Don Letts, culture clash master, a pioneer who coined the culture clash term by introducing reggae to the punk movement from his shop on King's Road Chelsea in the 70s at a time where British music and society was divided. A film producer and documentary maker - a man of many talents who has contributed heavily to change the face of British music, art and fashion.
During a recent interview on my BBC Three Counties Radio show Letts reminisced on meeting Bob Marley. He struggled with the idea of being Black and British "The whole Black and British thing was happening in the mid 70s - back then it was a confusing concept. We didn't really know exactly where we fit. It was a weird social experiment that had no previous blueprint". Being Black and British may have existed on paper but in reality it was a myth due to peer pressure, influences mainly by American fashion, art, music and other trends. Letts concurred "We were looking to America but weren't American - we are of Jamaica but we weren't Jamaican". It was understandable for Letts to have been confused and question the whole of idea of being Black and British at a time where Britain was institutionally racist; the economy was on it's knees with a three day working week along with the rise of far right groups.
Letts highlighted the turning point of being British, Black and accepted "It wasn't till the advent of Soul II Soul that being Black and British actually meant something". But did it really take that long for society to finally accept British Black culture? "It wasn't about recognition, it was about us feel happy about who we were. We had to feel comfortable within ourselves." Notting Hill Carnival, pirate radio movement, Scarman report on Brixton and not forgetting the explosion of rave culture which more or less brought all races and cultures together - those key significant moments have made Black Britons feel truly accepted for their contribution to society. Surely those key moments enabled Black Britons to be accepted for being part of that golden era and radical movement. Let's not forget Loose Ends, Aswad and the reggae soundsystems who flew the flag not just for British Black Music but for future generations to be seen, heard and not ignored. They should be credited for helping to make a change.
Letts may not be alone in his deep routed thoughts. It wasn't a case of fighting over African or West Indian roots but being acknowledged for being Black, British and proud. There may be other leading Black Britons who felt their presence was not welcomed and oppressed by a institutionalised and racist society. But Letts has a point in terms of role models and representation. Other than Trevor McDonald, Darcus Howe, Sir Trevor Phillips and Lenny Henry - spotting an ethnic or diverse person on television was a rarity. They were the only examples on mainstream television. At that time whilst growing up it didn't seem there was a problem or issue. It was an issue and wasn't challenged. There were hardly any BAME broadcasters or personalities. The main anchors were middle class and white and didn't seem to connect with Black British culture. There were no sufficient platforms available. It was also a struggle for many BAME parents. They were victim to the institutionalised mindset as 'over qualified immigrants'. Many with degrees in medicine, finance and other fields. Many were unable to get work of their preferred choice. Instead opting for early morning cleaning jobs, work as bus and train drivers and menial positions in order to fend for their families. But they worked hard and brought their children up to aspire and become something in their lives.
Letts involvement along with Soul II Soul, Goldie, Kanya King, Dizzee Rascal and Jamal Edwards has had a significant impact to highlight change and the perception of what being Black and British is all about. Cultural trends may challenge that but as Letts rightly points out "We are not American, we are not Jamaican - we are this new hybrid - Black and British." It's certainly not a trendy art form but here to stay and that should be respected.