Black British

Black British
Total population
Black British
1,904,684 (3.0%) (2011 census)[1]
Regions with significant populations
United KingdomUnited Kingdom
England England 1,846,614 (3.5%) (2011 census)
Scotland Scotland 36,178 (0.7%) (2011 census)[note 1]
Wales Wales 18,276 (0.6%) (2011 census)
Northern Ireland Northern Ireland 3,616 (0.2%) (2011 census)[1]
English (British English, Black British English, Caribbean English, African English), French, African languages, others

Predominantly Christianity (69%);
minority follows Islam (15%), other faiths, or are irreligious (7%)
2011 census, Great Britain only[4]

  1. For the purpose of harmonising results to make them comparable across the UK, the ONS includes individuals in Scotland who classified themselves in the "African" category (29,638 people), which in the Scottish version of the census is separate from "Caribbean or Black" (6,540 people),[2] in this grouping. The ONS note that "the African categories used in Scotland could potentially capture White/Asian/Other African in addition to Black identities".[3]

Black British are British people of Black and African origins or heritage, including those of African-Caribbean (sometimes called "Afro-Caribbean") background, and may include people with mixed ancestry.[5] The term has been used from the 1950s, mainly to refer to Black people from former British colonies in the West Indies (i.e., the New Commonwealth) and Africa, who are residents of the United Kingdom and who consider themselves British.

The term "black" has historically had a number of applications as a racial and political label, and may be used in a wider sociopolitical context to encompass a broader range of non-European ethnic minority populations in Britain. This is a controversial definition.[6] "Black British" is one of various self-designation entries used in official UK ethnicity classifications.

Black residents constituted around 3 per cent of the United Kingdom's population in 2011. The figures have increased from just under 1.15 million residents in 2001, or 2 per cent of the population, to just over 1.9 million in 2011.


Historically, the term has most commonly been used to refer to Black people of New Commonwealth origin, of both West African and South Asian descent. For example, Southall Black Sisters was established in 1979 "to meet the needs of black (Asian and Afro-Caribbean) women."[7] ("Asian" in the British context usually refers to people of South Asian ancestry).[8][9] "Black" was used in this inclusive political sense[10] to mean "non-white British." In the 1970s, a time of rising activism against racial discrimination, the main communities so described were from the British West Indies and the Indian subcontinent, but solidarity against racism sometimes extended the term at that time to the Irish population of Britain as well.[11][12]

Several organisations continue to use the term inclusively, such as the Black Arts Alliance,[13][14] who extend their use of the term to Latin Americans and all refugees,[15] and the National Black Police Association.[16] The official UK Census has separate self-designation entries for respondents to identify as "Asian British", "Black British" and "Other ethnic group".[17] Due to the Indian diaspora and in particular Idi Amin's expulsion of Asians from Uganda in 1972, many British Asians are from families that had previously lived for several generations in the British West Indies or Southeast Africa.[18]

Census classification

The 1991 UK census was the first to include a question on ethnicity. As of the 2011 UK Census, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) and the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA) allow people in England and Wales and Northern Ireland who self-identify as "Black" to select "Black African", "Black Caribbean" or "Any other Black/African/Caribbean background" tick boxes.[17] For the 2011 Scottish census, the General Register Office for Scotland (GOS) also established new, separate "African, African Scottish or African British" and "Caribbean, Caribbean Scottish or Caribbean British" tick boxes for individuals in Scotland from Africa and the Caribbean, respectively, who do not identify as "Black, Black Scottish or Black British".[19] In all of the UK censuses, persons with multiple familial ancestries can write in their respective ethnicities under a "Mixed or multiple ethnic groups" option, which includes additional "White and Black Caribbean" or "White and Black African" tick boxes in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland.[17]

Historical usage

Black British was also a term for those Black people in Sierra Leone (known as the Krio) who were descendants of migrants from England and Canada and considered themselves British.[20] They are generally the descendants of black people who lived in England in the 18th century and freed Black American slaves who fought for the Crown in the American Revolutionary War (see also Black Loyalists). In 1787, hundreds of London's Black poor (a category that included the East Indian seamen known as lascars) agreed to go to this West African country on the condition that they would retain the status of British subjects, to live in freedom under the protection of the British Crown and be defended by the Royal Navy. Making this fresh start with them were many white people, including lovers, wives, and widows of the black men.[21] More than 1,000 Black Loyalists who had been resettled in Nova Scotia also chose to join the new colony. They became the ancestors of the Krio.


Antiquity and Middle Ages

There is evidence of the presence of people from Romanised North Africa in Roman Britain. Archaeological inscriptions suggest that most of these residents were involved with the military. However, some were in the upper echelons of society. Analysis of a skull found in a Roman grave in Yorkshire indicated that it belonged to a mixed-race female. Her sarcophagus was made of stone and also contained a jet bracelet and an ivory bangle, indicating great wealth for the time.[22][23]

In 2007, scientists found the rare paternal haplogroup A1 in several living British men with Yorkshire surnames. This clade is today almost exclusively found among males in West Africa, where it is also rare. The lineage is thus thought to have been brought to Britain either through soldiers who were enlisted during Roman Britain, or via the slave trade. Some of the individuals who arrived through the slave route attained a very high social rank and married into the general population.[24]

Historical records indicate the presence of a very small African population in Britain dating at least as far as the 12th century.[25] In 2013, a skeleton was discovered in Fairford, Gloucestershire, which forensic anthropology revealed to be that of a sub-Saharan African woman thought to be a servant, who died between the years 896 and 1025.[26][27]

