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London Calling: Tracing the African Presence in the United Kingdom

It takes only a sprinted tour through the antiquity galleries of European museums, including the British Museum and Paris’ Louvre, to dislodge centuries-old rhetoric equating blackness (black skin, cultures, mores, ideals and beliefs), with inferiority. Black-skinned men and women figure prominently in the development of European nations almost from their inceptions, playing pivotal roles in industry, politics, culture, education, and economics. Still, the contributions of African, West Indian, and native-born Black Britons remains hidden in plain view. With the introduction of the United Kingdom’s Black History Month celebrations, commemorated annually in October, those contributions have slowly found their way into the mainstream conscious. It also gives the millions of African Americans who tend to associate their Diasporic spaces without much consideration for Europe an opportunity to explore those spaces.

For this inaugural edition of The Informer’s Jaunts series, Special Editions Editor Shantella Sherman offers our readers a quick glimpse of the best and brightest of Black Britain.

As a bona fide Anglophile (a person who enjoys British culture), the United Kingdom’s October Black History Month commemorations provide an opportunity each year to not only explore the historical presence of Black Europeans, but also to engage with those who are currently impacting the culture firsthand. These are both scholars and everyday Black Britons. Besides being sure to look left on streets and taking care when converting foreign currency, London in October affords a great atmosphere for sightseeing and sampling surrounding areas like Manchester, Liverpool and Cambridge — each of which also have their own Black History Month offerings.

Sightseeing

Black History Walks offer guided Walking Tours London to include the African history of London. The walks take place in eight different areas from February to November and last about two hours. Private walks are also available upon request and can be tailored to fit the age of the group. Visitors can discover more than 2000 years of London’s Black presence in a few hours.

For those who prefer a traditional bus tour, The Original Tour offers 360-degree sightseeing from open top buses and unlimited hop-on, hop-off access. Sightseers can hop-on or off these buses at over 100 bus stops in central London, access free Wi-Fi onboard, and enjoy a complimentary river cruise. The Original Tour offers 7 different bus routes around London.

Where to Stay

For stays longer than a week, corporate apartments have worked out best for me. The square footage of these units tends to be much larger than the traditional European hotel room, where twin beds and narrow spacing is customary. Most corporate apartments are designed to fit the needs of business executives and include amenities like free WiFi and laundry services. Because dining in London can be costly, opting for a serviced apartment also allows visitors to purchase groceries and do a fair amount of cooking if they choose. Kitchens are generally outfitted fully and include dishes and utensils, ovens, microwaves and dishwashers. Maid service is provided once a week. While Central London may seem attractive to the average tourist, to avoid the noisy nightlife of the city, areas like Battersea and Canary Wharf offer a quiet respite with quick access to the city through the London Underground (subway) Docklands Light Rail (DLR) and London Buses.

Places to Visit

The traditional sightseeing spots are a must, but for those who want to trek off the beaten path, consider a run through Harrod’s whose famous marketplace offers delicacies from around the globe. Check out Brixton, an area once-held as a cultural one-stop for Black tourists, which is now anchored by the Black Cultural Archives. Some of the most insightful exhibitions and lectures are held there year-round.

3 Tips to a Great Time

– Learn the city through its expansive public transportation system.
– Get to know the locals by visiting a local pub (public house) or bar.
– Read up on local issues and current events in Black British newspapers, like The Voice, before arriving.

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