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‘Being and becoming Black’

Foluke Blackburn

I joined The University of Salford in February 2001 after working for 10 years for a Local Authority Social Services Department as a residential social worker, staff development officer and Manager. My first 2 years at the university were concentrated on developing my teaching profile at both undergraduate and post graduate level, across a range of programmes for child care social workers.
I am now concerned about developing further my research profile and would welcome the opportunity to attend this interdisciplinary conference to present a paper and discuss with other scholars new theoretical perspectives on Black Europe. My wider research interests are effective teaching methods, i.e. teaching the teachers, understanding race and cultural issues when working with ethnic children and families and how Black people living in Britain construct their Black identity. I am also interested in promoting discussion of the central structures and processes of modern societies, which facilitate or hinder multiculturalism, biculturalism, or national identity development. That is to say the policies, projects, social structures, educational strategies, legislation, etc. which recognise and accept black people as part of the European community.

Being and Becoming Black

The population of ethnic minorities living in England has been growing rapidly over the last ten years. Between 1991 and 2001 there was an increase of 53% from 3 million to 4.6 million. Alongside this growth has there has been an increase in public and political concern about ethnic issues. Some of this interest has arisen as a result of the high profile given to asylum seekers, Immigrants, clashes between ethnic and indigenous groups, the rise of right wing political parties and the increase of racist attacks.

This high profile has given rise to research which focuses on responses to racism, patterns of migration, asylum issues and cross cultural comparisons. This not only communicates a sense of other but problamatises Black people. There is very little on the individual perspective and how the individual comes to terms with there own sense of self as a minority living with in England.

This paper considers Identity development of Black people living in England. It is based on a pilot study that sought to identify key components and good practice, which contributed to healthy black identity development.

Research Aims and Objectives

The aim of this research was to identify good practice, and develop practical tools / models that would support social workers in assessing and promoting healthy Black Identity development for Black children.

The objectives of the research:

  • To identify key issues problems and concerns which may arise when assessing / working with Black children

  • To identify key components / good practice which contribute to healthy black identity development.

  • To explore the perceptions and experiences of black children and their families in developing their black identity


An exploration of existing literature and relevant research provided a conceptual framework that influenced the design of research instruments. Existing data, which had been collected from 80 - 100 social workers, was reviewed. This provided qualitative data about the issues, which arise when working with children from different cultural groups. Finally semi-structured interviews took place with 8 young people, who were also given an individual questionnaire to complete. 6 of these young people’s parents were also interviewed separately.


Although this was just a small pilot project some consistent themes emerged :- Black British History was said to be very important to all participants. The education system does not effectively teach about Black history or key Black people. Parents consciously and actively engage in
informing their children about black history and heritage. Black history month was felt to be very symbolic and was appreciated and utilized by the Young people. There is a period between the ages of 6 t0 9 when Black children become aware of their difference and consciously sought to find out about Black history and their own heritage. Official classification categories were felt to be inadequate and said not to reflect the multiplicity of ethnic identities. A range of positive and negative contributors to Healthy Black identity were identified.

Research Topics /Questions

  • Black history month has been around in England for over 20 years. Are there similar activities across Europe? What scope is there for partnerships across Europe to utilize these?

  • The age of awakening / realisation (being and becoming black) is an area for more focussed study. How can educator’s social workers and other professionals support this natural development? What resources exist for young people about Black British history?

  • Is this being and becoming black, an experience that is shared by other Black Europeans? This is an area that I would like to pursue and if possible undertake a much larger study in England and across Europe.

  • How do Black Europeans self represent as indigenous or other, and how does an understanding /knowledge of black history contribute to this?

  • What are the notions of being Black amongst people of mixed heritage (Black and White)? How do we address the complexities of identity within this context?

  • What research methodologies are currently being used in Europe? What are their possibilities / limitations?

Finally a very personal inquiry where could I do a PhD on Black European Studies? I am very excited about this conference and look forward to hearing from you in due course. Foluke

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