16th century

Early in the 16th century, servants from parts of Africa probably arrived in London with Catherine of Aragon when she travelled to England to marry Henry VIII. A black musician is among the six trumpeters depicted in the royal retinue of Henry VIII in the Westminster Tournament Roll, an illuminated manuscript dating from 1511. He wears the royal livery, and is mounted on horseback. The man is generally identified as the "John Blanke, the blacke trumpeter" who appears in the payment accounts of both Henry VIII and his father, Henry VII.[28] A group of Africans were at the court of James IV of Scotland, including a drummer referred to as the "More Taubronar." Both he and John Blanke were paid wages for their services.[29]

When trade lines began to open between London and West Africa, more traders and servants began coming to Britain, for example, merchant John Lok brought five Africans to London in 1555. The voyage account in Hakluyt reports that they: "were tall and strong men, and could wel agree with our meates and drinkes. The colde and moyst aire doth somewhat offend them."[30]

In the later 16th century, and into the first two decades of the 17th century, 25 persons named in the records of the small parish of St Botolph's in Aldgate are identified as "blackamoors".[31] In the period of the war with Spain, between 1588 and 1604, there was an increase in the number of peoples arriving in England from Spanish colonial expeditions in parts of Africa. Many of these captives were freed from enslavement on Spanish ships. At this time, Queen Elizabeth I issued letters to the lord mayors of major cities asserting that "of late divers blackmoores brought into this realm, of which kind of people there are already here to manie..." Sir Thomas Sherley and Caspar Van Senden, a merchant of Lübeck, attempted to capitalise on this by petitioning Elizabeth I's Privy Council to allow them to transport slaves they had captured in Africa to Lisbon, presumably to sell them there. The relevant Privy Council Letters of July 1596 and a draft proclamation from the papers of Robert Cecil have been presented as an attempt to deport these captives from England.[32] However, Van Senden and Sherley's efforts were unsuccessful, as they themselves admitted in correspondence with Sir Robert Cecil.[33]

Studies of blackamoores in Early Modern Britain indicate a minor presence, and include Imtiaz Habib's Black Lives in the English Archives, 1500–1677: Imprints of the Invisible,[34] (Ashgate, 2008), Onyeka's Blackamoores: Africans in Tudor England, their presence, status and origins[35] (Narrative Eye, 2013), and Miranda Kaufmann's Oxford DPhil thesis Africans in Britain, 1500-1640.[36]

17th and 18th centuries

The slave trade

William Hogarth's engraving Four Times of the Day: Noon (1738) shows a black London resident (on the left).

At this time there was an increase in black settlement in London. Britain was involved with the tri-continental slave trade between Europe, Africa and the Americas. Black slaves were attendants to sea captains and ex-colonial officials, as well as traders, plantation owners and military personnel. This caused an increasing black presence in the northern, eastern, and southern areas of London. There were also small numbers of free slaves and seamen from West Africa and South Asia. Many of these people were forced into beggary due to the lack of jobs and racial discrimination.[37][38] I

The involvement of merchants from Great Britain[39] in the transatlantic slave trade was the most important factor in the development of the Black British community. These communities flourished in port cities strongly involved in the slave trade, such as Liverpool [39] and Bristol. By 1795, Liverpool had 62.5 per cent of the European Slave Trade.[39] As a result, Liverpool is home to Britain's oldest black community, dating at least to the 1730s. Some Black Liverpudlians are able to trace their ancestors in the city back ten generations.[39] Early black settlers in the city included seamen, the mixed-race children of traders sent to be educated in England, servants, and freed slaves. Mistaken references to slaves entering the country after 1722 being deemed to be free men are derived from a source in which 1722 is a misprint for 1772, in turn based on a misunderstanding of the results of the Somerset case referred to below.[40][41]

In 1787, Thomas Clarkson, (an English abolitionist), noted at a speech in Manchester that: ''I was surprised also to find a great crowd of black people standing round the pulpit. There might be forty or fifty of them.''[42] There is evidence that black men and women were occasionally discriminated against when dealing with the law because of their skin colour. In 1737 George Scipio was accused of stealing Anne Godfrey's washing, the case rested entirely on whether or not Scipio was the only black man in Hackney at the time.[43] Ignatius Sancho, black writer, composer, shopkeeper and voter in Westminster wrote, that despite being in Britain since the age of 2 he felt he was ''only a lodger, and hardly that.''[44]

In 1764 The Gentleman's Magazine reported that there was 'supposed to be near 20,000 Negroe servants.' It was reported in the Morning Gazette that there was 30,000 in the country as a whole, though the numbers were thought to be ''alarmist'' exaggerations. In the same year, a party for black men and women in a Fleet street pub was sufficiently unusual to be written about in the newspapers. Their presence in the country was striking enough to start heated outbreaks of distaste for ''colonies of Hottentots''[45] Modern historians estimate from parish lists, baptismal and marriage registers as well as criminal and sales contracts, that about 10,000 black people lived in Britain during the 18th century.[46][47] Initially they were brought as slaves, some were brought as servants, others were held by returning plantation holders. Though owning people as slaves in England was never legal, and no Christian could be a slave, slave owners would sometimes argue that their slaves were commodities and not people.[48] Slave owner, Thomas Papillon was one of many who took his black servant ''to be in the nature and quality of my goods and chattel''.[49][50][51] Even if they were acknowledged as free, they remained barred from paid employment. In 1731 the Lord Mayor of London ruled that ''no Negroes shall be bound apprentices to any Tradesman or Artificer of this City''. Due to this ruling, most would be forced into working as servants.[52]

Slavery was never legal in England.[53] The Cartwright decision of 1569 resolved that England was "too pure an air for a slave to breathe in". From the early 18th century, there are records of slave sales and various attempts to capture Africans described as escaped slaves. The issue was not legally contested until the Somerset case of 1772, which concerned James Somersett, a fugitive black slave from Virginia. Lord Chief Justice William Murray, 1st Earl of Mansfield (whose own presumed great-niece Dido was of mixed race) concluded that Somerset could not be forced to leave England against his will. (See generally, Slavery at common law.)

