Keith Piper Body Politics


Wolverhampton is a diverse city where around 60 languages are spoken and is home to 10,000 descendants of the Windrush generation. The city has an exemplary record of community development and anti-racist activity, for example establishing the first Race Equality Council in the country and in setting up the African and Caribbean Cultural Centre. In 1998, the council, in partnership with over 20 voluntary organisations, put on a successful event attended by over 3,000 people to mark the 50th anniversary of the arrival of the Empire Windrush, which lead to the founding of BE-ME (the Black and Ethnic Minority Experience Foundation) the following year.

The month of October celebrates Black History Month and as a city we come together to celebrate the contributions of African and Caribbean descendants that have helped shape Wolverhampton that has made a huge difference to the city, it’s culture and its people.

There are a number of activities taking place across the city and we will update this page on a regular basis.

If you want to find out more information about Black History Month, online activities, articles or educational resources please visit blackhistorymonth.org.uk

What’s happening in Wolverhampton
Black Art Collection

Black Art Collection

Wolverhampton Art Gallery is committed to building its collection of work by black British artists and our ambition is to become a recognised centre for Black Art collecting. HLF through the Collecting Cultures programme has enabled us to acquire works by black artists, particularly those who were active in the 1980s. Beyond this, we intend to bid for further funding to increase the depth and breadth of our black art collection.

Wolverhampton Art Gallery played a significant role in the emergence of the Black Arts Movement, having hosted the first major exhibition by young black artists including Eddie Chambers and Keith Piper, in 1981. This was followed by the first

National Black Art Convention at Wolverhampton Polytechnic (now the University of Wolverhampton) in 1982. These two events spawned a new wave of black art which reflected the social and political issues experienced by a generation of black British individuals whose parents had arrived here during the Windrush era.

Our current collection contains a number of works by black British artists, including Gavin Jantjes, Eugene Palmer, Sylbert Bolton and Chris Ofili. We intend to use the HLF funding to enhance this collection significantly by acquiring key pieces by artists associated with the BLK Art Group such as Keith Piper, Eddie Chambers, Marlene Smith, Claudette Johnson, Donald Rodney, Lubaina Himid and Sonia Boyce, as well as by artists such as Tam Joseph who influenced this generation and those who have in turn been influenced by the artists associated with the Black Art Movement. To find out more about the city’s Black Art Collection visit the website.

  • Image credit. Untitled (‘Cowboy & Indian’ after David Hockney’s ‘We Two Boys Together Clinging’, 1961) © the artist.
Exhibitions

Here to Stay

Here to Stay, on until 10 January, Wolverhampton Art Gallery
Here To Stay is an archive of portraits and oral histories by documentary photographer Inès Elsa Dalal which documents the personal and professional narratives of 23 Black healthcare personnel working in the National Health Service. It was commissioned in 2018 to celebrate 70 years since the arrival of the Windrush Generation, many of whom have been, and still are, integral to the success of the NHS.

  • Image credit - Kyra Simms by Inès Elsa Dalal
 
Windrush Generation

Windrush Generation Exhibition, 3 October – 20 December, Wolverhampton Art Gallery
Will digitise 108 interviews carried out at the turn of the century. The original interviews, which are preserved at Wolverhampton City Archives, detail the struggles and achievements of Caribbean and other settlers and celebrate how they contributed to the development of Wolverhampton.

The interviews also cover topics including home country, arrival, housing conditions, employment, education, religion and combating racism.

  • Image credit – Windrush Interviewee
 
Stellar

Stellar: Stars of our Contemporary Collection, 24 October – 20 December 2020, Wolverhampton Art Gallery
A visual feast of paintings, sculpture, film and photography by some of the best British artists who have been nominated for the Turner Prize or selected for the British Art Show since it was established in 1979 – all from Wolverhampton Art Gallery’s collection. The exhibition has been curated through the lens of our collecting priorities over recent decades and explores themes and genres including Pop Art, abstraction, gender politics, conflict and cultural identity.

This display is a prelude to British Art Show 9 (BAS9), launching in Wolverhampton in March 2021. The British Art Show takes place every five years and is the largest and most ambitious survey of recent developments in British art.

