Evolve presents: Black Lives Matter: Understanding, learning and evolving
We’re on a mission to explain the interconnectedness of sustainability. And raise the voices, art and work of people and organisations that are striving for a better future.
On the 12th of January, we hosted a Black Lives Matter session with Gaika, Professor Kehinde Andrews, Tolani Shoneye and RarelyAlways. The speakers and artists explored Black British history, slavery, racism and the link between racism and the climate crisis,and how we can work together to build a better future.
The event was hosted at the House of St Barnabas—a club that aims to bring together a community of people who are invested in creating a fair and equal society.
Like many cultural institutions in London, the House of St Barnabas has a colonial past, but unlike other institutions, they address this reality. The team invited British visual artist, rapper and producer, Gaika to create an installation that addresses the house’s links to slavery.
At our event, Gaika talked us through his inspiration for the installation. The piece explores black survival and the institutions that have profited heavily from that survival. It is a reclaiming of physical space and a representation of the wealth that slavery has given to the United Kingdom, and London in particular. He explains that he didn’t want to record the horrors of slavery in this piece but to rather discuss power structures:
“I want people, when they are in spaces that are to do with British respectability or certainly have that air, to always remind them of what that is: subjugation of non-powerful people by powerful people.” Gaika.
Gaika’s determined to make people stop and examine what they perceive to be normal, and to open the discussion of slavery and racism.
Professor Kehinde Andrews similarly argued that, “We’re in this moment, where we’re still defined by racism but unfortunately we don’t want to understand the history and legacy.”
At schools, British history is taught through the lens of the British Isles, so we don't learn about the Empire. But Andrews argued we need to understand and learn about colonialism and slavery to understand why racism exists today, so we can work together to build a better future.
He said that another reason why there’s such a lack of knowledge about Black British history is because the staff at universities are so white: “The more senior you go, the worse it gets. I am one of the only 140 Black professors in the whole country, in any subject, out of 20,000 professors in total.”
Tolani Shoneye, also commented on the lack of diversity in the media, and how this motivated her to become a journalist and share Black stories, and not have to ‘explain’ Blackness:
“I think sometimes in beauty and in journalism, when we talk about something that is related to blackness, there’s a narrative to “explain”, and I refused to do that.”
Black people don’t need to explain themselves or their culture, and it’s not up to Black people to solve racism or to explain what it is to white people: “Leave your black friends alone. Let them experience joy, let them be ok. You go and do the work yourself.” Tolani Shoneye.
All three speakers agreed that combatting racism starts with a level of awareness and education. As we can’t rely on the education system—schools and universities—to teach us about Black British history, we need to do the work ourselves.
Kehinde Andrews said that to change the system, first, we need to acknowledge the scale of the problem. Then we need to stop having faith in the systems that have produced the very thing we don’t like. “The solution is how do we build alternatives, which is why the education piece is so important, because if we shift the way we think about the problem, we shift the solution.”
Learn, understand, evolve.
If you want to watch the event, and check out the musical performance of RarelyAlways, check out the video at the below link:
And if you enjoyed the event, make sure you sign up to our next session: “Coming Together to Save the Planet” on the 26th of January. Where we will hear from more activists, musicians and organisations speaking about the importance of working together to achieve climate and social justice: