Brixton – Here today, changed tomorrow
The only constant in life is change (paraphrased) – Heraclitus, Greek philosopher
The aftermath of World War II was a catalyst bringing citizens of Jamaica to England on 21st June 1948. The image they were given before arrival was very different to what they encountered. Experiencing discrimination from indigenous English people, tempers often flared over access to housing. Economic and social exclusion caused these immigrants from the sunny island to create their own institutions, such as the financial ‘pardner’ system. They were given temporary accommodation in an air raid shelter in Clapham, South West London; the closest labour markets were in nearby Brixton and the rest is history as they say; Brixton became one of the UK’s first Caribbean settlements.
Despite its turbulent reputation including race riots of 1981, 1985 and 1995, poor housing, high unemployment and crime, Brixton was a middle-class suburb during the latter part of the 1800s, with Electric avenue (which runs through the historic Brixton market) becoming the first street in London to have electricity. Over the years Brixton morphed into and is renowned as the African-Caribbean capital of the UK. 1995 saw riots ignited by the death of a black man, Wayne Douglas in police custody and a wave of resentment over gentrification. In 2012 gentrification nonchalantly strides through the streets of Brixton once again. An article in the Economist titled ‘Selling out’ described the way gentrification is happening in Brixton as strange. The usual facets are occurring, with black families leaving the area and white singles/families moving in. Over the past ten years the African-Caribbean population in Lambeth (the borough in which Brixton sits) has dropped by 8% even though the overall population has increased by 9%, mainly due to this black exodus as well as an increase in mixed-raced and white families. Black families leave in search of the perceived benefits suburbia has to offer. The renovation of Brixton’s public spaces and house prices that are apparently low for an inner city location serviced by numerous bus routes, tube and trains which take you directly into London Victoria in under 15 minutes, attracts mainly white newcomers. Since the arrival of Brixton Village, it is reported that house prices have risen by 20%. I guess this is still within an acceptable range for the white middle-class and an opportunity too good to pass up for the generations of black families who would have bought houses decades ago with help of their ‘pardner’ system and are now willing to sell.
Oxford University academics think that Brixton will keep its African-Caribbean culture rather than the black residents and is becoming a ‘black shopping destination’ instead. I agree to an extent; a few weeks ago I saw a young white lady with a couple of girlfriends on a night out in Brixton wearing a Ghanaian Kente print top. It’s nice to see other races embracing black culture especially after stigmas of black people shown in the media, but I am intrigued to see what an area that epitomized part of black history in the UK will become in 5-10 years.
It may be difficult for Brixton to maintain its true African-Caribbean culture if black people leave (but I am sure some will stay! lol), there should always be a good cultural mix. It is well known (and a Chinese colleague whose father owns a takeaway shop told me) that Chinese takeaway food does not taste like ‘real’ Chinese food. So how long before jerk chicken loses it spicy taste and jollof rice becomes a mild tomato-based risotto to cater for the palate of the masses? Only time will tell…
What do you think? Comment below!
Happy Black History Month 🙂
‘People without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots’– Marcus Garvey
doubleaad : AdelinA