  • Image credit. Allen Jones. Dream T-Shirt, 1964 © the artist
 

Wolverhampton Art Gallery is open Monday – Saturday 10.30am until 4.30pm and Sunday 11am until 4pm. Free admission.

Online activity

Frank Challenger
Windrush Generations Online talk in partnership with Wolverhampton University, 22 October.

Visit Eventbrite to register


Curators Talk

Curatorial Talk

Join Senior Curator, Carol Thompson, as she depicts work by Tam Joseph, Spirit of the Carnival.

Talking point - Art can be a powerful tool to bring people together through conversations. With this in mind, we’re inviting visitors to consider a painting from our collection which raises questions about identity, heritage, race, and freedom of expression; issues of current importance, which concern us all. We hope that looking at this artwork will spark discussion, comments and observations. Image Credit: Tam Joseph. Spirit of the Carnival, 1928. © the artist.

  • Image credit – Tam Joseph. Spirit of the Carnival, 1982. © the artist
 

Keith Piper Body Politics

Keith Piper: Body Politics. Works form 1982 – 2007.
Keith Piper (b. 1960) returned to Wolverhampton Art Gallery with a major exhibition that brought together key works from across the first three decades of his career focusing on the 1980s and 90s and ending with a video from 2007.

Covering a wide range of subjects from the objectification of the ‘black body’, through politics of the moment, to slavery, this exhibition confronted issues of race and class, that are at the heart of the legacy of Britain’s racialised empire.

Piper, a core player in the Black Art Movement and British contemporary art, first exhibited at Wolverhampton Art Gallery in 1981 in the ground-breaking exhibition Black Art an’ Done. This solo show Keith Piper: Body Politics. Work from 1982 – 2007 demonstrated the shift in his practice from painting, print and collage towards new media.

Hear what Keith had to say about the exhibition and returning to Wolverhampton Art Gallery in this interview:

  • Image credit - Keith Piper, The Black Assassin Saints, 1982. Museums Sheffield. © the artist

Inès Elsa Dalal to discuss her body of work Here To Stay
We sat down with documentary photographer Inès Elsa Dalal to discuss her body of work Here To Stay, which is currently on show at Wolverhampton Art Gallery. Here To Stay is an archive of portraits and oral histories which documents the personal and professional narratives of 23 Black healthcare personnel working in the National Health Service. It was commissioned in 2018 to celebrate 70 years since the arrival of the Windrush Generation, many of whom have been, and still are, integral to the success of the NHS. Dalal takes us through the origins of this portraiture series and discusses why it is so important to share the stories of the portrait sitters today. The exhibition is on at Wolverhampton Art Gallery until Sunday 10 Jan 2021.


Story Time Online
27 October (Half Term)

Join Elizabeth for story time during half term where she will be sharing ‘Anansi Tales’. Anansi is an Akan folktale character. He often takes the shape of a spider and is sometimes considered to be a god of all knowledge of stories. Taking the role of trickster, he is also one of the most important characters of West African, African American and Caribbean folklore. The story telling will take place one and will be available on Tuesday 27 October via Wolverhampton Libraries new You Tube Channel.


Travel Through Time

Travel Through Time
14 October 2020
6pm until 8pm
Join guest speakers Patrick Vernon OBE and Brenda Francis, geologist, who will be explore family tree’s and how to discover more about your own. In partnership with City of wolverhampton Unison Branch.
FREE
Join the conversation.

travel through time unison logo

Entrepreneurs Month – Bias Event brought to you by Coutts.
22 October 2020
4:30 PM
This discussion will attempt to break down the challenges and what can be done to better identify and support future talent. The moderator is Vikas Shah MBE, Managing Director & CEO, Swiscot Group and our speakers include Ric Lewis, Executive Chairman and Chief Investment Officer of Tristan Capital Partners and Karen Blackett former CEO and current Chairwoman of MediaCom.

Register for Webinar


 

Suggested Reading

Wolverhampton Library Service
Head over to the Wolverhampton Library Service where the team will be selecting stories and authors to celebrate Black History Month. The book covers will be posted everyday throughout October on their social media channels so be sure to ‘Select and Collect’ or check them out on Borrow Box.

Follow them on Facebook or Twitter.


National Poetry Day – October 1
To celebrate National Poetry Day Wolverhampton are celebrating Black artists as part of Black History Month.

