Black communities in the UK

13th October 2021

As we head into the second week of black history month, we take a look at the black communities within the UK.

3% of the UK population is black (statistic from the 2011 Census likely to have increased) but Black does not describe the sub-cultures and various heritage of the communities that make up that statistic. Within the UK there are 5 recognised black communities, Black African, Black Caribbean, White and Black Caribbean, White and Black African, and Any other Black, African or Caribbean background. However, we are aware that these state-recognised categories are not fully representative of the Black communities within the UK.

Black Caribbean 

Birmingham is home to the largest black Caribbean population, with 8% of all black Caribbean people living there, followed by Croydon (5.3%) and Lewisham (5.2%), (both in London).

The Black Caribbean community within the UK is a mix of subcultures from across the Caribbean islands. Each island has its attributes that differ from the next. However, the Caribbean islands share a unique and colourful culture that stems from their long history of diversity. 

The Caribbean is where carnivals originated from and still exist today. It is the home of reggae and jerk. The sense of togetherness, strong family values, and celebration carry across into Black Caribbean communities within the UK.

Sport and music were among the few areas which offered young people of Caribbean backgrounds opportunities in the second half of the 20th century. Music created opportunities for the young Caribbean migrants in the UK but also problems. In the days before reggae was generally accepted, young migrants used music as a tool of self-expression which led to career opportunities. They created a market for music which gave them a platform and allowed them to influence British youth culture. During this process, Caribbean clubs, small recording companies, and DJs began growing in popularity. The Caribbean music culture helped to create a cohesive identity among young migrants, and one which everyone began to recognise as ‘Black British’. By the 1980s, growing up in the UK became a place young adults with Caribbean heritage could discover their own version of what it meant to be British. 

Black African 

The black African population is the fastest growing and largest black group in the UK. The percentage of the population from a Black African background doubles from 0.9% in 2001 to 1.8% in 2011.

Africa is the very root of human civilisation as we know it. Humans have lived in Africa far longer than anywhere else: our remote ancestors originated there some 7 million years ago.— Planet Earth How Africa Became Black [1994]

Africa has a rich culture and heritage which is expressed through food, fashion, and music.

With over 15,000 languages spoken in Africa, the continent is extremely diverse.

African fashion is versatile and creative, with prints and materials native to different countries within the continent; Ghanaians have their Kente print and Kenya’s kitenge fabrics and we see beautiful head ties called Gele in Yoruba. The distinctive styles are seen in the UK as Black British fashion designers take inspiration from the traditional prints. For example, Labarum London is a British-African heritage brand. Which tells the untold stories of West Africa to help bridge the gap between Western and West African cultures, through clothing that has been hand-dyed in Sierra Leone. 

African music has grown in popularity over the last decade. Afrobeats has expanded into the mainstream with musicians like Burna Boy, Davido, and WizKid, attracting thousands of fans and securing record deals with Western labels. The BBC has also introduced Radio 1Xtra official UK Afrobeats Chart and DJ Edu hosting Destination Africa promoting the hottest music of African origin which caters to the growing UK Afrobeats scene.

Notting Hill Carnival 

There are many cultural celebrations across the UK including Notting Hill Carnival. The carnival was founded in 1959 by Claudia Jones who hoped that by showcasing Caribbean culture and heritage her community would feel empowered. It is now recognised as the largest street party in Europe.

This first Notting Hill Carnival showcased elements of Caribbean culture and art, taking inspiration from Caribbean Island carnivals, and adding a European twist. The tribute to Caribbean, African and Black diasporic culture has stayed true to its roots through its unmistakable sounds, colours, and atmosphere.

Leslie Palmer director of Notting Hill Carnival from 1973 to 1975 encouraged bands, performers, and attendees to wear traditional masquerade costumes. The Caribbean tradition goes back hundreds of years, to when enslaved Africans would hold their own festivities whilst their masters held masquerade balls for lent. After emancipation, these costumes became a symbol of freedom and cultural identity, these traditions survived two centuries and made it back across the Atlantic with the Windrush Generation, to Notting Hill. The carnival continues to be one of the biggest cultural celebrations every year. 

Africa in London

In 2018 the mayor of London with the British Council launched Africa in London. The aim of the event is to champion and showcase the brilliance of African creativity and culture in London. The initiative is supported by an Africa in London advisory group. It is made up of cultural and heritage organisations and independents including the Africa Centre, Black Cultural Archives and Royal African Society.  This replaces the annual Africa on the Square event which took place on Trafalgar Square.  

GottaBe! Ethnic proudly support black history month and as a multicultural agency understand the importance of representing the Black communities within the UK. We can help your brand reach the Black communities, chat with one of the team today to find out more. 

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