The Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement that started in the summer of 2020 in the US amidst a global pandemic and from there spread across the globe has both highlighted systemic racism everywhere and stirred interest in black history, struggles and culture. At the independent bookshop, „activist hub“ and publishing house New Beacon Books in London (est. 1966), whose mission it has always been to raise consciousness about these topics, this has reverberated noticeably. On the second episode of Inclusory Mr. Michael La Rose, a social and cultural activist, writer, co-director of New Beacon Books, son of bookshop founder John La Rose and co-founder of the Black Youth Movement (1975-1990), talks about the black community's long-standing fight against police brutality, the importance of independent bookshops and publishers for ensuring a diversity of voices in publishing, his father's legacy of giving Caribbean and black artists overall a chance to tell the (post)colonial experience from their point of view and the power of books and literature for bringing about change. He teaches us that words can give direction, yet it is the actions that follow that can make the world a better place.
2020 for New Beacon Books so far/
Michael states that 2020 has been up and down so far. The black lives mass movement had it that especially younger people wanted to find out about black history (2.00). They had a wave of orders on their website (2.18). However, a mass movement is a temporary thing, what Michael thinks is important is a raise of consciousness (2.27). However, building costs and salaries still need to be paid and online competition is fierce which does not change but the walk-in income changed (3.09). He also emphasizes how independent bookshops like New Beacon Books depend on mass movements (3.24).
The beginnings of New Beacon Books as a bookstore and a press in 1966/
Michael talks about his father being in a long tradition of resistance of black Africans who had been brought to the Caribbean to work as slaves.( 5.27) He continues that this struggle never stopped, from slave trade to colonialism to neocolonialism and the struggle against neoliberalism. (5.51 ) Michael emphasizes that his father belongs to these struggles from slave to trade unions to battles for independence. This history of struggle was then brought to Britain in the 1950 or even earlier (6.09 - 6.22). His father called his generation the heroic generation because of what they had to overcome. What they learned from the struggles in the Carribean they put into practice in Britain.(6.50) His father noticed that the people that ruled them kept them away from information about the previous generation’s struggles. In order to stop this discontinuity the dominance of metropolitan publishers had to be dealt with. (7.17) And the control of information flow from generation to generation could be addressed through publishing. (7.29.) He talks about New Beacons double agenda (7.36). He says his father had to learn to be a businessman and have that align with the activism (8.41). He talks about the gradual evolvement of New Beacon Books from a box of books sold from his fathers home to an actual shop (8.54).
Social Activism in and around New Beacon Books/
Michael sets off by pointing out that his father’s legacy in terms of social activism was the result of a network of people with similar ideas. (11.22). He emphasizes that the „Black Parents Movement“ and the „Black Youth Movement“ emerged from these groups in order to stand up to systemic racism. (11.35) Michael talks about the importance of the „Black Youth Movement“ which stood up to police brutality and fit-ups. (12.45) Michael mentions the 1958 Notting Hill riots. (13.15) Michael talks about the second generation of Caribbeans in Britain as the „rebels“ (as opposed to his father's generation, the “heroes”). (14.00)
Black Lives Matter/
Michael points out that the earlier activism and the issues around white superiority are not dead. (15.02). He then emphasizes what was important about the Black Lives Matter movement (1. Social Media 2. The impact on America, where the white population showed solidarity 3. It was global) (15.17). He then talks about the effect of #BLM on New Beacon Books (the marches, the educational effect on children about struggles, the consciousness raising – reading clubs during lockdown looking for books on the matter.) (16.10) He talks about New Beacon Book’s support of other independent bookstores this year coming from his father who organized the International Bookfair of Radical and Third World Books. (17.07) Michael also talks about his father co-founding the Caribbean Artist Movement (18.25).
