The Black British Story


Let's be Frank campaign:

The Black British Story – by Monique Day

For Black History month Netflix collaborated with filmmaker Adeyemi Michael who curated a collection of films and shows which showcases Black British stories from several generations, ranging from Babylon (1980) to Rocks (2019). The stories included in the collection depict; period pieces which portray parts of Black British history, the experiences of the Black working-class in inner-city estates, hood-culture, and the experiences of immigrants.

These are valuable stories which reflect the experiences of many Black people in Britain, humanising Black perspectives which are often overlooked, ridiculed, or dismissed. Not only can they be an educational tool for many, they are stories Black British people relate to and therefore enjoy. These are the Black British stories that I grew up watching as a child, and continue to see being made today, leading me to question - is there anymore to the Black British story?

As a child I would watch episodes of the Black British sitcom Desmonds, along with Black American sitcoms such as My Wife and Kids and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Today, while I watch Top Boy, I also watch Blackish. I noticed that the Black American stories I watched, were stories of Black middle-class families living in the suburbs. Of course, this is only one of the many Black American stories, but it is one that is so rarely told in Britain that I am unable to name a British equivalent. The Black experience in the UK has become synonymous with being working class and living in the city, while the stories of Black British middle-class and Black people living in rural areas are missing.

Ask yourself - why are these stories absent in Britain? While you think about your answer, here are a few reasons why I believe it is important that these stories are told.

  • They exist.

Black people who don’t live in a multicultural city, or a city in general, exist and will have different lived experiences to those that do. Just as those who are middle class will have different social and economic experiences to those who are working class. True diversity and representation in film and tv means that their stories are also told. It is important that they too are recognised as part of Black British culture.

Have a listen to What does a black history curriculum look like? By the BBC’s Arts & Ideas Podcast, on whose life stories are missing from the British Curriculum.

  • It impacts our perception

Black British stories that are told through the media and entertainment impact the way Black people are viewed by others. When a single narrative, or a selection of stereotypes about Black people are continuously repeated, a false idea that all Black people are the same is created, which often leads to prejudice. Offering a wider perspective of Black experiences could improve some of the skewed ideas that people hold.

Have a watch of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED talk entitled The danger of a single story.

  • It creates possibilities

It’s important for Black people, especially young people, to see themselves in different spaces, occupations, and situations. Seeing a reflection of themselves in a story different to their own, can inspire and show a wider range of possibilities they have for their future.

These are some of the reasons why I think these stories should be told, now I ask again, why do you think they aren’t?