Book on 1981 Liverpool 'is antidote to colonial education'

Dr Amal Abu-Bakare University of Liverpool lecturer inspired by the 1981 book so she added it to her course (Image: Dr Amal Abu-Bakare)
-Credit: (Image: Dr Amal Abu-Bakare)


A book on Liverpool inspired a university lecturer

Professor Stephen Small and Jimi Jagne, from Toxteth, co-authored a book, 1981 Black Liverpool Past & Present. The book shares experiences of community activism before and after 1981.

Intrigued by the book, University of Liverpool lecturer (since 2021) Dr Amal Abu-Bakare approached her employers to include it in the course she teaches. She was also inspired by Letters to Gil by Liverpool author Malik Al Nasir, about his life being impacted by being in care and meeting poet and performer Gil Scott-Heron.

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Prof Small told the ECHO: "It's the antidote to colonial education, because most of the education and knowledge in Liverpool schools is colonial. The books we read and were required to read (in school) are designed to celebrate and glorify the British Empire as something beneficial, especially for Africans and for the enslaved.

"This book is about Black people, by Black people to document our experiences and analysis of British racism, past and present in England. It's about the lives, views and analysis of our experiences living, working and going to school in Liverpool”.

Professor Stephen Small co-author of the book 1981 Black Liverpool Past and Present (Image: Ean Flanders)
Professor Stephen Small co-author of the book 1981 Black Liverpool Past and Present (Image: Ean Flanders) -Credit:Ean Flanders

They argue most school-taught knowledge on Black people is biased and subjective and challenge it to "offer a more accurate and inclusive analysis of Black Liverpool." Prof Small added: “Racism by the police and people in Liverpool has been widespread” and “for years, Black people have challenged this racism”.

Prof Small said: “It reminds people Black Britain is not London, and Black people in London do not represent the whole of Black Britain. Black experience in Liverpool is far longer, our community is much older than London (and) Black Britain based mainly from London is incomplete, (and) convincing or compelling analysis must include Black Liverpool".

Professor Small teaches in the USA, but regularly returns to Liverpool where his family is. He studied sociology at the University of California, Berkeley in 1989 and teaches about the comparative history and sociology of Black people across the African Diaspora, with particular focus on the USA, Caribbean and England.

Dr Abu-Bakare added: "I was inspired by the style of writing after getting the book. I wanted students to learn how international politics can be shown, particularly in the context of anti-colonialism, anti-racism specific to the boundaries of Liverpool.

"The students were really receptive. The course got glowing reviews".

Dr Amal Abu-Bakare University of Liverpool lecturer inspired by the 1981 book so she added it to her course (Image: Dr Amal Abu-Bakare)
Dr Amal Abu-Bakare University of Liverpool lecturer inspired by the 1981 book so she added it to her course (Image: Dr Amal Abu-Bakare) -Credit:Dr Amal Abu-Bakare

Dr Abu-Bakare studied International Relations, her Masters was at the University of Warwick and her PhD (2021) at Aberystwyth University on How Racial Thinking Structures Counter-terrorism Approaches in the UK and Canada.

The book, part of the optional course included in the Politics Race & Marginalisation degree was taught for the first time in January to May 2024 to 62 students, including those from Liverpool and international students; including Chinese and Spanish students. The course includes various walking tours exploring sites mentioned in the book.

Dr Abu-Bakare added: "1981 gives a kind of history to what they were physically looking at when on walking tours (and) all students felt they learned more about what’s going on around them than they usually would. It made them, in reflective assignments they wrote, inspired to continue learning about anti-racism, activism and the history of Liverpool from a racial perspective".

Jimi said: "The book uses 1981 as a starting point, and a critical year in the reaction to the racism generations of Liverpool Black people had to live with, for the best part of a century, if not more. 1981 was a culmination of that experience and the activism that preceded it. After 1981, it was a critical moment, very seminal in the sense the activism spawned from 1981 shaped Liverpool 8, or Toxteth, we have today.

"We choose to detail what we considered some of the most important activist moments of the 20th century either side of 1981. One example Stephen chose was the work and accomplishments of Dorothy Kuya (and) I chose to write about the contributions of Rastafarians culturally and socially as a Black force in Liverpool 8".

Jimi feels many people associate Rastafari with Bob Marley, and said: “People need to understand Rastafarianism is a religion. Rastafari addressed very important social issues in the 1970s, extremely racist times, more so for us being young people".

Jimi Jagne, writer, community activist and co author of the book 1981 Black Liverpool Past and Present (Image: Jimi Jagne)
Jimi Jagne, writer, community activist and co author of the book 1981 Black Liverpool Past and Present (Image: Jimi Jagne) -Credit: Jimi Jagne

Jimi spoke of "social cohesion" to be part of a "collective, devising their own means of surviving the racist experience. Like becoming aware and promoting aspects of our own black culture, something I don't think I would have been introduced to until much later into life".

Reggae music by people like Big Youth, Black Uhuru, Burning Spear, and Bob Marley introduced them to great characters in history; Marcus Garvey, Kwmae Nkruma, (Patrice) Lummuba and Sister Nanny of the Maroons. He said: "(They were all people vital in our colonial history, because they were freedom fighters against the empire".

Prof Small and Jimi had put their heads together writing a series of articles to promote history and activism in Liverpool and beyond by attending talks and events. A reader, excited by their work, put some of it together, and following discussion, that’s how the book came out, published by Serendipity Publishers in 2022.

Prof Small spoke of the lessons to be learned from the 1981 Uprisings and their book, and said: "The Uprisings were a tactic of the oppressed to convey frustration, anger and seek social justice as human beings. In the book, Dorothy Kuya reminds us; protest and uprising are voices of the oppressed, voices of those who are not heard.

"We got lessons from the civil rights movement in America, which reminded us of similar obstacles we face as Black people in Liverpool. We reported it to the police, the local authority, other institutions, resisted it and organised campaigns, but people in authority and power did little or nothing to change our experiences".

He added: "The primary goal; to encourage Black people to document our experiences for future generations. To make sure what happened, in this period, is not reported mainly by elite White men from their perspective for the benefit and glorification of Britain.

"The book is also there to challenge inaccurate and biassed accounts of our lives that we find in British books and, often taught in university. The goal; to bring Black voices of men and women to the foreground and the front of analysis".

The book, available from; Serendipity UK, News from Nowhere bookshop, Waterstones and more.

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