Untold stories of British History

On Thursday, my group presented on Migrations to London- specifically Southhall and Brixton. These areas are predominantly Indian and Afro-Caribbean communities, respectively. Since Great Britain used to be a massive colonial empire, we have learned about the history in these colonized areas from the British perspective. So we took this project as a chance to learn a new perspective on British history and identity from those who are not white and are not English. What we found was interesting, but not that surprising: many immigrants in these two areas don’t consider themselves British (especially with Bre-exit) and don’t think they ever could be British.

Those who do identify as black and British say that they feel as though the contribution from people of color to the development of London and the U.K. is largely overlooked. Personally, I feel the same way in regards to the American education system and the history of Native Americans and blacks. The tours we had of St. Paul’s and Brixton with Dean Adams and our guide, Tony, delved into this side of history that is largely unspoken in America and the United Kingdom.

We began at the UK’s version of Wall Street, known as St. Paul’s, where many medieval and colonial guilds are established. These groups no longer sell products like saddles from the Saddlers Guild or Goldsmiths from the Goldsmiths guild, but they still retain a large amount of wealth and influence on the British, and global economy. Tony pointed out that their source of wealth originally came from Africa- the Transatlantic slave trade (goods which were produced and sold) and sometimes slavery itself. The evidence of this can be seen in their exotic logos such as lions and leopards that are obviously not in the U.K. but expressed as icons of strength and ferocity.

But their influence in African history did not end there. One of the more widely known modern examples is Nelson Mandela’s requests to large business from the U.K. and US like Barclays bank, IBM, Ford, General Motos, HBSC, and Llyods Banking Group (and which used to insure slave ships and their human “cargo”) to stop investing in South Africa as it per pushes unequal treatment under apartheid. Ironically, when he was freed and elected president, those CEOs applauded his speech to the British government on the condition of South Africa.
We also learned about the documented presence of Africans in London since the time of the Romans (about 2000 years ago). There was so much information jammed into this tour but Brixton, in South London on the Victoria line, was an excellent manifestation of the diverse minority groups in the U.K. This area is relatively poor compared to central London which is disheartening. But on the bright side, they have been and continue to increase sustainable business practices that bring people and commerce to their side of town- including people trying to gentrify the area.

To tie this back to public health, discrimination and poverty are immediate SES factors that lead to poorer health and lower quality of care. So it’s important to learn/ appreciate history so we can understand why certain regions and statistics are the way they are.


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