After the watershed After several years of rumbling conflict with police outside youth clubs, bars and leisure spaces, the 1976 riot at the Notting Hill Carnival would be a watershed event. The battle, which was judged at the time to have been a defeat for the police, initiated a further sequence of antagonism and change that ran for almost a decade and would not come to an end until the sad trail of riotous protest reached the concrete ziggurat of Tottenham’s Broadwater Farm estate. More significant than the rioters’ hip headgear, unstraightened Afro hair and soulful poses is the intense concentration common to their resilient expressions. Understandably, some of them seem to be trying to evade the cameras. That practical issue aside, it is as though they do not want to be caught in a moment that reveals them to be as vulnerable as they are unified. They are united in the vulnerability they shared as a racialised and marginalised group, in the wounds they seem to carry as a collective cultural burden on their journeys towards and also away from Englishness, with its downpressive political and cultural codes. They seem to be and to belong together; but that imperilled togetherness, that apparently elemental collectivity, is an untidy and asymmetrical affair marked by the way racism intervened to block and channel individuality into the patterns demanded by a race hierarchy that was utterly destructive and ruthlessly, if informally, enforced. The creativity of this intermediate generation fused defensive and affirmative elements. They worked over and through the memories of slavery and colonialism. Traces of past suffering were folded into contemporary resistance so that they could provide resources for interpreting the present and imagining a better future for blacks, for Africa and for the whole world. The most enduring result of this elaborate exercise, though perhaps not its most significant, was the ability of many to assert their belonging to Britain with an authority and legitimacy that could not be denied and, in the process, to change what Britain was, largely by forcing acceptance of the fact that they were here to stay.
Aman giving a BlackPowersalute and sticking his tongue outas he stands on top ofan overturned, burnt-outcar which was hitbya petrol bomb during rioting in Brixton, 13April 1981