Around the 1750s, London became the home of many Blacks, as well as Jews, Irish, Germans and Huguenots. According to Gretchen Gerzina in her Black London, by the mid-18th century, Blacks comprised somewhere between one and three per cent of the London populace.[54][55] Evidence of the number of Black residents in the city has been found through registered burials. Some black people in London resisted slavery through escape.[54] Leading Black activists of this era included Olaudah Equiano, Ignatius Sancho and Quobna Ottobah Cugoano.

With the support of other Britons, these activists demanded that Blacks be freed from slavery. Supporters involved in these movements included workers and other nationalities of the urban poor. London Blacks vocally contested slavery and the slave trade. At this time, the slavery of whites was forbidden, but the legal statuses of these practices were not clearly defined. Free blacks could not be enslaved, but blacks who were brought as slaves to Britain were considered the property of their owners.

During this era, Lord Mansfield declared that a slave who fled from his master could not be taken by force in England, nor sold abroad. This verdict fuelled the numbers of Blacks who escaped slavery, and helped send slavery into decline. During this same period, many former American slave soldiers, who had fought on the side of the British in the American Revolutionary War, were resettled as free men in London. They were never awarded pensions and many of them became poverty-stricken and were reduced to begging on the streets. The blacks in London lived among whites in areas of Mile End, Stepney, Paddington, and St Giles. The majority of these people did not live as slaves, but as servants to wealthy whites. Many became labelled as the "black poor," defined as former low-wage soldiers, seafarers and plantation workers.[56]

During the late 18th century, numerous publications and memoirs were written about the "black poor". One example is the writings of Equiano, a former slave who became an unofficial spokesman for Britain's Black community. His memoir about his life entitled The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano.

Encouraged by the Committee for the Relief of the Black Poor, in 1787 4,000 black Londoners were aided in emigrating to Sierra Leone in West Africa, founding the first British colony on the continent. They demanded that their status as British subjects be recognized, along with the duty of the Royal Navy to defend them. Historians differ[citation needed] as to whether a desire to remove black people from London[2] was a principal goal of the committee or whether it was more focused on strictly altruistic goals. Although there was a prevalent view among the contemporary British West Indian plantocracy that racial intermarriage was abhorrent. However, the chair of the committee wrote to the Standing Committee of West India Planters and Merchants requesting their advice and assistance in procuring an act of parliament to "prevent any Foreign Blacks being brought to this country to remain".[57]

The number of people in the United Kingdom with Black African origins was relatively small. There were larger communities of South Asians, especially East Indian seamen known as lascars. As men of color in comparison to the British, they were also sometimes referred to as "black." The links established through the British Empire led to increased population movement and immigration.

An Indian Briton, Dadabhai Naoroji, stood for election to parliament for the Liberal Party in 1886. He was defeated, leading the leader of the Conservative Party, Lord Salisbury to remark that "however great the progress of mankind has been, and however far we have advanced in overcoming prejudices, I doubt if we have yet got to the point of view where a British constituency would elect a Blackman".[58] This led to much discussion about the applicability of the term "black" to South Asians. Naoroji was elected to parliament in 1892, becoming the first Member of Parliament (MP) of Indian descent.

19th century

Pablo Fanque, celebrated circus owner and performer in Victorian England

In the late 18th century the British slave trade declined in response to changing popular opinion. Both Great Britain and the United States abolished the Atlantic slave trade in 1808, and cooperated in liberating slaves from illegal trading ships off the coast of West Africa. Many of these freed slaves were taken to Sierra Leone for settlement. Slavery was abolished completely in the British Empire by 1834, although it had been profitable on Caribbean plantations. Fewer blacks were brought into London from the West Indies and West Africa.[56] The resident British black population, primarily male, was no longer growing from the trickle of slaves and servants from the West Indies and America.[59] Abolition meant a virtual halt to the arrival of black people to Britain, just as immigration from Europe was increasing.[60] The black population of Victorian Britain was so small that those living outside of larger trading ports were isolated from the black population.[61][62] The mentioning of black people and descendents in parish registers declined markedly in the early 19th century. It is possible that researchers simply did not collect the data or that the mostly black male population of the late 18th century had married white women.[63][64] Abolition of slavery in 1833, effectively ended the period of small-scale black immigration to London and Britain. Though, there were some exceptions, black and Chinese seamen began putting down the roots of small communities in British ports, not least because they were abandoned there by their employers.[60]

By the late 19th century, race discrimination was fed by theories of scientific racism, which held that whites were the superior race and that blacks were less intelligent than whites. Attempts to support these theories cited 'scientific evidence', such as brain size. James Hunt, President of the London Anthropological Society, in 1863 in his paper "On the Negro's place in nature" wrote,"the Negro is inferior intellectually to the European...[and] can only be humanised and civilised by Europeans.'' [65] In the 1880s there was a build-up of small groups of black dockside communities in towns such as Canning Town,[66] Liverpool, and Cardiff. This was a direct effect of new shipping links that were established with the Caribbean and West Africa.

Despite social prejudice and discrimination in Victorian England, some 19th-century black Britons achieved exceptional success. Pablo Fanque, born poor as William Darby in Norwich, rose to become the proprietor of one of Britain's most successful Victorian circuses. He is immortalised in the lyrics of The Beatles song "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!" Thirty years after his 1871 death, the chaplain of the Showman's Guild said:

"In the great brotherhood of the equestrian world there is no colour line [bar], for, although Pablo Fanque was of African extraction, he speedily made his way to the top of his profession. The camaraderie of the ring has but one test – ability."[67]

Another great circus performer was equestrian Joseph Hillier, who took over and ran Andrew Ducrow's circus company after he died.[68]

Early 20th century

World War I

Members of the British West Indies Regiment on the Somme, September 1916. All of the men pictured were Afro-Caribbean people who volunteered to fight for the British Army.

