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This booklet is all about celebrating 2016 Black History Month in the UK and across British Council. In the UK BHM takes place in October and in the USA it is marked in February. In this booklet you will find a handful of useful resources related to Race in Shakespeare, external voices from The Power List and The Voice Newspaper, an interview with your Race Champion Rebecca Walton, and various articles on current affairs in the topic of race. We aim to, once again, raise your awareness of the importance of BHM, illustrate achievements and gaps in equality, and provide you with the token to bring about change.

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This digital booklet marks Black History Month for October 2016. The month involves a programme of events that focus on celebrating the achievements, culture and history of people of black-African descent.


BHM has been marked since1987 and since 1969 in the USA (although it’s marked in February not October) reflecting the existence of large African Diaspora communities which are referred to later in the booklet. We also refer to the significance of UK Black PowerList, the social justice campaign Black Lives Matter, reference to race in Shakespeare and our UK-contracted staff monitoring ethnicity data.


We hope you will enjoy reading it and we welcome any feedback you may wish to share with us.


Happy Black History Month,

Diversity Unit

The African Diaspora is one of the most important in the world in terms of numbers. According to the African Union, it is composed of “people of African origin living outside of the continent, irrespective of their citizenship and nationality who are willing to contribute to the development of the continent and the building of the African Union”.


Many Diasporas come out of a major, often dramatic event, which tie a community together and creates a sense of identity, despite its geographical dispersion.


The African Diaspora comes from three major waves of migration based on history, de-colonization and the socio-economic and political situations in African countries.

African Diaspora communities in the UK


UK African Diaspora communities and indeed other UK Diaspora communities can act as a constructive link between the UK and their countries of origin by providing insights, access to helpful contacts and partnerships and other contributions. At the British Council we have made several attempts to develop a ‘framework’ for engaging with Diaspora communities without finalising anything for various reasons, including competing priorities. 


African Diaspora communities in the Caribbean and USA


The Caribbean has significant African Diaspora communities. Find out more in this article in the New African Magazine about Africans in Jamaica.

The African Diaspora and its Legacy



What is the African Diaspora?


‘Diaspora’ comes from a Greek word meaning ‘dispersal’. The actual term became more widely assimilated into English by the mid-1950s. The “African Diaspora” was originally used in research to examine the role of African people in the transformation and creation of new cultures, institutions and ideas, predominantly in the Americas, Europe, the Middle East and Asia. Today, Diasporas can be defined as “national migrant communities living in interaction among themselves and their country of origin”; so there is an important tie between members of the Diasporas and their country of origin.  The ties vary and can be political, economic, cultural as well as social and academic



African Diaspora communities in Brazil, South America


Brazil, as the 2016 hosts of the Olympics and Paralympics, has the largest African Diaspora in the world as a result of the intensive use of African slaves in the production of sugar, gold and coffee from the early years of colonization until the late nineteenth century. 


Consequently Brazil now has one of the largest populations of African ancestry outside Africa and a rich cultural heritage left by the millions of people of African descent. Signs of African influence are present in almost every aspect of Brazilian culture and society, from music (samba) and festivities (carnival), to religion and culinary (appetisers sold by baianas on the streets of Salvador). 


There are huge economic disparities between people of African and European descent leading to interventions, which amongst other things include quotas. A perhaps little known fact is that the city of São Paulo, Brazil is home to another Diaspora community - Japan  This is due to a range of factors including, it is said,  the abolition of slavery, a ‘whitening’ strategy and an agreement between Brazil and Japan.


What does this mean for the British Council? Would a strategic approach working with a range of African Diaspora communities in the UK help us deliver our global cultural relations work? If so, how? If you would like to respond to this question please do so via Global EDI Mailing List.  It would be great to hear your views.


Little known fact – racism and blood transfusions


On the theme of celebration and contribution here is a perhaps little known fact:


World War Two brought an urgent need for blood transfusions because in 1940 Britain struggled to treat those injured in the Blitz.  It was the brilliance of Charles Drew, an African doctor that made a huge difference because of his project ‘Plasma for Britain’. A similar project met with resistance in the USA where there was a demand that blood be segregated.


When Dr Drew was taken to a hospital after a car accident in the USA he died from his injuries. This has been said to be because the hospital he was taken to was segregated and only treated white people.


A BBC Radio 4 Programme explores the segregation and racialisation of blood, and is an example of race discrimination but also an example of positive change. The audio recording of the programme is available via the BBC website in the UK. For colleagues outside the UK if you are interested in receiving an mp3 file please contact Gabriela Weglowska. It’s the sort of material our creative British Council English teachers would sometimes draw on, but outside of this it is interesting, thought provoking and inspiring.


There are many other little known facts of the positive contribution made by people of African descent that children and adults take inspiration from when they are revealed.  The problem is that they often remain hidden and this can perpetuate the myth that African people are synonymous with problems and under development.  

The Power List and its significance to Black History Month

The Powerlist covers a variety of sectors and goes beyond business and sports people, showing that black people in the UK are successful in an array of different areas.  It has enjoyed consistent Prime Minister level endorsement, demonstrating the fact that even people at the highest levels realise the importance of showcasing success to young people.


In Michael’s view black Britons are almost invisible to much of the rest of the world – “Aside from Africa and the Caribbean, most other places you go to you get some strange looks when you try to explain that you are not African American but born and raised in the UK! Publications such as the Powerlist, if read by a wide enough variety of people in various countries around the world, could do a lot to change that.” 


Michael thinks there is potential for other countries to learn from the UK approach. People on the Powerlist get to meet and engage with one another and have formed a very strong network.  Globalising the network would be a next phase. In the 2013 publication there was a sub-list of 30 of the most influential black people in continental Europe and in the 2014 a list of African movers and shakers. 


Influence in a Powerlist context is ‘the ability positively to change lives and alter events as demonstrated over a protracted period of time’.  The list yields a very strong shortlist of candidates every year which is such a positive comment on the black talent in Britain. It is used by many organisations when they are looking to engage at the highest levels with the UK’s black communities.


The 2017 list will be available towards the end of October.  For a copy get in touch with Gabriela Weglowska.


Michael is the CEO of Powerful Media Ltd. For more information on the Powerlist email him at

Black History Month is an opportunity for reflection, including on the prevailing challenges and solutions and a cause for celebration.  In the spirit of celebration, this year marks the 10th anniversary of Britain’s Black Powerlist, the brain child of Michael Eboda.  As a journalist Michael became aware that there were seldom positive stories about black people in the media.  To change that he came up with the idea of publishing a supplement that was a list of the 100 most influential black people in the UK to showcase the talent in that community to, in particular young readers, to encourage them to be successful and see a future with an appropriately large representation of African and African Caribbean success. Ultimately Michael’s aim is for them not to need to read the Powerlist because those role models will be all around them.

About The One Voice network


The British Council Minority Ethnic and Allies network wants to make the British Council a great place for minority ethnic colleagues to develop their career and thrive.


One Voice (OV) has been set up as one response to the lack of minority ethnic staff in senior positions.  It is working with the organisation to support the race/ethnicity strand of the Diversity Strategy by raising awareness and increasing understanding of the experiences of minority ethnic colleagues to support the British Council to be an inclusive workplace, that reflects the diversity of the UK at all levels and in a range of ways. 

Black Lives Matter Campaigns

It has evoked strong feelings from many white people who have retorted that ‘all lives’ matter which of course the campaign does not disagree with. Rather the campaign seeks to challenge the institutional and personal racism and conscious and unconscious bias it perceives has resulted in the numerous tragic and indeed avoidable deaths. Read more about Black Lives Matter in the UK.


For a range of views on the campaign we asked One Voice (OV) network colleagues who are passionate about racial justice and inclusion. Here are some of them: 


Do you believe that Black Lives matter movement can support race equality, and if so, how?  

The Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement has thrust the race equality agenda to the forefront, shining a harsh light on the treatment many black people face in Western society. It also reminds us that race equality must go far beyond just legislation. Race equality cannot be experienced fully by black people until the killing of black people – especially young black men – is no longer accepted by society as justifiable homicide.


Do you think Black Lives Matter has global relevance and meaning?  If so, why? 


The global relevance of BLM is evident in this very discussion. BLM chapters are springing up around the world because so many black communities experience systemic racism. Furthermore, social media has been the critical factor to highlight this injustice. The world can no longer pretend that police brutality against black people does not exist. Repeatedly evidence shows us that compliance does not protect you, and BLM has brought the violent abuse or murder of young black men at the hands of the police into everyone’s living rooms. The many victims now have a voice that the police cannot dispute or disregard.