Books about the Black/Colonial/Postcolonial Experience - A Time to Finally be Heard?/
Michael emphasizes New Beacon Books welcoming as many diverse voices as possible but whether or not they are listened to is a different story (20.00). He stresses that the words alone do not change anything but can support, inform and give direction ("that’s the importance of culture“). (21.35) He talks about how the dominance of metropolitan publishers lessens diversity and creativity (23.00). He notes that black culture and art is now mainstream (publishers see money in it, a broader audience can access the material) (23.22) He states that one of the important aspects of the Black Lives Matter movement is "the liberation of progressive whites“ (24.32)
The Role of Fiction in Postcolonial Discourse, "Healing Power“/
Michael agrees literature has a healing power by analyzing internally what has happened. (26.10) He cites Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o who in the third John La Rose memorial lecture talked about the real victory of colonialism not being “the land they keep” but the mental control, Bob Marley’s „slave mentality“. (24.08). A novel can explore those things (27.20) as well as to celebrate "aspects of culture“. (27.27) Michael talks about poems allowing to mentally focus on something (28.20)
New Beacon Book’s Future/
Michael talks about New Beacon’s decision to close in 2016 due to the economic struggle . (30.21) In 2016 New Beacon books also celebrated its 50 years anniversary at the British Library. (30.52). He then goes into how his son, daughter-in-law and ex-partner decided a different approach and saved the bookshop through crowdfunding. (31.40) He says most importantly they got the tools to connect with the new generation of activists – the social media generation (32.02) and an active website (32.28). But now as he states the „pressure is back on“ because of the building costs and the question if they can carry them "post-Covid“ – the struggle goes on. (32.54)
Michael states that New Beacon Books was really formed to „educate people who did not get that knowledge/information/history“ (33.00) The people who he would like to come into the bookshop are “people who don’t know“, ”people who want to find out“, "people who want to educate their children and give them the kind of education that they did not have“.
He quotes his father who said "you go to school for schooling but you can educate yourself anytime.“ (36.23) He emphasizes that the people who can take the books and progress themselves and their futures are the kind of people he would like to see in the bookshop – any type of person. (33.24)
Lastly he would like to share with the audience, that his (the Caribbean peoples’) tradition goes back way past John La Rose, but John La Rose was able to crystalize it into action and stresses the importance of putting ideas into action in order to „make a better world“ (33.50)
Notable QUOTES from Michael la Rose
…"What we have to acknowledge is that black art and culture is now mainstream." …(22.09)
….“In New Beacon we welcome as many diverse voices as possible. Whether they're listened to or not is a different thing. What you have to hammer home behind the words is action and struggle because the words alone won't change anything. The words alone help us to work out focus, strategy and how to go forward, how to progress. So that is the important part of the words, important part of books, novels, songs etc. to inform us about how to go forward and support us either morally or spiritually but also sometimes in some practical ways - that is the importance of culture." (20.00)…
“One of the aspects of the Black Lives movement, which is so important (…) is the liberation of progressive whites. Progressive whites (…) now feel the confidence not only to come out in the streets but to come into bookshops and engage with the black culture that they may have been a bit nervous about in the past. So, it is an important moment in history." (22.58)
“The people we would like to come to the bookshop are the people who don't know, who want to find out and who want to educate their children and give them the kind of education that they did not have” (32.48)
“Interestingly my father used to say you go to school for schooling but you can educate yourself anytime.” (33.05)
“…people who can use the books and progress themselves, progress their lives, progress their futures, are the people we would like to see in the bookshop, any type of person, any type of person.” (33.24)
“The tradition of New Beacon goes back way past John La Rose, but John La Rose was able to crystalize it into action and that is really important. Because when you crystalize ideas into action that makes, as he would say, the dreams of a better world.” (33.50)
Books titles mentioned:
“A Meeting of the Continents: The International Bookfair of Radical Black and Third World Books revisited 1982-1995” edited by Sarah White, Roxy Harris and Sharmilla Beezmohun
"Don’t Stop the Carnival – Black British Music“ by Kevin Le Gendre
"Song of Solomon“ by Toni Morrison
"The Caribbean Artists Movement, 1966-1972: A literary & cultural history“ by Anne Walmsley
“Why I'm no longer talking to white people about race” by Reni Eddo-Lodge
CONTACT New Beacon Books
CONTACT George Padmore Institute (founded by John La Rose, research center, library)
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