World War I saw further growth in the size of London's Black communities with the arrival of merchant seamen and soldiers. At that time, there were also small groups of students from Africa and the Caribbean migrating into London. These communities are now among the oldest black communities of London [69] At that time, the largest Black communities were to be found in the United Kingdom's great port cities: London's East End, Liverpool, Bristol and Cardiff's Tiger Bay, with other communities in South Shields in Tyne & Wear and Glasgow.

Colonial soldiers and sailors of Afro-Caribbean descent served here during the war and some settled in these cities. The South Shields community—which also included other "coloured" seamen known as lascars, who were from South Asia and the Arab world—were victims of the UK's first race riot in 1919.[70] Soon eight other cities with significant non-white communities were also hit by race riots.[71] Due to these disturbances, many of the residents from the Arab world as well as some other immigrants were evacuated to their homelands.[72] In that first postwar summer, other racial riots of whites against "coloured" peoples also took place in numerous United States cities, towns in the Caribbean, and South Africa.[71] They were part of the social dislocation after the war as societies struggled to integrate veterans into the work forces again, and groups competed for jobs and housing. At Australian insistence, the British refused to accept the Racial Equality Proposal put forward by the Japanese at the Paris Peace Conference, 1919.

World War II

World War II marked another period of growth for the black communities in London, Liverpool and elsewhere in Britain. Many blacks from the Caribbean and West Africa arrived in small groups as wartime workers, merchant seamen, and servicemen from the army, navy, and air forces.[73] For example, in February 1941, 345 West Indians came to work in factories in and around Liverpool, making munitions.[74] By the end of 1943 there were 3,312 African-American GIs based at Maghull and Huyton, near Liverpool.[75] It is estimated that approximately 20,000 black people, many from British colonies, lived in communities concentrated in the dockside areas of London, Liverpool and Cardiff during WW2.

Learie Constantine, a West Indian cricketer, was a welfare officer with the Ministry of Labour when he was refused service at a London hotel. He sued for breach of contract and was awarded damages. This particular example is used by some to illustrate the slow change from racism towards acceptance and equality of all citizens in London.[76]


The Empire Windrush is extremely important within Black British history; in 1948 it carried the first large wave of Jamaican immigrants to the UK.

In 1950 there were probably fewer than 20,000 non-white residents in Britain, almost all born overseas.[77] After World War II, the largest influx of Black people occurred, mostly from the British West Indies. Over a quarter of a million West Indians, the overwhelming majority of them from Jamaica, settled in Britain in less than a decade. In the mid-1960s, Britain had become the centre of the largest overseas population of West Indians.[78] This migration event is often labelled "Windrush", a reference to the Empire Windrush, the ship that carried the first major group of Caribbean migrants to the United Kingdom in 1948.[79]

"Caribbean" is itself not one ethnic or political identity; for example, some of this wave of immigrants were Indo-Caribbean. The most widely used term used at that time was "West Indian" (or sometimes "coloured"). "Black British" did not come into widespread use until the second generation were born to these post-war migrants to the UK. Although British by nationality, due to friction between them and the white majority they were often born into communities that were relatively closed, creating the roots of what would become a distinct Black British identity. By the 1950s, there was a consciousness of black people as a separate group that had not been there between 1932 and 1938.[78] The increasing consciousness of Black British peoples was deeply informed by the influx of Black American culture imported by Black servicemen during and after World War II, music being a central example of what Jacqueline Nassy-Brown calls "diasporic resources". These close interactions between Americans and Black British were not only material but also inspired the expatriation of some Black British women to America after marrying servicemen (some of whom later repatriated to the UK).[80]

Late 20th century

Ridley Road Market in Dalston, London, which sells Afro-Caribbean music, textiles, and food including goat meat, yams, mangos and spices.

The 1962 Commonwealth Immigrants Act was passed in Britain along with a succession of other laws in 1968, 1971, and 1981 that severely restricted the entry of Black immigrants into Britain. During this period it is widely argued that emergent blacks and Asians struggled in Britain against racism and prejudice. During the 1970s—and partly in response to both the rise in racial intolerance and the rise of the Black Power movement abroad—"black" became detached from its negative connotations, and was reclaimed as a marker of pride: black is beautiful.[78] In 1975, David Pitt was appointed to the House of Lords. He spoke against racism and for equality in regards to all residents of Britain. In the years that followed, several Black members were elected into the British Parliament.

Since the 1980s, the majority of black immigrants into the country have come directly from Africa, in particular, Nigeria and Ghana in West Africa, Uganda and Kenya in East Africa, Zimbabwe, and South Africa in Southern Africa. Nigerians and Ghanaians have been especially quick to accustom themselves to British life, with young Nigerians and Ghanaians achieving some of the best results at GCSE and A-Level, often on a par or above the performance of white pupils.[81] The rate of inter-racial marriage between British citizens born in Africa and native Britons is still fairly low, compared to those from the Caribbean. This might change over time as Africans become more part of mainstream British culture as second and third generation African communities become established.

By the end of the 20th century the number of black Londoners numbered half a million, according to the 1991 census. An increasing number of these black Londoners were London- or British-born. Even with this growing population and the first blacks elected to Parliament, many argue that there was still discrimination and a socio-economic imbalance in London among the blacks. In 1992 the number of blacks in Parliament increased to six and in 1997 they increased their numbers to nine. There are still many problems that black Londoners face; the new global and high-tech information revolution is changing the urban economy and some argue that it is driving up unemployment rates among blacks relative to non-blacks,[56] something, it is argued, that threatens to erode the progress made thus far.[56]

Street conflicts and policing

The Brixton race riot in London, 1981

The late 1950s through to the late 1980s saw a number of mass street conflicts involving young Afro-Caribbean men and (largely white) British police officers in British cities, mostly as a result of tensions between members of local black communities and white racists.