Would you like to add anything else? 


Black Lives Matter provides a space for the parents, families and friends of young black men in particular – and black people in general – to acknowledge the terror we live with because of the vulnerability of the men in our lives. BLM is also vitally important to other struggles against injustice and inequality across the world. Solidarity across issues is essential as it helps to build both recognition and action. 





Black Lives Matter campaign in London, July 2016

Photo of members of One Voice Network

Photos of members of Obe Voice Network

Black Lives Matter (BLM) is the USA national organisation established in 2012 and working to validate of the lives of black people. It uses the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter on social media.


Following the police shooting and death of Trayvon Martin a young African-American and numerous others, BLM has developed into an international movement with emerging campaigns in the UK.

Shakespeare Lives is marking Black History Month with two major events. One is a special screening of the filmed theatre production of Talawa Theatre’s King Lear starring Don Warrington at HOME, Manchester on 26 October 2016. The screening will be followed by a panel discussion on racial diversity in the arts and our Shakespeare Lives team is working on producing external assets pages. 


The other is the ninth filmin the Shakespeare Lives short film collection celebrating Shakespeare's legacy in 2016, due to be launched on National Poetry Day Thursday 8th October. The film is called ‘Dear Mister Shakespeare’ inspired by William Shakespeare's Othello and it is a rhetorical letter to Shakespeare, written by Phoebe Boswell, asking Shakespeare about his process of construction in the 'drawing' of the character.  The film has been directed by Shola Amoo and it engages innovatively with Shakespeare’s famous depiction of ‘the Moor’. Though there is no consensus among scholars over Othello’s actual race, the character has become associated with some definitive, influential performances by black actors.


As part of their engagement with Black History Month, the Shakespeare Lives team caught up with Shola and Phoebe for their thoughts on race and identity in their own work, and in Shakespeare. 

Interview with Shola Amoo and Phoebe Boswell


Does your identity affect your practice?


Shola: Yes it’s an integral part of my practice, my identity shifts and morphs on a daily basis and requires constant questioning and critique, which I explore through my work. I’m interested in how individuals manage the relationship between their identities and the societal meta-narrative, which governs how we are all perceived.



Interview continues on the next page



Shakespeare Lives and Black History Month

Do you think Shakespeare lets us redress racial power imbalances?


Phoebe: Shakespeare really examined the inherent nature of people - our weaknesses, strengths, prejudices, glories - which is why his work is timeless, and has consistently been revisited, reworked, and renewed. I think it is always useful to look to history to understand how to progress. What was fascinating, alarming, disappointing, and deeply important to me when exploring how Shakespeare wrote Othello in the 1600s was that, even though the historic atrocities that constructed these racial power imbalances that still haunt and govern us today hadn't yet occurred, the fear of the ‘dark other’ was still present. That's a lot to think about, when contemplating what progress and a redressing of racial power imbalance might look like in the future.


How did you address the race issues inherent in Othello in the upcoming creative film?


Shola: I saw the play as an on-going conversation; the racial themes in Othello resonate strongly within our society today. A key importance of Shakespeare’s writing is the ability for different generations and cultures to reinterpret his work.


The play’s contemporary relevance was clear to me in an age of rising racial inequality and rising black consciousness, represented by Black Lives Matter and other equal rights groups. The concept of the fear of the “other” is also visible in the UK today in the anti-Islamic and anti-immigration rhetoric within the far right and unfortunately much of our mainstream media.


My aim with the film was to play with the contemporary perception of the "other", our fears our misconceptions, framed by the play’s historical context. I wanted to create a visual exploration of the unique nature of blackness in the UK inspired by similar thematic work made in the USA.


Phoebe: Ira Aldridge, who I speak of in the poem, was one of the first black actors to play Othello and was met with outrage by many. Paul Robeson spoke passionately about how important a role Othello is for the black actor. It remains perhaps the most important role. This of course then brings up the lack of central roles for black actors and how #oscarssowhite and the lack of visibility for black actors still permeates so heavily. We are still lumbered with the othering of blackness in white spaces, and the pressures of black masculinity which are so inherent in Shakespeare's Othello. I just wanted to question and draw parallels to all these things in our contemporary time. And so I wrote this rhetorical letter to Shakespeare, asking him about his process of construction in the 'drawing' of the character.  

