The Voice – The British Black Britain still punching after 40 years

Val McCalla – founder 1982,

When clashes between residents and police erupted onto the streets of Brixton in 1981, in the heart of London’s African-Caribbean community, the British press largely told one side of the story.

The Brixton riots, as they became known, were primarily depicted as a challenge to the rule of law. The press emphasized criminal elements, characterizing young, Black male protesters as “troublemakers” during those disturbances, according to studies cited in a subsequent analysis of how the UK media covered riots in 2011.

News reports at the time failed to account for the issues that were at the heart of the riots in 1981, including unemployment, racism and oppressive policing, in particular the extensive use of stop and search. That media bias was spotted by Val McCalla, who had arrived in England aged 15 some two decades earlier.

Jamaican-born McCalla was working at local London paper East End News when the Brixton clashes happened. He saw the need for a

The Voice in 1982

newspaper that would address the issues that mattered to British-born African-Caribbean people who were trying to stake their claim to the only country they had ever known.

With the help of a £62,000 ($81,000) loan from Barclays, McCalla launched The Voice in August 1982 at the Notting Hill Carnival, Europe’s biggest street party and a proud celebration of African-Caribbean culture. From an office in Hackney, east London, McCalla and then editor Flip Fraser led a team of young journalists covering hard news, investigations and human interest stories interspersed with sports, fashion and entertainment. The offices would later move to Brixton.

Existing Black newspapers, such as The Caribbean Times, the West Indian Gazette and The Jamaica Gleaner, catered to mostly older immigrants who wanted to follow news from the Caribbean. The Voice, a weekly, tapped into a generation figuring out what it meant to be Black and British.

While it may not hold the same sway it once did among Britain’s increasingly diverse Black community, its contribution to UK media is incontrovertible and its mission just as important today as it was 40 years ago.

“Without doubt it blazed a trail,” said Joseph Harker, deputy opinion editor at The Guardian. The Voice “spoke to that much younger, more energetic, angrier section of the population. It was the first Black newspaper aimed at Black British people,” he added.

Lester Holloway – Editor

Harker joined the paper in 1987 straight out of university and spent four years there, first as a reporter and later as news and assistant editor. He was used to reading negative stories about Black people relating to crime, poverty and unemployment. Working at The Voice, where Black excellence was celebrated and where he was surrounded by Black ambition and success, had a profound impact on him.

The mainstream media had no interest in Black people “apart from crime stories and riots,” said Harker. “If it was anything positive about Black people it just wouldn’t be covered.”

From its founding, The Voice’s vision was that “Britain’s fast-growing black community should have a voice amid all the social unrest erupting during the 1970s and early 1980s,” the paper’s acting managing director George Ruddock wrote in an October 2019 editorial, announcing its move from weekly to monthly publication.

Its first issue (pictured above) led with a story about a Pakistani family in east London that was being targeted by a racist gang, marking what Ruddock considered to be “the beginning of the publication’s long-standing reputation for campaigning on the many issues which affect the welfare of black Britain.”

According to Paulette Simpson, executive director of The Voice Media Group, the Windrush scandal, which erupted in 2017, remains one of its “big campaigning issues.” Windrush refers to the name of the ship that brought a generation of Caribbean immigrants to Britain in the late 1940s to help rebuild the country following World War II.

Subsequent changes to immigration laws wrongfully deprived many of them and their descendants of their rights to British citizenship. In some cases, they were deported. The UK government announced a compensation program for victims in 2018.

The Voice continues to report on developments relating to Windrush and issues such as discriminatory policing, upholding a proud legacy of confronting injustice. The paper was writing about racism in the police years before an inquiry into the failed investigation of the murder of Stephen Lawrence concluded that “pernicious and persistent institutional racism” played a role.

Lawrence, a Black teen, was killed by a White gang while waiting for a bus on April 22, 1993. More than two decades after the inquiry into his killing, The Voice