Portrayals Of Blackness: What Does Black Britishness Mean To You?

HuffPost UK/IPG Mediabrands launches art competition for Black History Month

For me, black culture brings to mind language, fusion, music, food, art, film, nightlife, and hair, hair, hair. Reflections on black culture are as important as ever and discussions around blackness are slowly being given more airtime in the UK, whether that’s interest in platforms like gal-dem and Black Ballad, conversations about racism, decolonisation or repatriation, or the renewed attention brought by the Windrush scandal.

We’re increasingly looking to ways of documenting, curating and presenting our cultures and histories – for example the black cultural archives, and books like Reni Eddo-Lodge’s Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race.

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While conversations around blackness are gaining more traction, they’re often still framed around US or global narratives. Black Lives Matter is often seen as marking the beginning of a new chapter of activism around race, drawing mainstream media’s attention to race issues in the US since 2015. Artists such as Beyoncé and Kendrick Lamar, who have drawn attention to the politics of blackness and black culture, have understandably looked at blackness through the lens of US plantations, Hurricane Katrina, ghettos, Martin Luther King and Jim Crow.

But in the UK, our history and current climate is distinct; whether it’s cultural references like ‘cainrows’ instead of ‘cornrows’, historical events like Windrush and post-slavery migration, or structures, like the way police brutality differs here and often takes place in custody.

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The African diaspora has a lot in common, but it’s also important to acknowledge the distinctions. This will only help us tackle the race issues we face, and craft our own spaces of belonging. Eddo-Lodge has always illustrated this well – dedicating chapters of her landmark book to explaining how the events of yesterday are intrinsically intertwined with those of today.

Within the UK, can we even define one version of ‘black culture’, or are there multiple, coexisting, or overlapping cultures? Our makeup includes people from, or with heritage in, the continent of Africa and the Caribbean islands. We speak different languages and dialects; we also have distinct generational differences to account for, particularly between those who have experiences of migration and those who were born in the UK.

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Portrayals of blackness can also exist as separate from the hardship and trauma of historical events like slavery – Carnival is one of my favourite celebrations of the year because it allows me simply to enjoy, and feel proud of being Caribbean. Music in particular is an element of black Britishness that I’ve loved indulging in, from the more historical Lovers Rock, to the now well-established grime scene – two genres that came from black people in the UK and have now received global recognition.

Celebration of black culture is also closely tied to our histories. Bob Marley once sung: “in this bright future, you can’t forget your past,” and I think that perfectly encapsulates the fact that holding on to our culture is a political and subversive act, given that historically it has repeatedly scrambled for, erased, and stripped from us. So plain old celebration, and visibility, is valuable.

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It’s important to celebrate black culture, so we want you, our readers, to show us what black Britishness means to you. HuffPost UK is excited to bring you a Black History Month competition, open to all UK creatives to celebrate African and Caribbean culture. We’re calling for art, photography, or any visual piece on the theme of black culture in the UK today.

We’d love you to get creative with the theme – ‘black culture in the UK’ is broad and we expect the range of images to reflect that – what does it feel like to you? Images can be anything from paintings, to graphic design, to sketches, to collages – even iPhone camera shots. We’ll be printing and unveiling our top ten favourite pieces in an exhibition in collaboration with IPG Mediabrands, which will run throughout Black History Month in October. We’ll also feature them, and profile the artists, on our site.

To enter, please send a high-resolution copy of your submission to micha.frazer-carroll@huffpost.com, and include in the body of your email a bit about you and what inspired the image you’ve chosen to enter.

The deadline for submissions is Wednesday 26th September.


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