31 March 2022

Diane Louise Jordan launches The Making of Black Britain

Diane Louise Jordan speaks about The Making of Black Britain...

A few years ago I was invited to an event to talk about my life, including how I got into showbiz. During the Q&A that followed, an older gentleman congratulated me on what he described as my “Beautiful command of the British language.”  When I thanked him for his compliment, he continued: “When I close my eyes it’s as if I’m listening to a British person.”

“Sir” I responded “I am British.” To which he replied, “No I mean really British.”

His remark hit a nerve.

Diane Louise Jordan by Vanley Burke

Despite being born in England over 6 decades ago I still question if I’ll ever be seen as ‘really’ British; and wonder why am I labelled ‘black’ British?

In the spring of 2011, I buried my mother. Despite being divorced for 40 years, six months later my father died of a broken heart. Towards the end of their lives, in an attempt to find out more about my own history, I began bombarding them with questions about theirs, hoping to record as much of their stories as possible. Why did they leave Jamaica in the early 50s for Britain, never to return? What kind of Britain did they find? I had so many questions.

When they died, so did part of my story.

Why did I wait so long to start this conversation?

Talking with friends, some like me, first-generation Black British, I realised they too share feelings of incompleteness regarding their heritage. They too have thoughts and questions about the ‘Black British’ label we grew up with, which at one time referred to all non-white people born and bred in the UK.

Clearly, my personal story is part of a bigger, uniquely British narrative that’s still unfolding as I write, affecting not just British-born children of migrants, but all Brits of every class, colour, creed, and generation that make up our nation today.

Harold and Norma Johnson 1957, North London

And so The Making of Black Britain was born; at its heart, it’s a storytelling project created to document and preserve our life experiences, for us and generations to come. It’s a ‘living’ archive, particularly poignant for communities like mine, whose history has been truncated or lost.

Britain has always been a place of migration and immigration, from the Anglo Saxons and Romans, right through to the present day. In fact, the “making” of Black Britain is a consequence of Britain’s Imperial past. Through the colonisation of foreign nations, which aided the growth of its Empire, millions of people around the globe were made British subjects.

The passing of the 1948 Nationality Act, upgraded those subjects to citizens, which enabled people like my parents to settle in the UK. The subsequent arrival of these new citizens was instantly noticeable because of their skin colour.

The Making of Black Britain launches 31st March 2022. Throughout the rest of the year my team and I will travel across the UK recording our nation’s stories, leading up to the 75th anniversary of the Nationality Act in 2023.

We seek to not only gather stories from people who share our values, but to shine a light on all opinions, however challenging or uncomfortable they may be, to document how we live together, and explore how we all experience this thing called ‘Britishness’.

The Making of Black Britain is about connecting people, encouraging us to get to know one another. To share, reflect, listen deeply, and learn from one another.

“To be part of history, and shape the future, someone needs to hear your story and remember it.”

The Making of Black Britain is dedicated to telling those stories.

If you’d like to share your story, please get in touch: themakingofblackbritain.org

  • Writer Diane Louise Jordan

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