The first major incident occurred in 1958 in Notting Hill when roaming gangs of between 300 and 400 white youths attacked Afro-Caribbeans and their houses across the neighbourhood, leading to a number of Afro-Caribbean men being left unconscious in the streets.[82] The following year, Antigua-born Kelso Cochrane died after being set upon and stabbed by a gang of white youths while walking home to Notting Hill.

During the 1970s, police forces across England began to increasingly use the Sus law, provoking a sense that young black men were being discriminated against by the police[83] The next newsworthy outbreak of street fighting occurred in 1976 at the Notting Hill Carnival when several hundred police officers and youths became involved in televised fights and scuffles, with stones thrown at police, baton charges and a number of minor injuries and arrests.[84]

The 1980 St. Pauls riot in Bristol saw fighting between local youths and police officers, resulting in numerous minor injuries, damage to property and arrests. In London 1981 brought further conflict with a perceived racist police force after the death of 13 black youngsters who were attending a birthday party that ended in the devastating New Cross Fire. The fire was viewed by many as a racist massacre[82] and a major political demonstration, known as the Black People's day of Action was held to protest against the attacks themselves, a perceived rise in racism, and perceived hostility and indifference from the police, politicians and media.[82] Tensions were further inflamed when, in nearby Brixton, police launched operation Swamp 81, a series of mass stop-and-searches of young black men.[82] Anger erupted when up to 500 people were involved in street fighting between the Metropolitan Police and local Afro-Caribbean community, leading to a number of cars and shops set on fire, stones thrown at police and hundreds of arrests and minor injuries. A similar pattern occurred further north in Toxteth, Liverpool, and Chapeltown, Leeds.[85]

Despite the recommendations of the Scarman report,[82] relations between black youths and police did not significantly improve and a further wave of nationwide conflicts occurred in Handsworth, Birmingham, in 1985, when the local South Asian community also became involved.[83] Following the police shooting of a black grandmother Cherry Groce in Brixton, and the death of Cynthia Jarrett during a raid on her home in Tottenham, in north London, protests held at the local police stations did not end peacefully and further street battles with the police erupted,[82] the disturbances later spreading to Manchester's Moss Side.[82] The street battles themselves (involving more stone-throwing, the discharge of one firearm, and several fires) led to two fatalities (in the Broadwater Farm riot) and Brixton.

In 1999, following the Macpherson Inquiry into the 1993 killing of Stephen Lawrence, Sir Paul Condon, commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, accepted that his organisation was institutionally racist. Some members of the Black British community were involved in the 2001 Harehills race riot and 2005 Birmingham race riots.

Early 21st century

Firefighters douse a shop and flats destroyed by arson during the initial rioting in Tottenham.

In 2011, following the shooting of a black man, Mark Duggan by police in Tottenham, a protest was held at the local police station. The protest ended with an outbreak of fighting between local youths and police officers leading to widespread disturbances across British cities.

Some analysts claimed that black people were disproportionally represented in the 2011 England riots.[86] Research suggests that race relations in Britain deteriorated in the period following the riots and that prejudice towards ethnic minorities increased.[87] Groups such as the EDL and the BNP were said to be exploiting the situation.[88] Racial tensions between blacks and Asians in Birmingham increased after the deaths of three Asian men at the hands of a black youth.[89]

In a Newsnight discussion on 12 August 2011, historian David Starkey blamed black gangster and rap culture, saying that it had influenced youths of all races.[90] Figures showed that 46 per cent of people brought before a courtroom for arrests related to the 2011 riots were black.[91]



Community organizers in London.

The 2011 UK Census recorded 1,904,684 residents who identified as "Black/African/Caribbean/Black British", accounting for 3 per cent of the total UK population.[1] This was the first UK census where the number of self-reported Black African residents exceeded that of Black Caribbeans.[92]

Within England and Wales, 989,628 individuals specified their ethnicity as "Black African", 594,825 as "Black Caribbean", and 280,437 as "Other Black".[93] In Northern Ireland, 2,345 individuals self-reported as "Black African", 372 as "Black Caribbean", and 899 as "Other Black", totaling 3,616 "Black" residents.[94] In Scotland, 29,638 persons identified themselves as "African", choosing either the "African, African Scottish or African British" tick box or the "Other African" tick box and write-in area. 6,540 individuals also self-reported as "Caribbean or Black", selecting either the "Caribbean, Caribbean Scottish or Caribbean British" tick box, the "Black, Black Scottish or Black British" tick box, or the "Other Caribbean or Black" tick box and write-in area.[95] In order to compare UK-wide results, the Office for National Statistics combined the "African" and "Caribbean or Black" entries at the top-level,[17] and reported a total of 36,178 "Black" residents in Scotland.[1] According to the ONS, individuals in Scotland with "Other African", "White" and "Asian" ethnicities as well as "Black" identities could thus all potentially be captured within this combined output.[17] The General Register Office for Scotland, which devised the categories and administers the Scotland census, does not combine the "African" and "Caribbean or Black" entries, maintaining them as separate for individuals who do not self-identify as "Black" (see census classification).[19]

In the 2001 Census, 565,876 people in the UK had reported their ethnicity as "Black Caribbean", 485,277 as "Black African", and 97,585 as "Black Other", making a total of 1,148,738 "Black or Black British" residents. This was equivalent to 2 per cent of the UK population at the time.[96]

Population distribution

Ghanaian independence day celebrations in the London Borough of Barnet.

