Teeth (90’s) (Hanging by Her Teeth (90s) for US readers).

Bonnie is a trustee of the British Musuem.

Read Bonnie’s articles in the New Statesman.

Listen to Bonnie on BBC Radio.

Novlette Rennie-The UK’s first black female Chief Executive in the sports sector

Novlette Rennie was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire.

The UK’s first black female Chief Executive in the sports sector, this award recognises Novlette???s contribution both to the world of sport and to race equality in general. Involved with sport for over 30 years, both professionally and personally, in a variety of roles ranging from player to official to manager, Novlette has been with Sporting Equals since its foundation in October 1998. She began as a National Sports Development Officer and was promoted to Project Manager in April 2000. In April 2002, her title changed to Director to reflect the strategic level of her work. She became Chief Executive in September, 2006.

Novlette Rennie said of her award:

“I am so pleased and proud to be the recipient of such a great honour. As a black woman, I feel that the OBE recognises not only my contribution but also the validity and importance of addressing issues of racial inequality in sport. I hope that my success will serve as an inspiration to other black people who wish to pursue a career in the sports sector”.

Richard Caborn, Minister for Sport, said:

“I should like to offer Novlette Rennie my congratulations on receiving an OBE in the Queen’s New Year Honours List. This is an acknowledgement of the longstanding and significant contribution she has made to promoting racial equality in sport. I am delighted that her work has been recognised in this way.”

Stephen Baddeley, Interim Chief Executive of Sport England, said:

“On behalf of Sport England, I would like to congratulate Novlette on the enormous contribution she has made to addressing issues of racial equality in sport throughout her career – the award of an OBE is deserved recognition for her commitment and hard work. Her work with Sporting Equals in recent years has shown the value of getting more people from ethnic minorities involved in sport at all levels, not only as players but as coaches, volunteers and administrators. I am confident that what Novlette has achieved will help inspire more people from ethnic minorities to get involved in sport.”

Claudia Jones – Founder of the 1st Black Weekly Newspaper in Britain

Claudia Jones was born in Trinidad, a British colony. Her family moved to Harlem, New York, where, from age 9 she lived in conditions of extreme poverty. When Claudia was 12 her mother, a garment worker, died of exhaustion and poverty. ‘I couldn’t attend graduation classes because I didn’t have a dress. Our family was so poor. I cried for days.’

She worked as a sales girl and a factory worker. She saw that government measures directed against blacks also affected poor whites and so, when she was 18, she joined the American Communist Party. By 1941 she had become the National Director of the Young Communist League and devoted all her time to political work.

After the second world war came the McCarthyism period when the US government hounded, jailed and deported many blacks and communists for ‘un-American activities’, Claudia was imprisoned four times by the US government.

In prison she called on the United Nations to ‘investigate the manner in which immigrants in the United States are being treated by the United States Government. If we can be denied all rights and incarcerated in concentration camps, then trade unionists are next; then the Negro people, the Jewish people, all foreign-born, and progressives who love peace and cherish freedom will face bestiality and torment of fascism. Our fate is the fate of American democracy. Our fight is the fight of all opponents of fascist barbarism, of all who abhor war and desire peace.’

There were campaigns and protests for her release but she was eventually deported in 1955. She came to Britain and lived in Notting Hill in west London where she was active in campaigns to defend the black community during the riots against them of 1958, also protesting against the racist killing of Kelso Cochrane. She was one of the founders of the West Indian Workers and Students Association.

In 1958 she founded the black newspaper, the West Indian Gazette, a newspaper for the West Indian community in Britain which campaigned for an independent and united West Indies, justice for blacks in Britain and world peace. Claudia worked to create links between political campaigns and cutural actvities; she established the first ever West Indian Carnival in 1959, which continues to this day every year on the streets of Notting Hill.


Additional reading: Claudia Jones: A Biography