Join the Wolverhampton Literature Festival Team and Wolverhampton Library Services who will be taking a look back at performing artists and showcasing the talent across the city.

Why not get involved and share your work with us by posting it in a comment or tagging us in. Use #NationalPoetryDay.


A selection of books to help children, young people, families and teachers explore race, identity, culture and achievements.

  • So Much - Author: Trish Cooke - Illustrator: Helen Oxenbury - Age 3-5
  • Look Up - Author: Nathan Bryon - Illustrator: Dapo Adeola - Age 5-7
  • Baby Ruby Bawled - Author: Malaika Rose Stanley - Illustrator: Ken Wilson-Max - Age 2-5
  • Fruits - Author: Valerie Bloom - Illustrator: David Axtell - Age 2-5
  • The Proudest Blue - Author: Ibtihaj Muhammad- Illustrator: Hatem Aly - Age 5-7
  • Luna Loves Library Day - Author: Joseph Coelho - Illustrator: Fiona Lumbers - Age 5-7
  • Baba’s Gift - Author: Beverley Naidoo - Illustrator: Karin Littlewood - Age 5-7
  • Dominic Grows Sweetcorn - Author: Mandy Ross - Illustrator: Alison Bartlett - Age 5-7
  • My Two Grandads - Author: Floella Benjamin - Illustrator: M. Chamberlain - Age 5-7
  • Grace and Family - Author: Mary Hoffman - Illustrator: Caroline Binch - Age 5-7
  • Sulwe - Author: Lupita N’yongo - Illustrator: Vashti Harrison - Age 5-7
  • Peacemaker - Author: Malorie Blackman - Age 8-11
  • Ghost - Author: Jason Reynolds - Age 11 +
  • Young, Gifted and Black - Author: Jamia Wilson - Illustrator: Andrea Pippins - Age 7-11
  • High Rise Mystery - Author: Sharna Jackson - Age 11 +
  • Funky Chickens - Author: Benjamin Zephaniah - Age 7-11
  • Ghost Boys - Author: Jewell Parker - Age 9+
  • Little Leaders, Bold Women in Black History - Author: Vashti Harrison - Age 7-11
  • Long Walk to Freedom - Illustrator: Paddy Bouma - Age 7 +
  • Coming to England - Author: Floella Benjamin - Age 11+
  • Noughts and Crosses - Author: Malorie Blackman - Age 11+
  • The Hate U Give - Author: Angie Thomas - Age 13+
  • On the Come Up - Author: Angie Thomas - Age 13+
  • Safe: On Black British Men Reclaiming Space - Author Derek Owusu. Age 13+
  • I Will Not Be Erased: Our stories about growing up as people of colour - Author gal-dem. Age 13+
Podcasts
  • BBC – Witness Black History - Interviews with people who were there at key moments in black and civil rights history.
  • BBC 3 – Black British History - Bernardine Evaristo, Keith Piper, Miranda Kaufmann and Kehinde Andrews discuss what it means to be Black British and how black history can be taught and reflected in literature.
  • Black History Buff Podcast - Each episode of the 'Black History Buff' Podcast will take you on a thrilling journey through a chapter of Black History. Covering the full historical tapestry of the African Diaspora, you'll hear tales covering everything from African Samurai's to pistol-wielding poets. So take a seat, kick back relax and enjoy the show.
  • The Bustle - 42 Podcasts About The Black British Experience & Race In The UK
  • Spotify and Google Podcasts - A weekly 10 min history podcast to aid your Black history learning.
Music

Wolverhampton Music School have come together to celebrate Black History Month by selecting their favourite artist or music score and performing the piece.









 

Talks

To celebrate Black History Month, Wolverhampton Homes has organised a question and answer session with leading figures in the Black community that will be sharing their experience with both Wolverhampton Homes and City of Wolverhampton Council employees.

Speakers include BBC Presenter Jay Blades, Actor Nick Bailey, Executive Headteacher Denise Dalton, Regional Business Development Manager from Engie Niyi Anubi and Personal Improvement Expert & Organisational Improvement Expert Keith Fraser.

 

Your Stories
Angela Spence

Half a century and counting?