Most Black Britons can be found in the large cities and metropolitan areas of the country: there are almost one million Black Britons in London. According to the 2011 census, cities and towns with large and significant Black communities are as follows (London boroughs included).[97]

Large black British communities
Greater London1,088,600
- Lambeth78,500
- Southwark77,500
- Lewisham75,900
- Croydon73,200
- Newham60,300
- Brent58,600
- Hackney56,800
- Enfield53 700
- Greenwich48,700
- Haringey47,800
- Waltham Forest44,800
- Barking and Dagenham 37,100
- Ealing 36,700
- Wandsworth32,800
- Barnet27,300
- Islington26,300
- Redbridge24,800
- Hammersmith and Fulham21,500
- Merton20,800
- Hillingdon20,100

Areas with total pop. over 8 million

  • London 13.3%

Over 1 million

Over 700,000

Over 500,000

Over 400,000

Over 300,000

Over 200,000

Over 100,000

Over 50,000

Over 10,000

Mixed marriages

An academic journal article published in 2005, citing sources from 1997 and 2001, estimated that nearly half of British-born African-Caribbean men, a third of British-born African-Caribbean women, and a fifth of African men, have white partners.[98] In 2014, The Economist reported that, according to the Labour Force Survey, 48 per cent of black Caribbean men and 34 per cent of black Caribbean women in couples have partners from a different ethnic group. Moreover, mixed-race children under the age of ten with black Caribbean and white parents outnumber black Caribbean children by two-to-one.[99]

Culture and community


Main article: British Black English

British Black English is a variety of the English language spoken by a large number of the Black British population of Afro-Caribbean ancestry.[100] British Black dialect has been influenced by Jamaican Patois owing to the large number of immigrants from Jamaica, but it is also spoken or imitated by those of different ancestry.

British Black speech is also heavily influenced by social class and the regional dialect (Cockney, Mancunian, Brummie, Scouse, etc.).


See also: Caribbean music in the United Kingdom, British Black music, Category:Black British musicians, and Category:Black British singers

Black British music is a long-established and influential part of British music. Its presence in the United Kingdom stretches back to the 18th century, encompassing concert performers such as George Bridgetower and street musicians the like of Billy Waters. Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (1875–1912) achieved great success as a composer at the end of the 19th and early 20th centuries.

In the late 1970s and 1980s, 2 Tone became popular with the British youth; especially in the West Midlands. A blend of punk, ska, and pop made it a favourite among both white and black audiences. Famous bands in the genre include The Selecter, The Specials, The Beat, and The Bodysnatchers.

Jungle, dubstep, drum and bass, garage and grime music were invented in London and involve a number of artists from primarily Caribbean communities but recently Black Africans also, most notably Ghanaian and Nigerian. Famous grime artists include Dizzee Rascal, Tinchy Stryder, Tinie Tempah, Chipmunk, Kano (rapper), Wiley, and Lethal Bizzle. It is now common to hear British MCs rapping in a strong London accent. Niche, with its origin in Sheffield and Leeds, has a much faster bassline and is often sung in a northern accent. Famous niche artists include producer T2.

The MOBO Awards – recognizing performers of "Music of Black Origin" – are seen as a UK equivalent to the BET Awards and Soul Train Awards for being the main award show in Britain to focus on urban music.


The black community in Britain has two leading publications. Pride Magazine is the largest monthly lifestyle magazine within the community; The Guardian stated that the magazine has dominated the black magazine market for over 15 years and is now in its 21st year. Its owner, Pride Media, also specialises in helping organisations target this fast-growing community through a range of media. The other key publication is The Voice newspaper, which targets the Caribbean diaspora and has been printed for more than 20 years. The community also has a number of radio stations and cable-television channels targeting them.

Social issues

There is much controversy surrounding the politics of integrating the United Kingdom's black community, particularly concerning institutional racism and inequality present in the employment and higher education of urban black Britons.


The wave of black immigrants who arrived in Britain from the Caribbean in the 1950s faced significant amounts of racism. For many Caribbean immigrants, their first experience of discrimination came when trying to find private accommodation. They were generally ineligible for council housing because only people who had been resident in the UK for a minimum of five years qualified for it. At the time, there was no anti-discrimination legislation to prevent landlords from refusing to accept black tenants. A survey undertaken in Birmingham in 1956 found that only 15 of a total of 1,000 white people surveyed would let a room to a black tenant. As a result, many black immigrants were forced to live in slum areas of cities, where the housing was of poor quality and there were problems of crime, violence and prostitution.[101][102] One of the most notorious slum landlords was Peter Rachman, who owned around 100 properties in the Notting Hill area of London. Black tenants typically paid twice the rent of white tenants, and lived in conditions of extreme overcrowding.[101]

Historian Winston James argues that the experience of racism in Britain was a major factor in the development of a shared Caribbean identity amongst black immigrants from a range of different island and class backgrounds.[103]

In the 1970s and 1980s, black people in Britain were the victims of racist violence perpetrated by far-right groups such as the National Front.[104] During this period, it was also common for black footballers to be subjected to racist chanting from crowd members.[105][106]

Racism in Britain in general, including against black people, is considered to have declined over time. Academic Robert Ford demonstrates that social distance, measured using questions from the British Social Attitudes survey about whether people would mind having an ethnic minority boss or have a close relative marry an ethnic minority spouse, declined over the period 1983 to 1996. These declines were observed for attitudes towards black and Asian ethnic minorities. Much of this change in attitudes happened in the 1990s. In the 1980s, opposition to ethnic inter-marriage were significant.[107][108] Nonetheless, Ford argues that "Racism and racial discrimination remain a part of everyday life for Britain's ethnic minorities. Black and Asian Britons...are less likely to be employed and are more likely to work in worse jobs, live in worse houses and suffer worse health than white Britons".[107] The University of Maryland's Minorities at Risk (MAR) project noted in 2006 that while African-Caribbeans in the UK no longer face formal discrimination, they continue to be under-represented in politics, and to face discriminatory barriers in access to housing and in employment practices. The project also notes that the British school system "has been indicted on numerous occasions for racism, and for undermining the self-confidence of black children and maligning the culture of their parents". The MAR profile on African-Caribbeans in the UK notes "growing 'black on black' violence between people from the Caribbean and immigrants from Africa".[109]


