Who's Your Favorite Black Brit?
Black people are not a monolith. We see cultural nuances every day in slang, fashion and even cuisine, and such is the case with Blacks in Great Britain. From sports to art (see the work of Lynette Yiadom-Boakye above) and the economy, they have gained success and become leaders in every sector. Even though Black people make up only 3.4 percent of Brits, according to the most recent census, they have produced some of the world’s best in acting, beauty, boxing and more. Joke about accents all you want, but they’re the ones getting the last laughs.
owning the arts
At 27, Michael Omari, otherwise known as Stormzy, is a pioneer of grime — a subgenre of electric music that emerged in London in the early aughts. His debut EP, Dreamers Disease, won Best Grime Act at the MOBO Awards in 2014, and his 2017 studio album, Gang Signs & Prayer, became the U.K.’s first grime album to reach No. 1 on the charts. What might surprise you, however, is the Ghanaian rapper’s newfound political voice. He was vocal about the Brit Awards’ lack of diversity in 2016 and has been on the ground protesting relentlessly for racial justice in 2020. Coming from a strong religious household, Stormzy is not spiritual, though he says he is heavily influenced by his upbringing, which you can hear shine through in his work.
2. Lynette Yiadom-Boakye
Considered one of the most important painters working today, Yiadom-Boakye, 43, has a style you don’t have to look twice at to recognize. Her portraits are dark, shadowy and captivating, and they primarily feature Black subjects in a style of figurative oil painting unlike any you’ve seen. The London-born painter is the daughter of National Health Service nurses who emigrated from Ghana. Her fresh takes on portraits aren’t actually portraits: They’re oil paintings of fictional characters whom Yiadom-Boakye endows with the depth and dynamism of real people.
3. Matthew Morgan
Morgan ’s career, starting as a celebrity stylist and artist manager, made it easy for him to see the void faced by Black kids who identify as other — “misfits,” if you will — in the music festival space. After spending years building a successful music management company, the 44-year-old London native launched Afropunk in 2005, incorporating not just music but also film, sports, art and fashion in the hopes of having these misfits’ stories told outside the confines of predominantly white spaces. Now Afropunk is a thriving events series helping redefine the identity of kids like him.
women of power
1. Pat McGrath
She has been called the most influential makeup artist in the world by Vogue, is recognized as the most prolific catwalk makeup artist of all time and was included as one of Time’s 100 most influential people in 2019 — and yet, somehow, McGrath’s impact on the world of beauty is still underestimated. Raised in Northampton by her single Jamaican-born mother, McGrath, 50, inherited her passion for cosmetics and fashion from her mother. McGrath went on to make up everyone from Naomi Campbell to Kim Kardashian — developing a reputation for enhancing every skin tone. She also advises major brands on trends and has created her own cosmetics line
2. Lavinya Stennett
It took traveling more than 11,000 miles and studying in New Zealand, as part of a program at the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies, for Stennett, 23, to discover a culture that openly discussed its racist history. The experience was transformative — and convinced her to address the shortcomings of the U.K. education system. She has since launched the Black Curriculum — a social enterprise that seeks to make teaching Black British history mandatory and to reshape how race is taught in the country’s schools.
3. Bukola Adisa
When it comes to Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) individuals in the U.K., you’ll be hard-pressed to find someone more dedicated to the cause than Adisa. While building a successful career in the financial services industry, Adisa has also been active in lifting up women and people of color, and she’s started a nonprofit called Career Masterclass that focuses on integrating BAME professionals in the workplace. Through its learning platform, Stretch Academy, the nonprofit has been able to affect the lives of more than 1,000 professionals.
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