Angela Spence as a child

“Where are you from?” How many times have I heard this question in my life lifetime? Too many to count. And those of us who have been asked know the real intent behind the question, don’t we? Yes, of course we do. The inference is that you cannot be from here, you cannot be because you are Black and you certainly cannot be English because that is the preserve of white people. Even Britishness can be problematic.

Race is a social construct devised for a very specific political purpose. There has been a documented Black presence in Britain since before Roman times. Black history is very much part of British history and should be taught in all its richness and celebrated as part of the mainstream curriculum.

Although we have seen progress in legislation championing equality and providing legal recourse to those experiencing racial discrimination over the last 50 years (the first Race Relations Act became effective on 8 December 1965), it is crystal clear that racism and racial discrimination is very much part of the fabric of Britain in 2020.

I am a Black woman born in Wolverhampton in 1962, 4 months before Jamaica secured its independence from Britain. Both my parents were born in Jamaica. Like many of their peers, they took up the invitation of the British government to come to England to support the post-war reconstruction of the country. My father arrived in 1957. My mother came in 1960. They secured employment, met in England, married, lived in rented rooms, had me and bought their first home in 1963. I am the eldest of 5, my 3 brothers and 1 sister were born between 1963 and 1972. We had our first telephone installed in 1967 in preparation for the home birth of my sister. My father always owned a car and we spent years of happy Sunday afternoons discovering attractions near and far.

Going to Jamaica for the first time in 1990 was transformational.  I recall on my return colleagues saying the trip had changed me. Well, it had more than I knew at the time. I saw Black people in every position in society, unlike the experience I had had in the country of my birth. I did not know until that point that I was missing a part of me. It was like finding a significant piece in a jigsaw puzzle that helped in showing how all the other pieces fitted together to create the whole picture.

I grew up in a very pro-Black household with no limits placed on our possibilities which was great for my self-esteem and confidence. My parents worked as a team with no household chores demarcated male or female. 

My school days were great. I developed a love for English language and English literature at a very early age. I was identified as “bright” and, as a result, I was encouraged and stretched but I realised as a young adult how unfair this was to those who were struggling academically and needed that extra input. My mum is from a family of academic high achievers. My dad was from a family of landowners. My mum was my first and most significant role model and my parents’ marriage the type of relationship I have aspired to all my adult life.

I worked temporarily at Customs and Excise and then the Inland Revenue before I secured a job at Wolverhampton Council in 1984 with a view to using it as a steppingstone but I was trapped in it for years though the job title changed as did the pay grade. I was always very ambitious. Always applying for vacancies, getting the interviews but then never making it over the line to actually getting the job. The feedback refrain was often “you came a very close second”. It became very tiring and highly frustrating to learn that talent by itself was simply not enough.

I finally made a breakthrough in 1995 and secured a job in the corporate policy team.  I learned what I know about being a consummate networker and being in the know from my team leader at the time. She was exceptional at both.

I decided to supplement my academic qualifications by pursuing a part-time qualifying law degree which I completed in three and a half years and won the Goodyear Prize for outstanding academic achievement. I was successful in my application to become a magistrate at the same time as starting my law degree. That was almost twenty-two years ago. I have been a presiding justice in both the adult and youth courts in the Black Country and Birmingham for the last decade and a half.

I was made redundant from the council in 2013 following a reorganisation. I took a year off to travel at my leisure, extending my stay in locations that allowed me access and opportunities to work with senior government officials in the Caribbean. Travel is one of my many passions and opens us up to boundless possibilities beyond the limitations or constraints placed on us in the UK.

I am currently a co-founder and director of At Eve Consulting Limited and Square Pegs Round Holes Community Interest Company. I am a trustee at the Refugee and Migrant Centre, Wolverhampton. The Chair of the Wolverhampton Police Independent Advisory Group. And in my second term as a board member at the University of Wolverhampton and chair of the Student Affairs and Assurance Committee.

2020 has been a very strange year so far. Covid-19 has disproportionately impacted Black people in the UK with some commentators linking this to institutional racism. George Floyd’s murder in America has acted as a catalyst reminding people across the globe about the continuing injustices that Black people face worldwide as well as here in the UK.

The daily microaggressions that Black people are expected to tolerate e.g. “where are you from?” “you speak so well,” “you are pretty for a BIack girl” “Black boys/men are violent” “can I touch your hair” etc., and if we respond assertively or challenge then we are accused of being aggressive or having chips on our shoulders. What does that even mean?