According to the 2005 TUC report Black workers, jobs and poverty, Black and minority ethnic people (BMEs) were far more likely to be unemployed than the white population. The rate of unemployment among the white population was only 12 per cent, but among black groups it was 16 per cent, mixed-race 15 per cent, Indian 7 per cent, Pakistani 15 per cent, Bangladeshi 17 per cent, and Chinese 5 per cent. The rates of poverty and low income were twice to three times higher, of the different ethnic groups studied, Bangladeshis, Pakistanis, and Black British had the highest rates of child poverty of over 50 per cent.[110]

A 2014 study by the Black Training and Enterprise Group (BTEG), funded by Trust for London, explored the views of young black males in London on why their demographic have a higher unemployment rate than any other group of young people, finding that many young black men in London believe that racism and negative stereotyping are the main reasons for their high unemployment rate.[111]


Both racist crime and gang-related crime continues to affect black communities, so much so that the Metropolitan Police launched Operation Trident to tackle black-on-black crimes. Numerous deaths in police custody of black men has generated a general distrust of police among urban blacks in the UK.[112][113] According to the Metropolitan Police Authority in 2002–03 of the 17 deaths in police custody, 10 were black or Asian – black convicts have a disproportionately higher rate of incarceration than other ethnicities. The government reports[114] The overall number of racist incidents recorded by the police rose by 7 per cent from 49,078 in 2002/3 to 52,694 in 2003/4.

Media representation of young black British people has focused particularly on "gangs" with black members and violent crimes involving black victims and perpetrators.[115] According to a Home Office report,[114] 10 per cent of all murder victims between 2000 and 2004 were black. Of these, 56 per cent were murdered by other black people (with 44 per cent of black people murdered by whites and Asians – making black people disproportionately higher victims of killing by people from other ethnicities). In addition, a Freedom of Information request made by The Daily Telegraph shows internal police data that provides a breakdown of the ethnicity of the 18,091 men and boys who police took action against for a range of offences in London in October 2009. Among those proceeded against for street crimes, 54 per cent were black; for robbery, 59 per cent; and for gun crimes, 67 per cent.[116]

Black people, who according to government statistics[117] make up 2 per cent of the population, are the principal suspects in 11.7 per cent of murders, i.e. in 252 out of 2163 murders committed 2001/2, 2002/3, and 2003/4.[118] It should be noted that, judging on the basis of prison population, a substantial minority (about 35%) of black criminals in the UK are not British citizens but foreign nationals.[119] In November 2009, the Home Office published a study that showed that, once other variables had been accounted for, ethnicity was not a significant predictor of offending, anti-social behaviour or drug abuse among young people.[120]

After several high-profile investigations such as that of the murder of Stephen Lawrence, the police have been accused of racism, from both within and outside the service. Cressida Dick, head of the Metropolitan Police's anti-racism unit in 2003, remarked that it was "difficult to imagine a situation where we will say we are no longer institutionally racist".[121] Black people were seven times more likely to be stopped and searched by police compared to white people, according to the Home Office, A separate study said blacks were more than nine times more likely to be searched.[122]

Even though blacks are only 2 to 3% of the general UK population, black prisoners make up 15% of the British prison population, which experts say is "a result of decades of racial prejudice in the criminal justice system and an overly punitive approach to penal affairs."[123]

Notable black Britons

Pre-20th century

Crimean War nurse, Mary Seacole has been dubbed the "Greatest Black Briton"
Olaudah Equiano, a significant figure involved with the abolition of the Atlantic Slave Trade
John Sentamu is the Archbishop of York, the second most senior clerical position in the Church of England after that of Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby

Well-known black Britons living before the 20th century include the Chartist William Cuffay; William Davidson, executed as a Cato Street conspirator; Olaudah Equiano (also called Gustavus Vassa), a former slave who bought his freedom, moved to England, and settled in Soham, Cambridgeshire, where he married and wrote an autobiography, dying in 1797; Ukawsaw Gronniosaw, pioneer of the slave narrative; and Ignatius Sancho, a grocer who also acquired a reputation as a man of letters.

In 2004, a poll found that people considered the Crimean War heroine Mary Seacole to be the greatest Black Briton.[124] Seacole was born in Jamaica in 1805 to a white father and black mother.[125] A statue of her is planned for the grounds of St. Thomas' Hospital in London.[124]


Television reporter and newsreader Sir Trevor McDonald, born in Trinidad, was knighted in 1999. Also notable is Moira Stuart, OBE, the first female newsreader of African-Caribbean heritage on British television. Other high-profile television personalities and entertainers include Lenny Henry and chef Ainsley Harriott.


Billy Ocean, Eddy Grant, Shirley Bassey, Seal, Simon Webbe, Jaki Graham and Sade are among the popular singers not mentioned in the music section above.


Initially winning acclaim as a visual artist and winning the Turner Prize in 1999, Steve McQueen went on to direct his first feature Hunger (2008), which earned him the Caméra d'Or at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival. His most recent film, 12 Years a Slave (2013), won several major international awards, and McQueen is the first black filmmaker to win an Academy Award for Best Picture.[126]


Numerous Black British actors have become successful in US television, such as Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Idris Elba, Lennie James, Marsha Thomason, and Marianne Jean-Baptiste. Black British actors are also increasingly found starring in major Hollywood movies, notable examples include Adrian Lester, Ashley Walters, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Colin Salmon, David Harewood, Eamonn Walker, Hugh Quarshie, Naomie Harris, Antonia Thomas, Sophie Okonedo, John Boyega, and Thandie Newton.


