RSS FeedFacebookSearch
Gary Younge
Race

It started with a warning. "The problem of the 20th century will be the colour line," said one of the black diaspora's foremost intellectuals, WEB Du Bois, at a Pan-Africanist conference in London in 1900. The fight for full citizenship was creating what Du Bois, an African-American, referred to as an "eternal twoness" - "An American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder." A similar tension would be felt throughout the diaspora, until the end of the century, between the present - where we happen to be - and the past - where we are from. It would spawn a period of vibrancy both in politics and the arts. With his slogan "Up Ye Mighty Race", Jamaican-born Marcus Garvey called on black people to return to Africa to rebuild the continent.

Meanwhile, a sense of confidence emerged in the literature, art and music of the Harlem Renaissance that would propel jazz and the works of Langston Hughes and Zora Neal Hurston on to the international stage. In 1922, Britain's first black MP, Shapurji Saklatvala, was elected to represent North Battersea. It was a self- assurance that sat ill with white supremacy. The "Red Summer" of 1919 saw anti-black race riots break out in British ports such as Cardiff, Liverpool, London and on Tyneside, and in several cities in America.

Any hope that the socialist bloc would lead the charge against colonialism and racism faded when the Kremlin told Trinidadian-born activist George Padmore that the interests of the Soviet Union came before those of the black diaspora. His departure from Moscow in 1933 marked yet another "eternal twoness" - that between race and class.

The second world war brought leverage. If white establishments wanted black people to defend democracy, they would have to extend democracy to black people. This coincided with the mechanisation of agriculture and a labour shortage in western Europe - the beginning of the great migration and radicalisation of the diaspora.

In 1940, half of black America was rural; by 1970, it was 75% urban. In 1948, 492 Jamaicans landed at Tilbury docks on the Empire Windrush. Sizeable numbers would soon follow from the Indian subcontinent.

It was the beginning of a 20-year period that would see mass protest and huge gains in civil rights.

The US Supreme Court outlawed racial segregation in 1954; Rosa Parks's bravery and, inspired by Gandhi's pacifism, Martin Luther King's oratory would electrify the nation. For the first and only time in the century, the demands of the diaspora chimed with those of Africa and Asia - everyone was fighting for the right to vote. Malcolm X attended the Organisation of African Unity conference in 1964. Anti-colonial movements won independence and, 100 years after the end of the Civil War, African-Americans gained the franchise in their own country in 1965.

These advances challenged white people's belief of economic, political and racial superiority, and were often met with violence. In 1968, Martin Luther King was assassinated in Memphis. In Notting Hill, west London, resistance to attacks against the black community in 1958 gave rise to a carnival that became the largest street festival in western Europe. A far more defiant political and cultural expression emerged in the Black Power movement that found its voice in Angela Davis and Stokely Carmichael. Urban in character and uncompromising in style, groups such as the Black Panthers supported violence as a means of self-defence.

The minority who gained from the struggles of the 60s would go on to form a small, professional class; the vast majority who did not found themselves at the bottom of the economic heap and in sporadic conflict with the police that would punctuate the last two decades in cities throughout the diaspora. Priorities moved to economic equality and social justice, sparking a vicious backlash. Fascism returned as a mainstream ideology. In 1993, a black teenager, Stephen Lawrence, was murdered and his killers never convicted; the report into the affair found institutionalised racism. No one can say we weren't warned.

No going back

1903 Publication of The Souls Of Black Folk, by WEB Du Bois (above) - outlines the state of race relations in the US at the turn of the century.
1936 Berlin Olympics. Black US athlete Jesse Owens makes a mockery of Nazi racial superiority theories by winning four golds.
1938 The Black Jacobins, by CLR James - an account of the San Domingo revolution of 1791-1803.
1952 Black Skin White Masks, by Frantz Fanon - groundbreaking psycho-political study of how racism affects the black condition.
1963 Martin Luther King's •I have a dream' speech.
Organisation of African Unity charter signed in Addis Ababa. King and Ralph Abernathy lead a civil rights march in Birmingham, Alabama. The march ends in fighting. Hundreds sing •We shall overcome'. Four girls are killed in the fire-bombing of a church in the town. Kenya and Zanzibar gain independence from Britain. Nigeria and Uganda become republics within the UK Commonwealth.
1982 Women, Race And Class, by Angela Davis (below) - exploration of gender, race and economics.
1984 Staying Power, by Stephen Fryer - the history of black people in Britain.
1990 Communities Of Resistance, by A Sivandandan - the black struggle for socialism.

© Gary Younge. All Rights reserved, site built with tlc
Who Are We – And Should It Matter in the 21st Century?
book review
The more power an identity carries, the less likely its carrier is to be aware of it as an identity at all.
 follow on twitter
RT @thefreedomi: 🚨 NEW: Saudi women’s rights activist & academic Salma al-Shehab was sentenced to 34 years in prison + 34 year travel ban f…
RT @LRB: #DawnFosterForever! On Thursday 15 September at the @LRBbookshop, @BizK1, @piercepenniless, Lynsey Hanley and @garyyounge will d…
RT @ShowunmiV: This is how we support Black women and girls https://t.co/8YmgV21zHo
RT @sonikkalogan: It's #DataPoint Pod Thursday! In this week's episode, I talk to @noraneus, @garyyounge and @Casey_J_Wooten about the U.S.…
RT @bgnoiseuk: Next month, @LRBbookshop will host an event to celebrate the life and work of Dawn Foster with @BizK1, @piercepenniless, Lyn…
Help me Twitter. The quote: ""You can cut all the flowers but you cannot keep Spring from coming." is most commonly… https://t.co/Xs7JkiOEd5
RT @the_hindu: #DataPoint | This Thursday, @sonikkalogan takes a look at the #US gun violence epidemic, as mass shootings continue to grow…
City workers get double-digit wage rises while lowest-paid see 1% increase - “Them’s the breaks” https://t.co/XeVyG72iA5
RT @LRBbookshop: On 15 Sept we'll host an evening celebrating the life and work of Dawn Foster, with @BizK1, @piercepenniless, Lynsey Hanle…
© Gary Younge. All Rights reserved, site built with tlc