Interviewee’s biographies:

Shola Amoo 

Shola is a graduate of the National Film and Television School, his graduate film Touch won Shooting People’s Film of The Month competition, chosen by Oscar nominated cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto. Touch also toured the UK as part of The BFI’s Sci-Fi season.


Shola’s debut Feature is a multimedia Film called A Moving Image. It had its World Premiere at The LA Film Festival 2016 in competition for the World Fiction prize and received The Special Recognition Award at The Blackstar Film Festival in Philadelphia.

Phoebe Boswell 

Phoebe Boswell (b. 1982, Nairobi) is a visual artist living and working in London. Phoebe studied Painting at the Slade School of Art and 2D Animation at Central St Martins, London. Exhibitions include Carroll / Fletcher, Kristin Hjellegjerde, BFI, Iniva, 1:54 (London and NYC), the Royal Academy, Bonhams, and the Mall Galleries.


In 2012, Phoebe was nominated/shortlisted for the Art Foundation's Animation Fellowship and was the first recipient of the Sky Academy Arts Scholarship. She was a Florence Trust Artist-in-Residence, and participated in the Gothenburg International Biennial of Contemporary Art, both in 2015.

UK-contracted Staff Monitoring Data Report with a focus on Race

By Rebecca Walton, Race/Ethnicity Champion

In our UK workforce 16.3 per cent of staff are drawn from minority ethnic communities. This is higher than the overall percentage of minority ethnic people reported in the UK census (2011) and than those working in the Civil Service.

The less good news comes when we look at the under-representation of staff at senior levels. This remains a persistent concern. We continue to be some way off our target for minority ethnic staff representation at the highest paybands. The data confirms what we can see with our own eyes, in the UK, if we look at meetings of senior staff for example. It shows that the percentage of minority ethnic staff decreases as we look up the pay bands – dropping from 41.7 per cent at Pay Band 4 to 4.1 per cent at senior levels.


Our recruitment data shows that we are attracting minority ethnic applicants. However, there is a fairly large drop in those who received offers – for example at senior level, minority ethnic people were 45 per cent of applicants, but only 20 per cent of those who were selected and so we will be watching this trend.

The data speaks, and prompts us to act. First I recommend to you the One Voice network which has been set up to support action. It is a great initiative, formed at the request of colleagues, aiming to improve awareness and understanding of issues relating to race and ethnicity in the workplace and support progress. For the latest information and to subscribe to the newsletter, please contact:  

Second I urge both managers and staff to have more open conversations, including meaningful and constructive career conversations regularly, throughout the year and to be sensitive to unconscious biases. We have been offering unconscious bias sessions and master classes targeted at (but not exclusive to) minority ethnic colleagues in response to stated needs, such as strategic thinking and public speaking. We have also identified colleagues’ concerns about the organisational culture and are taking account of these. In the coming year we will be continuing and building on this work.


We all understand something of the privilege that working in such a diverse organisation brings. At the same time this confers a responsibility on us all to make our workplace a positive environment in which all people can flourish and reach their potential. As the Race/Ethnicity Champion I look forward, with your support, to achieving this.

As the Race/Ethnicity Champion I am pleased to bring to your attention the latest data we have on the position of minority ethnic colleagues within our workforce in the UK. 


The report provides us with a significant amount of data. And it brings with it some good news and some less encouraging news. As an organisation we are collecting accurate data, with the self-reported data on ethnicity being completed by all but 0.3 per cent of us. Thanks to everyone for this. It really helps us to understand our profile and areas we should be concerned about and satisfied with.

Actions speak louder than words

Black History Month is indeed a time of celebration but celebration needs to be underpinned by ongoing action to try and address racism and race inequality. 

There is a saying that is sometimes used in the UK - “actions speak louder than words”.  To address race inequality and other forms of oppression and discrimination it takes action.  All around the world activists are making their contribution in support of greater equality. Amongst them are our EU Region based colleagues who share the action they took in response to their concerns about the refugees.

Below are links to other contributions and of course you as colleagues will know of many, many more relevant to your operating environment:


British Council colleagues helping migrants and refugees (Photo: Flickr Creative Commons / Josh Zakary)

Further resources of relevance