by Patrick Vernon 

With the ongoing state police killing of black youth, men and women in the USA; Ebola, climate change, and Islamic led terrorism in Africa; fragile economies of the Caribbean; and growing health, economic and political social inequality in the UK and mainland Europe we are starting to feel like an endangered species!!!

Such is the concern about the plight of black people on the planet that from January 2015 the United Nations have declared a focus on International Decade for People of African Descent (2015-2024) with the themes focused on recognition, justice and development. The UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, Flavia Pansieri at official marking of the decade in December in Geneva stated:

‘Whether as descendants of the victims of the transatlantic slave trade or as more recent migrants, studies and findings by international and national bodies demonstrate that people of African descent still have limited access to quality education, health services, housing and social security. In many cases, their situation remains largely invisible, and insufficient recognition and respect has been given to the efforts of people of African descent to seek redress for their present condition. They all too often experience discrimination in their access to justice, and face alarmingly high rates of police violence, together with racial profiling’.

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Pansieri also said, ‘The decade is the recognition by the international community that people of African descent represent a distinct group whose human rights must be promoted and protected. The road to a world free from racism, prejudice and stigma is rocky. Combating racial discrimination is a long-term effort. It requires commitment and persistence. In the words of Maya Angelou, who reminds us that the future is built on the past, “History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again.”‘

As we look ahead in 2015 and beyond we should consider developing an Afrofuturist approach in redefining who we are and what we want to achieve. I believe that we need to use new approaches and concepts around our empowerment so that we can either imagine or create a future where we are not simply cast as victims or perpetrators as reflected in most science fiction or post-apocalyptic movies currently, where we are enslaved or become scavengers, unless of course you are Will Smith!

Afrofuturism uses the concept of ‘alien abduction’ to reflect the Transatlantic/Indian Ocean slave trade and aspects of colonisation which our ancestors survived and created a legacy from, which is now fragile and under threat.

The most disturbing aspect of our so called ‘humanity’ is the lack of value and expendability of the lives of people of African descent. The campaign Black Lives Matter is now a universal and viral campaign which further highlights the recent atrocities of 2000 people murdered by Boko Haram in Nigeria (who are also wreaking havoc in Chad). The campaign around 200 young women ‘BringBackOurGirls’ has virtually been ignored by the Nigerian government and the international community have long forgotten. Whilst at the same the sad events in Paris seemed to be more relevant and inspiring for solidarity of world leaders and the media than the death of 2000 Africans in Baga, Northern Nigeria.

We thus need to shape and develop new tools and approaches based on lessons of survivorship and resilience for the next century, not only for people of African descent living in the West but also on the continent. What is clear from the USA Afrofuturism movement, the Black Lives Matter campaign, and in the UK’s Exhibit B campaign is that women are taking the lead in using arts, social movement theory and creativity to establish new understanding and spaces. We have a lot of talent and interesting perspectives that we can shape based on a Afrofuturist approach in the UK to issues affecting the community as reflected in the UN declaration for the Decade for People of African descent.

We need to translate this in a UK context for a future government post the 2015 General Election to take on board the need for recognition, justice and development as part of the UN decade for the Black community in Britain. I believe that we need to adopt an action plan around affirmation action in the short to medium term. Also we need to develop a social movement around reparations, repairing the harm around the legacy of enslavement and modern day structural racism.

One exciting project taking place at Tate Britain in London between 11th to 15th of February is Mission to the Land of Misplaced Memories a collaboration with Gaylene Gould and WriteTalkListen / Dubmorphology. They will explore Afrofuturist concepts of misplaced and lost memories, the legacy of enslavement and reparation to help Anamnesis and her Sonic Crew to navigate back to their planet by collecting sound archives and information.

Although the Mothership may be waiting to take us to a new homeland in the next galaxy, we still have work here to do to reclaim back our humanity and use technology and lessons from our ancestors to create solutions for a future generation for woman and mankind.

Patrick Vernon is being interviewed by Gaylene Gould at Tate Britain on the 14th of February to explore his work around memory, DNA, family history and Afrofuturism between 1-2pm as part of Mission to the Land of Misplaced Memories.

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Patrick Vernon OBE is a leading expert on African and Caribbean genealogy in the UK. Founder of Every Generation Media and 100 Great Black Britons Patrick was selected by the Queen as Pioneer of the Nation for Cultural History in 2003. He has researched family history and Swahili culture in East Africa and Oman as a Clore Fellow and has advised the BBC, The National Archives, The National Trust, Royal Geographic Society, Victoria & Albert Museum and the British Council. In 2012 he was awarded an OBE for his work tackling health inequalities for ethnic minority communities in Britain. Having worked for the Department of Health, NHS and the voluntary sector Patrick is an Associate Fellow at the Department of the History of Medicine at Warwick University, England. See his website www.patrickvernon.org.uk or find him on Twitter @ppvernon

 

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