What made you decide to write Back to Black?
I knew that Black radicalism was misunderstood but I was surprised at just how bad the writing on the politics has been.
Black radicalism is perhaps the most misrepresented set of political ideas. All we are given is the picture of a gun-toting, angry black man who disrespects women and wants to burn down the world. Critics roll out a parade of false prophets who fit the image of a wild and macho movement. Back to Black aims to correct the caricature by exploring the real history of Black radicalism considering what the movement looks like today. There has been an effort to convince people that racism is dead or that society is on the march towards racial equality. But this book is a reminder that racism is in the DNA of the West – it argues that now more than ever we need to go back to the politics of Blackness that offered a real alternative to the status quo.
What do people need most reminding about regarding the true Black radicalism tradition?
That not only were women involved, they were and remain absolutely essential to the politics. The Black Panther Party was 60% female in the USA and the founder of the British Panthers was Althea Jones-Lecointe. We remember Marcus Garvey but have erased both Amy Ashwood and Amy Jacques. Far from being dominated by men, Black women have been at the forefront of Black radicalism: from Queen Nzinga fighting Portuguese colonizers in Tanzania in the Seventeenth Century; through Nanny of the Maroons leading free communities during British plantocracy in Jamaica in eighteenth century; to Claudia Jones’ hugely influential time spent in Britain in the fifties and sixties. Black women are just as vital in the movements that are emerging today.
Which authors and thinkers have inspired your work?
Malcolm X looms large over the whole project, with the title of my epilogue, ‘It’s already too late’, being taken from his ‘Ballot or the Bullet’ speech. Garveyism was also foundational in the analysis and understanding what Black radicalism looks like in practice. Black feminist writers such as Patricia Hill Collins and Kimberle Crenshaw were also vital, because every political movement has to deal with the issue of misogyny. In additional I drew a lot of inspiration from Caribbean and African writers.
Tell us about your writing habits in putting together Back to Black.
Before the last stage of writing I treated myself to a nice desk and chair – you have to be comfortable if you’re going to stick with it. I always find a routine helps to get the work done. I’d spend the days listening to old school jazz and always set a daily target for words written: once you stop focusing on every word being perfect the process it a lot smoother and the writing comes out better. I should give special thanks to John Coltrane, because every time I was stuck he saw me through it!
Author and educator Kehinde Andrews is one of the leading Black political voices in Britain. He is associate professor in sociology at Birmingham City University and a regular writer for the Guardian. He was part of the team that launched the first Black Studies degree in Europe, is Co-chair of the Black Studies Association and of the Harambee Organisation of Black Unity.