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Are we losing our Caribbean heritage?

UNITED FRONT: Outside the inquest into the New Cross Fire deaths. From left - New Cross Action Committee chairman John Le Rose, Darcus Howe, bereaved family members, Amza Ruddock, daughter Yvonne and Mr. Collins

THOUSANDS OF mourners turned out for the funeral of community champion Darcus Howe last week. In light of his sad passing, questions are being asked about who will follow in his footsteps.

At a recent meeting of the British Caribbean Association (BCA), which aims to influence Government policy in the long-term interests of Caribbean people, both in London and the rest of Britain, politicians such as David Lammy, Clive Lewis and Baroness Rosalind Howells expressed concerns that we may never see future influential activists like Howe. Lammy said:

TRAILBLAZER: The late Darcus Howe

“The Windrush generation was politically engaged, but they are getting older. Caribbean organisations that have a political voice have dwindled. It could be because immigration from the region has stopped, inter-marriage with other races or the failure of young people to visit the region.

“But I am not seeing young men and women of Caribbean heritage enter politics and address key issues. In a hundred years’ time, people may say that there used to be a Caribbean community in the UK.”

Lammy, who was born in north London to Guyanese parents, urged Caribbean organisations to do more to engage young people with cultural links to the region and help forge the political process in the UK. He said:

“Even the Caribbean high commissions are struggling with the numbers of people who attend their events.

"There’s a real challenge with the younger generation and I have yet to see an organisation that has got that right. I have spoken to many youngsters and they said, ‘I have never heard of the British Caribbean Association. Why isn’t it on Facebook or Twitter?’

“Clearly, better dialogue is needed to engage and encourage youngsters from the Caribbean to have a voice in British politics.”

FEARS: MP David Lammy

However, poet and writer Benjamin Zephaniah said that it was important to put the debate in a wider context. He told The Voice:

“The idea that we live here like we lived in the Caribbean is not going to happen. If we think of Caribbean culture as the ‘ackee and saltfish and dumpling’ and a certain way of speaking, then of course a lot of that will be gone. That could be seen as a good thing. We are making our place in Britain and we are making it our own.

“With that said, it’s important that we don’t forget where we come from. We have to create the new Darcuses – a great man, a militant man. We need to re-capture that revolutionary spirit. But we also have to see our struggle in the international context – Darcus Howe always put our struggle in an international context.”

Zephaniah added:

“I think it’s our duty to understand the struggles of other people, not just Caribbean people. Let’s try and understand the struggles of African people. You can’t fully appreciate Marcus Garvey if you don’t know Kwame Nkrumah or Nelson Mandela.

“The South African national anthem is one of the only anthems in the world that doesn’t just talk about itself – it talks about a Africa united. Marcus Garvey was a pan-Africanist from a small place like Jamaica and he had so many followers.”

UNDERSTANDING: Poet and writer Benjamin Zephaniah

Simon Hinds, a member of the BCA, has noticed that youngsters of Caribbean heritage often believe they cannot make a valid contribution to the advancement of British politics. He said:

“In the 1970s, children rebelled against their parents and grew up with a partial understanding of Caribbean culture, and their grandchildren believe it is not relevant to them. This has impacted on their confidence and ability to engage in political issues.”

In contrast, Patrick Vernon, Voice contributor and social commentator at Operation Black Vote believes there are additional reasons for the decline in mainstream political activism. He said:

"Black youths are disillusioned with mainstream politics because their needs are not being addressed. There is now a focus on community activism online and through social media. Dialogue with MPs can be achieved with online petitions and, depending on the numbers, they can help support a particular issue. :

However Yvonne Field, founder of Ubele, an inter-generational community initiative, believes that young people of Caribbean heritage are just as politically active and socially conscious as the Windrush generation – it’s just that the style of activism has changed. She said:

VOICE OF TODAY: Social media shapes many of today's campaigns

“Campaigning groups like Take Back the City and gal-dem are not into party political issues, but possess an informal structure, where concerns like housing and racist policing are discussed at workshops and through social media.

"I believe inter-generational dialogue needs to take place to identify how they can be assisted to move forward with the older generation.

"Youngsters are disillusioned with mainstream political process."

Direct action organisations like Sisters Uncut and Girls I Rate both use social media as a tool, but continue to take it to the streets, protesting against racism, gender inequality, student cuts and more, with a large following from both generation Z and millennials alike.

Other Black Lives Matter UK activists, like 20-year-old poet Aliyah Hasinah, are making their mark as key figures in the movement for using direct action to organise protests and demonstrations, as she did in her hometown of Birmingham in July 2016, while 18-year old activist Ross Walcott did the same in Sheffield.

Hinds (aforementioned) also believes black student bodies need to be encouraged. He added:

“Black students are organised and there is tremendous potential for them to impact on the political process in the future.”

The Voice will be following up this topic in a series of articles. Do you believe that people of Caribbean heritage are losing their culture? Let us have your thoughts. Write to us at newsdesk@thevoice

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