Hyde Park, Kensington Gardens, St. James’s Park, the Green Park, Regent’s Park, Primrose Hill, Richmond Park, Hampton Court, and Greenwich Park. What have they all got in common? They’re green, wide, welcoming, pleasant, and all have an almost absolute absence of black people.
I’ve always enjoyed walking, and parks are a particular weakness of mine. The fresh air in the lungs, the relaxing composition of the ambience, the unmissible water feature, the squirrels, the birds, the ducks and geese, and the inevitable dog chasing after them.
The Serpentine is a favourite of mine whenever I am in London. The recently past summer I indulged myself ambling by the lake perimeter whenever I had a few minutes of free time. I strolled along in the early hours of the morning, mid-morning, lunch time, early afternoon, mid-afternoon, late afternoon, early evening, evening and late evening, and the black people I saw sauntering about had a job being counted on the fingers of one hand. There were Spanish, Portuguese, French, Italians, Slovaks, Romanians, Checks, Polish, Russians, Chinese, Japanese, Asians, Americans, and dozens of Arabs, but hardly any black person. Why?
Hazel Thurston in her book Royal Parks for the People introduces Hyde Park as “all things to all people…part and parcel of the everyday life of London’s citizens.” Something had obviously gone amiss when catering for the African descendent population given that, according to the National Statistics of 2001, there were three millions of them living in the capital.
A brief Internet search brought up only one relevant site that took the time to look into0 the strange phenomena. William L. Yancey of Temple University and Jane Snell of Vanderbilt University in their research Parks as Aspects of Leisure in the Inner City looked into the leisure habits of 301 lower, working, and middle-class people of which 152 were black.
The findings, although not definitive, proved some clarification about the absence of black people in parks and generates further questions.
Let’s start by analysing the findings.
1) Black people tend to socialise in small groups with frequent home entertaining;
2) The urban poor’s primary concern is with problems of housing, food, and clothing; only secondarily with recreation and leisure;
3) More blacks than white don’t use parks at all.
The conclusions drawn were that blacks might not be attracted to parks’ activities; that a higher level of community cohesion and a general pattern of not venturing into what has traditionally been regarded as white territory has kept blacks out of the city parks; and finally that middle-class blacks are inhibited and use parks less frequently than whites.
A look at the National Statistics by the Government Office identifies that black people of British, Caribbean or African descent had, in the spring of 2002, an unemployment rate of 61%. It was also found that 77.2% of all black workers were in skilled or unskilled jobs with 60% of them in an intermediate labour force. There were no identifiable blacks, males or females, in the professional sector. Furthermore, blacks were considerably under-represented in the proprietor and director sphere given rise to the consideration that a high majority of blacks is too concerned about making ends meet to entertain the concept of leisure activities.
The second hypothesis has to look into the history of the race in the Western world. Parks have been off-limit for centuries and have only been opened to them since the mid ‘50s highlighting the finding that perhaps black people aren’t completely free of the chains that have kept them tied to “their place” for so long.
Tresa N. Taylor an Crystal Fountain wrote in their research Black Psychology and Black Psychologists, “What people do is motivated by what they believe, and what they believe springs from what they do and experience.”
Segregation in the Western world ended over fifty years ago but the former segregateed are still outside looking in from behind the bars.
Further information can be found in the following publications:
Black Psychology and Black Psychologists, by Tresa N. Taylor and Crystal Fountain, Psych 2001, Prof. Garner 11/03/02 Houston (1990) Chapter 2
National Park Service, Research in the Park, NPS Symposyum Series No.1, Parks as Aspects of Leisure in the Inner-city: An Exploratory Investigation by William L. Yancey and Jane Snell
Royal Parks for the People, by Hazel Thurston, Newton Abbot, London 1974
National Statistics, focus on London 2003, Government Office for London, London:TSO
And on the following websites: