Lulu Ashberry (Guiseley School) reviews David Olusoga's 'Black and British: A Forgotten History'
David Olusoga sheds light not only on ‘black history’, but Britain’s history, and reminds us that British history has always been shaped by the world around it. As someone really keen on learning about history, I found myself surprised that I knew so little about the extent of Africans’ presence and importance throughout time in Britain. This should be an essential read for anyone interested in Britain’s history, and a useful one for anyone full stop. Rather than focussing on the British Empire or the slave trade, Olusoga brings to light the stories of forgotten black figures like Tudor trumpeter John Blanke, who lobbied Henry VIII for a promotion – and succeeded. It has been thrilling to read about a subject that is never fully illuminated by the school curriculum, and to learn about history previously unknown to me.
His research takes you way back to the third century A.D. when a Roman unit from North Africa was stationed near Hadrian’s Wall; we learn too that 11-12% of Roman York’s population was of African descent. I never realised that African and British history had crossed paths literally thousands of years ago.
In schools, ‘black history’ often means only learning about enslavement and the Abolition Movement, which puts Britain in a preferable light. But Olusoga explores the lives of Africans and West Indians and uncovers moments in history of which I knew nothing. One of these instances was in 1895, when Kings Khama, Sebele and Bathoen from the Bechuanaland Protectorate (modern Botswana) travelled to Britain. Thanks to the kings’ appeal to the British public, entailing extensive tours of British cities, they managed to evade Cecil Rhodes’ attempts to annex their land and enlist their peoples into British-owned gold mines.
Even when their presence has been crucial, Africans and West Indians can be forgotten in plain sight. Olusoga points out that the Industrial Revolution, which everyone studies in school, was powered by the work of enslaved Africans on plantations in America. The cotton industry was massive in Britain, (3-4 million people relied upon it for an income) and yet, how often do we forget where the cotton came from?
Something I agreed with in this book was...
You cannot comprehensively understand British history whilst dismissing its links with Africa, and the British school curriculum should be reformed to allocate more teaching of global history.
Something I disagreed with in this book was...
Something I learnt from reading this book that I didn’t know about this subject before was...
I have learnt masses from this book and am fascinated by how closely connected Britain’s history is with Africa. What struck me the most, was the presence of black people living in Britain ever since the first Afro-Romans.