When you think of Black people outside London, what do you think of? Most of the time, whenever Black Britons are represented in any form of media – be it literature, film or TV – the focus is nearly always on Black Londoners. That may be down to the diversity of the city but it’s in no way a reflection of the Black British population. We make up 3% of the British population but just 58.4% of us are concentrated in the capital.
Close to half of Black Brits live outside London, from Birmingham to Bristol, Manchester to Liverpool and the countryside in between. And with an impending exodus of Black Brits – predominantly from Black immigrant households – from the capital due to rising house prices, those statistics are likely to increase in the upcoming years.
Bumpkin Files was founded by photographer Karis Beaumont to celebrate the lives, stories and experiences of underrepresented and undocumented Black Britain. A community resource, platform and archival project, Bumpkin Files amplifies these stories and dispels the myths about Black people living outside London not being Black 'enough' (whatever that means) or not being in touch with their Blackness and Black culture. After all, there is no monolithic Black experience.
For Beaumont, Bumpkin Files means "culture, preservation, intergenerational, lifestyle and history". As a photographer, these words are paramount when considering how history has been weaponised against the Black community. Without documenting our histories, preserving our cultures and speaking to older generations to foster an intergenerational sense of community, where would we be?
Founded in 2017, Bumpkin Files has evolved over time but its original message is still at its core.
"Growing up, I always felt a bit of a void when it comes to storytelling in Black history," Beaumont says. "The void began to make sense when I heard stories from my parents, who were both born and raised in different parts of Hertfordshire."
Beaumont emphasises that the lack of Black British history on the television also motivated her to begin her project. "Whenever we switched on the telly, there were little to no programmes on Black British history and whenever they were, these programmes were London-centric. Around that time, a bunch of archives and platforms began to pop up and again, there was a recurring theme of being London-centric. So originally, I wanted to scan pictures of my own and contribute to these archives. But I thought to myself, Let me start my own project and see what I can nurture. So I put those scanned images on my website, posted on Instagram and I got a few responses. People could relate."
Calling on her skills as a photographer, Beaumont wants to keep filling in the gaps in Black British history. "As a photographer, I wanted to dedicate a body of work to photographing my community and other Black British communities and for Bumpkin Files to be a community resource. I want to be able to connect with other platforms and brands and fill the gaps in Black British storytelling. Furthermore, I want to collaborate and collect commissioned work with other platforms, hold events, exhibitions, pop-ups."
We know that there is no one singular Black history. With such a rich and diverse diaspora, there’s much more to us and Beaumont wants to document more global Black histories. "I want to be involved in community affairs and branch out to mainland Europe, Ireland and even America beyond city life because people in the countryside are always overlooked," she adds. "The Black diaspora is huge, we’re all different but we’re all connected and well, we just don’t explore it enough and consider the cultural context of Black people in specific areas and learn about it to avoid championing closed minded stereotypes and preconceived narratives," she says.
Black British culture and entertainment is so often concentrated in London but the goal of Bumpkin Files is to represent the diversity of Black people in other cities and rural areas. "I want to shed a light on community members doing amazing things. For instance, I collaborated with BLK Brit and explored the misconceptions of Black Brits beyond London. With this visual project, I had a fun play with set design and fashion and played into these misconceptions. One of the sets was based in the countryside with farming attire. The second one was the opposite, a very plush, Victorian-style tea party," Beaumont remembers.
Another way that communities connect is through the arts, such as music and fashion. "Everywhere you go, there will be some sort of scene whether big, small or developing. Music is another way of getting people interested in environments outside of their own. For instance, (rapper) Pa Salieu was on the Jimmy Fallon show and talked about Coventry, repping it to the fullest," she says.
For so long, Black people beyond London have been associated with particular stereotypes such as being villagers, closed minded or even whitewashed. Bumpkin Files aims to dispel these myths by educating people on the richness of Black communities beyond the capital. "There are many misconceptions that there aren’t many thriving Black communities, which is ironic because the oldest communities can be found in Cardiff and Liverpool," she says. "Some Black Liverpudlians can trace their heritage 10 generations back. Smaller cities and towns still have community. Following the protests and death of George Floyd, I realised that many people are open to learning more about the histories and realities of Black people in Britain. In school, we learn about MLK and Rosa Parks but it’s time we learn more about what happened on British soil. Bumpkin Files helps me to do this by informing people on the histories of Black Britons outside the capital."
Beaumont grew up in a Jamaican household in Hertfordshire and was always educated on her heritage. "Growing up was cool," she says. "I was one of the only Black girls in my primary school but as I got older there were more, due to immigration and movement. I used to be a big tomboy too but I was okay with that, I just stuck out more being a Black girl. I grew up in a Jamaican household and was always educated on my heritage. We’d spend time at my grandma’s house (my mum’s mum), who lived in another part of Hertfordshire with a larger Black community. I never lacked anything in that sense."
There is a perception that if you live outside London or other big cities, you will encounter racism but this isn’t a universal experience for all Black people. "I never experienced racial trauma either, although this isn’t everyone’s experience. I think there’s a perception that living in towns or cities with small Black populations means that you’ll experience racial trauma or attacks but that wasn’t my experience."
As Bumpkin Files continues to grow, what does Beaumont want people to take away from it? She says she wants people "to understand the importance of preserving history and the present – things have been lost, forgotten and taken to the grave. We need to ensure our communities are strong, our stories aren’t lost and whitewashed.
"We’re in the age of access – access to the internet, cameras and much more – so we should make a conscious effort to archive and document this. History is happening now and we need to preserve this for future generations. I want to encourage people to explore more, step out of your environment and learn about different communities."
Archiving is an important tool which we can use to make sense of the world, our histories, stories and memories. For Beaumont, a Black curator and photographer, "archiving means storing and protecting. It’s a way to make sense of things, how we got here, why we’re here, and is a good way of encouraging people to share stories. It’s a way of capturing what’s happening and preserving memories."