I can only hope for my daughters, granddaughters and their respective generations that things improve and do so soon.

And finally...

My advice. Believe in yourself and your capabilities. Spend time on yourself developing the best version of you and even when situations appear insurmountable never give up. The sun always rises. New days dawn and new possibilities will always present themselves.

Image
Angela Spence
Leanne Bennett

Young Persons Advisor, Leanne Bennett, shares her love for African and Caribbean food and her favourite recipe Brown Chicken Stew.

She said: “Cooking within my family creates a sense of connection, togetherness, it marks the ‘end of the day’ and a space to leave whatever has happened that day behind and of course, to focus on eating some good food for the soul with our loved ones. For me, cooking within the black community captures what ‘family life’ is all about – a safe space, emotional and physical warmth, joy and comfort.

“I cook with my friends and family at least once a week with each member taking part completing a specific stage within the recipe so that all are involved within the process.

“Cooking has also provided a therapeutic avenue for myself during the current BLM and pandemic. When I feel the need to create a calming environment after locking the world out for the day, I cook!”

You can view the recipe to try yourself!

Solomon Scott

Young Person Advisor, Solomon Scott, has shared with us a selection of influential Black Superhero’s that have appeared in comics and on-screen.


This year the world lost a great actor who portrayed several historic figures over the course of his short career, such as James Brown, Jackie Robinson and Thurman Marshall. For those of you who don’t know I’m of course talking about Chadwick Boseman

If the name still doesn’t ring a bell there is a chance that you will know him via his most iconic role as The Black Panther, King and protector of the fictional country of Wakanda. Black Panther was released in 2018 and holds numerous accolades featuring awards, box office records, including the highest grossing movie with a Black director, Ryan Coogler and Black lead. 

Money aside Black Panther achieved something else. For many children and young people it put their face on the big screen, it allowed them to see a superhero who looked like them, sounded like them, and while not the first black led superhero movie on the big screen, it had the most eyes on it. 

This representation that Black Panther offered to us in 2018 began many years before in the Comics when Black Panther was introduced as the first mainstream Black superhero character who wasn’t a sidekick or villain, so to celebrate the impact of Black Panther and Chadwick Boseman. I am going to take a look back and showcase Black Superheroes in Mainstream Comics, so Marvel and DC only (sorry Spawn Fans). 

BLACK PANTHER 

 

1966 saw the arrival of T’challa in the pages of The Fantastic Four Vol 1 #52 where viewers are introduced to Wakanda and the Black Panther. T’Challa invites the Fantastic Four to Wakanda to test their abilities before asking them for help. While in this story and following issues as well as making appearances across the Marvel Universe in such titles as, JUNGLE ACTION, it wasn’t until 1977 that Black Panther starred in his own named comic Black Panther Vol 1 #1, a story revolving around getting back artefact that belonged to the Wakanda. 

Black panther would go on to become a member of the Avengers, Illuminati and a brief stint in the Fantastic Four. 

Black Panther has appeared in other media such as games and cartoons but as already discussed his most noticeable appearance has been in the MCU starting in Avengers Civil War. 

FALCON 

Another hero who recent movie goers may be familiar with is Sam Wilsons Falcon. Falcon is credited as being the first African American Superhero in mainstream comics (T’challa not being American), who was first seen in 1969 fighting alongside Captain America. Introduced as a bird fanatic working on Haitian Islands, saw the local people being enslaved by fascists and decided to help them revolt against their oppressors. His actions inspired Captain America who encouraged Sam to don a costume and symbol and Falcon was born. 

Falcon again would fight alongside Captain America for years to come along side as breaking off for his own adventures. Many people have seen from the movie, Avengers: Endgame, that Sam Wilson has taken up the mantle of Captain America which happened in the comics in 2014. 

LUKE CAGE 

Skipping ahead a few years and missing out some names we have Luke Cage who was the first Black American superhero to star in his own series in LUKE CAGE: HERO FOR HIRE. Taking inspiration from the rise of the blaxploitation genre of movies, Luke Cage was a hero in Harlem, New York, who rarely interacted with other heroes favouring to fight crime in his neighbourhood, for the right price. As the blaxploitation genre declined so did interest in this character with his newest series alongside Iron Fist being cancelled. 

Relaunched some years later in a new city, Luke Cage famously destroyed his former ‘stereotypical’ costume and donned a new image of the cover of his new series CAGE. 

JOHN STEWART 

Stepping away from Marvel Comics we look at John Stewart, the Green Lantern. The decision to make this character Black stemmed a conversation between an artist and editor, Julius Schwartz, in which Schwartz commented ‘we ought to have a Black Green Lantern, not because we’re liberals, but because it just makes sense given the racial profile of the world’. 

John Stewart being the first DC Black Superhero took over the mantle of Green Lantern from a white character and starred in several volumes. 

Johns popularity really shined after exposure to him came from him being the lead characters of the Justice League and JLU cartoon shows, since around 2011 John has been the arguable the lead Green Lantern character standing out amongst a host of other well-known and established counterparts. 

STORM 

The first female on the list Ororo Munroe, better known as Storm, appeared in GIANT SIZED X-MEN in 1975. The X-men series had historically echoed the equality issues seen in the world with a minority of mutants being hated by the vast majority of the population, but with this small group led by a leader who wanted a peaceful approach to equal rights. After a decline in sales and the end of the series the X-Men were relaunched with a new team of members from around the world. Storm became the first major female character of African descent (Misty Knight being first major Black female debuting shortly prior to Storm) and some argue rivals DCs Wonder Woman in regards to importance of representation in comics. 

Storm’ storylines have tackled a number of issues, including racism, adjusting to western culture, suicide, impact of trauma from wars, being an orphan plus much more. She is also noted as being the first Black female leader of a major team. 

Storms character got national attention in 2006 when it was announced that she would be marrying T’Challa. The marriage was announcement was linked to Lady Diane and Prince Charles, and even had an Emmy award winning costume designer to design her wedding dress. 

BLACK LIGHTNING 

Previously less know than the others on this list, Jefferson Pierces, has gained some recognition in recent years after having his own TV show (available on Netflix). 

Prior to that, Black Lightning was the first DC headlining Black superhero. Issues with the company and writing staff led to numerous rewrites of the character but on all accounts, Jeff is an inner school teacher by day and crime fighting vigilante by night, using both roles to save local young people from gang involvement and to tackle corrupt politicians 

In more recent versions Jeff is joined by his daughters, Anissa and Jennifer, codenames Thunder and Lightning. 

Black Lightning series looked at real life issues that affect some of the inner cities of America such as youth gang involvement, drug pushing and shootings. Black Lightning turned down the offer to join the justice league initially rather focusing on his community. 

ISAIAH BRADLEY & BLUE MARVEL 

These two heroes were both established in the early 00s but both share a similar history in that when first introduced they were given a back story spanning decades. This resulted in them both being kept secrets by the ‘fictional’ US government because of their race.

Isaiah history ties in with Captain America and uses analogies for real issues that African Americans faced in the 30s – 50s such as the Tuskegee Syphilis Study. Isaiahs powers coming from the government experimenting on Black people unknowing to them. He is court marshalled and imprisoned on false charges. In the Marvel Universe he seen a legend amongst the other Black characters and was a special guest at the wedding of T’challa and Ororo.

Anyone not interested in comics but interested in Black history or characters I’d recommend you find ‘Truth: Red, White & Blue’ a 7 issue. 

Blue Marvel has a similar origin story of being a hero in the 50s, when in 1962 he was asked to retire after the general public discovered the superhero was Black. 

RIRI WILLIAMS & MILES MORALES 

The final two additions to this list are Riri and Miles, two characters created by a writer named Brian Michael Bendis, who created these characters to reflect the world around him. A white writer with two adopted black daughters. 

Both characters initially received massive back lash from fans due to a faux outrage that Marvel were ‘Black washing’ their favourite characters and forcing diversity. Riri took over Tony Stark to become Iron Man, later renamed Iron Heart, while Miles became Spiderman. Both characters have since become more established in their own right with Miles starring in his own spider-man movie, ‘Into the SpiderVerse’, and RiRi having active parts in more recent storylines. 

Out of all the characters mentioned Miles in particular was the character I was able to use in my work with children and young people. When working in a primary school a couple of years ago there was a young African boy who didn’t want to use his name and really struggled with his identity. During a school assignment to write about Spider-Man I was able to introduce him to Miles as a character who looked almost identical to the boy. His excitement when I borrowed him a number of Mile Morales issues was off the charts and allowed us to begin to develop a little comic based around himself. 

That final example is the perfect reasoning as to why representation is so important today for many mispresented and underrepresented groups and within comics for Black people, the argument that Black Panther paved the way back in 1966 and is still influencing us today in 2020 speaks volumes. 

Nicola

Nicola, Business Analyst - From my experience lots of colleagues, friends and acquaintances are always keen to get involved with Black History Month but it can be hard to describe what diversity looks like in our daily lives. I was motivated to share something for Black History Month in the hope that it would start a conversation about how we can celebrate diversity in our parenting. I do not have all the answers, and I am sure I could do better, but I hope this encourages more of us to share ideas and experiences to enrich all of our children’s' experiences.


Trying to bring diversity to my parenting

Children, particularly in the early years, learn through play, and in our house, we do our best to encourage play that celebrates and normalises diversity. My children have mixed heritage, so it is important to me that their toys represent all of that heritage. At our ballet class last week, a little white girl turned up with Princess Tiana (Disney's first ever Black princess) and it lifted my heart. My daughter looked back at me, beaming, and we just knew, at that moment, what that meant to us. I absolutely commend that parent. Representation really matters and means so much to children to see themselves (as well as others) reflected in society at large. When I was younger, it was so much harder to get hold of ethnic dolls, and I remember my Aunt bringing one back from London for me specially. Currently, I'm trying to get my hands on the new Barbie in a wheelchair, which will develop my daughters understanding of less able-bodied children, after reading Katy, by Jaqueline Wilson. My youngest enjoys dolls and we try to ensure we have dolls that represent a range of ethnicities. I'd encourage all parents to consider this as Christmas approaches, even one small item that challenges the norm could make a real difference.

Dressing up clothes are a fun way for children to explore culture. Rather than dressing as a Disney princess all the time (although we do an awful lot of that!), some of my Asian friends have shared outfits from their own cultures allowing the children to recognise a range of different cultural outfits as 'normal' wear. It's far more normal to see someone walking down the street in Wolverhampton wearing a sari than a huge embellished princess ballgown!

As mentioned, my children have mixed heritage, and so they are very fortunate to have grandparents of different ethnicities and this lovely book, My Two Grannies by Floella Benjamin, is a wonderful story about the initial difficulties and then coming together of two cultures, within a close family network. Many children will experience this, as I myself did. There has recently been an exciting new magazine for UK children, which has featured on BBC News, and represents UK Black children; Cocoa Girl and Cocoa Boy. I really hope to see versions of this for other cultures and minorities soon. When my daughter first saw this she even got the Special Gel Pens out - I think every parent knows how important something is if the gel pens come out!

It's Diwali next month, and we always try to follow on from how this is celebrated in schools by making little diva lamps at home from plasticine, play dough, whatever we have to hand at the time! The story of Rama and Sita coming home having faced trials and tribulations is one I think we will all be able to see the meaning in this year after the challenges it had bought us. We've also been lucky in that our last neighbours had a daughter the same age as ours and they spent many hours discussing her very first Ramadan fast over the garden fence during lockdown in April; such a special time for her. It was fantastic that she was able to share with us all the wonderful things she was going to eat when she broke her fast - even if it made us feel hungry too!

Sunday evenings for us are mostly our special hair time. We turn up the music, sing along to everything from the BeeGees to Burna Boy and we sing our hearts out! I put a lot of effort into making my daughters feel that their hair is special and deserves the time and attention we give to it. In the book 'Don't touch my hair' by Emma Dabiri, she discuss the rush we all feel in our daily lives and the time we all took for our daily routines before 'time' was a thing. There really isn't such a thing as a quick brush through for afro hair and this brings time challenges to parents every day, which perhaps we do not always recognise.

In these times where we cannot share face to face and absorb our shared experiences please share your experiences of diversity parenting - we've all still got so much to gain from seeing and hearing more from other parents.