Notable Black British writers include novelists Caryl Phillips, Zadie Smith, Andrea Levy (whose 2004 book Small Island won the Whitbread Book of the Year, the Orange Prize for Fiction and the Commonwealth Writers' Prize), Bernardine Evaristo, Alex Wheatle, Ferdinand Dennis (winner of the Martin Luther King Memorial Prize for his 1988 travelogue Behind the Frontlines: Journey into Afro-Britain), Mike Phillips and Diran Adebayo (first winner in 1995 of the Saga Prize, which was set up by Marsha Hunt to encourage Black British writing and ran for four years),[127] poets Benjamin Zephaniah, Linton Kwesi Johnson, Lemn Sissay, Salena Godden and Patience Agbabi, playwrights Mustapha Matura, Kwame Kwei-Armah, Roy Williams, Winsome Pinnock, Patricia Cumper and Bola Agbaje, journalists such as Gary Younge and Ekow Eshun, and Children's Laureate Malorie Blackman. Onyeka Nubia is author of fictional trilogy Waiting to Explode, The Black Prince and The Phoenix, for which he won the 2009 African Achievers award for Communication and Media. Blackamoores: Africans in Tudor England, their Presence, Status and Origins is his latest book, published by Narrative Eye[128] in 2013, in which he proves that Black people in Tudor England had free status and were not slaves. "Blackamoores" was runner-up in the 2013/14 People's Book Prize.[129]

Police service

Michael Fuller, after a career in the Metropolitan Police, has been Chief Constable of Kent since 2004. He is the son of Jamaican immigrants who came to the United Kingdom in the 1950s. Fuller was brought up in Sussex, where his interest in the police force was encouraged by an officer attached to his school. He is a graduate in social psychology.[130]

Military services

In 2005 soldier Johnson Beharry, born in Grenada of mixed Black African and East Indian roots, became the first man to win the Victoria Cross, the United Kingdom's foremost military award for bravery, since the Falklands War of 1982. He was awarded the medal for service in Iraq in 2004.


In sport, prominent examples of success include boxing champion Frank Bruno, whose career highlight was winning the WBC world heavyweight championship in 1995. Altogether, he has won 40 of his 45 contests. He is also well known for acting in pantomime. Lennox Lewis, born in east London, is another successful Black British boxer and former undisputed heavyweight champion of the world.

There are many notable black British footballers, some of whom have played for England, including Paul Ince, Sol Campbell, John Barnes, Rio Ferdinand, Viv Anderson, Des Walker, Ashley Cole, Ian Wright, Daniel Sturridge, Daniel Welbeck, Raheem Sterling and David James

British blacks have performed well in track and field. Daley Thompson was the gold medallist for the decathlon in the 1980 and 1984 Olympics. The most decorated British athlete is Jamaica-born Linford Christie, who moved to England at age seven. He was winner of the gold medal in the 100 meters at the 1992 Olympics, the World Championships, the European Championships and the Commonwealth Games. Sprinter Dwain Chambers grew up in London. His early achievements winning a world junior record for the 100 meters in 1997, as the youngest medal winner in the 1999 world championships, and fourth place at the 2000 Olympics were marred by a later scandal over the use of performance-enhancing drugs, like Christie before him. Kelly Holmes won Olympic gold in both the 800m and 1500m, and set many British records.

In cricket many have represented England: Devon Malcolm, Phillip DeFreitas, Chris Lewis, Gladstone Small, Dean Headley, Alex Tudor, Michael Carberry and Chris Jordan to name a few.


In business, Damon Buffini heads Permira, one of the world's largest private equity firms. He topped the 2007 "power list" as the most powerful Black male in the United Kingdom by New Nation magazine and was appointed to then Prime Minister Gordon Brown's business advisory panel.

René Carayol is a broadcaster, broadsheet columnist, business and leadership speaker and author, best known for presenting the BBC series Did They Pay Off Their Mortgage in Two Years? He has also served as an executive main board director for blue-chip companies as well as the public sector.

Wol Kolade is council member and Chairman of the BVCA (British Venture Capital Association) and a Governor and council member of the London School of Economics and Political Science, chairing its Audit Committee.

Adam Afriyie is a politician, and Conservative Member of Parliament for Windsor. He is also the founding director of Connect Support Services, an IT services company pioneering fixed-price support. He was also Chairman of DeHavilland Information Services plc, a news and information services company, and was a regional finalist in the 2003 Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the year awards.

Wilfred Emmanuel-Jones is a businessman, farmer and founder of the popular Black Farmer range of food products. He stood, unsuccessfully, as Conservative Party candidate for the Chippenham constituency in the 2010 general election.

Houses of Parliament

People of black African ancestry such as Bernie Grant, Baroness Amos and Diane Abbott, as well as Oona King and Paul Boateng who are of mixed race, have made significant contributions to British politics and trade unionism. Boateng became the UK's first biracial cabinet minister in 2002 when he was appointed as Chief Secretary to the Treasury. Abbott became the first black woman Member of Parliament when she was elected to the House of Commons in the 1987 general election.

Bill Morris was elected general secretary of the Transport and General Workers' Union in 1992. He was knighted in 2003, and in 2006 he took a seat in the House of Lords as a working life peer, Baron Morris of Handsworth.

The Trinidadian cricketer Learie Constantine was ennobled in 1969 and took the title Baron Constantine of Maraval in Trinidad and Nelson in the County Palatine of Lancaster.

David Pitt became a member of the House of Lords when he became a Life Peer for the Labour Party in 1975. He was also President of the British Medical Association. The first black Conservative Peer was John Taylor, Baron Taylor of Warwick.[131] Valerie Amos became the first black woman cabinet minister and the first black woman to become leader of the House of Lords.

See also


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