A selection from our diverse book list:

  • My Two Grannies - Floella Benjamin
  • Jabari Jumps - Gai Cornwall
  • Katy - Jacqueline Wilson
  • President of the Whole Fifth Grade - Sherri Winston
  • No, Baby, No! Grace Nichols
  • Little People, Big Dreams series - Maria Isabel & Sanchez Vegara
  • Little Leaders - Vashti Harrison
  • Mary Had a Little Glam - Tammi Sauer
Eileen

City of Wolverhampton Council has made a commitment to continue the celebration of Black history month and share stories and experience.

Eileen, who has worked in education most her life, has kindly shared her story. Eileen said, ‘I found it quite therapeutic’.

If you would like to share with us, your colleagues, a story, poem, any medium that helps tell your story please email communications@wolverhampton.gov.uk.


Who am I? What do you see? What do you know?

I was born in Birmingham and grew up in a family where education and learning were given the highest priority. My mum and dad both born in Jamaica came to England to make a better future for themselves and their children. Many sacrifices were made and, in their eyes, well worth it as both my sister and I went to grammar school. Quite an achievement in the 1960s.

I have lived in Wolverhampton for almost 40 years, many believe I have lived here much longer. I have worked to become a part of the fabric of Wolverhampton.

The career I pursued was teaching. I was advised to become a nursery nurse despite having the necessary o’levels to train as a teacher. I went on to become a senior manager in Wolverhampton Education Department and then a headteacher and beyond to working for the Department for Education (DfE).

Young person, “Mrs McKen you don’t look any different …. I am a nurse”, “I am a teacher”, “I am working at the Home Office.”

Child in a school I visited as an Ofsted inspector. “Have you painted yourself this morning?” Sadly the problem was not the child but the teacher who effectively told a colleague inspector it was my fault for being different!

The Monday after school class, ‘Think BIG’, I set up after many requests from parents, voluntary for several years, regularly brought in 20+ children aged 5-16, some younger, some older for over 20 years. Many came year after year to classes for maths and English taught with a black perspective.

Young mum: “Mrs McKen, I wish you were still doing classes, my daughter needs some help with her maths and I would like her to learn more about Black history. The school think Black history is only for October.”

Parent: “Mrs McKen even after all these years I feel a closeness to you and your mum for all that you have done to help my son and others in the community.”

Parent: “When I told my daughter’s teacher about this class, he said she would be better to go to gymnastic classes. I told him I wanted my child to have choices!”

As a senior manager in Wolverhampton Multi-CuItural Education Service I have been an employee and employer and provided support for staff from a range of ethnic backgrounds including Black teachers and classroom assistants in Wolverhampton and across England. The issues were generally the same, not feeling valued, not been given the same opportunities to progress as other staff in their school. Sadly, the number of Black headteachers outside of London remains low and many leave the profession early. I myself was made aware that for one headship I was not selected because the chair of the governing board said he didn’t think he could work with the “coloured woman”.

School leader: “How long have you been a teacher?” Or “Where did you train?” Questions, innocent in themselves but a way of establishing whether I was qualified to be talking to them about education.

When travelling 1st class whilst working for DfE when I asked the person from the buffet car why I had been bypassed for a drink he said it was because he didn’t think I was a legitimate 1st class passenger.

In seeking to broadening my horizons and to give back to my community, volunteering as enabled me to meet much older people socially from predominantly white British backgrounds e.g. walking groups, monthly group tea parties for isolated elderly (Reengage); driver for fostered children, school governor.

Shop assistant “Who’s next?” whilst looking at the white person who clearly joined the queue after me.

In my personal life I have had to work hard to learn about my history and find activities that are important to me as a Black woman - Caribbean meals out, travel, drama, film, literature, arts, events of and about Black lives.

I am a neighbour who goes out of her way to make sure those in her street are well and as well as visiting giving Jamaican Christmas cake instead of cards.

Seven-year-old niece watching Swan Lake at the Hippodrome “Auntie Eileen, why are there no black children in the ballet?”

In my professional life I have worked tirelessly to improve the educational provision for all children but with specific reference for Black children of African and Caribbean heritage at the same time of raising awareness of educational staff at all levels.

The whole of my adult life has been about passing on the support I was given as a child and young person that enabled me to access opportunities in my adult life and to enjoy a very broad range of as a Black woman in an environment which is often hostile.

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