Recent discussions around the black race, identity, racism and prejudices have taken the entire world by storm — not because we didn’t know that the Western world was essentially built upon the profits of enslaving an entire race and it thrives due to the legacy of the slave trade (essentially) — but because open, honest discussions around race have never really before been ‘a thing’.
It’s nice, it’s important, it needs to be done. But what is also important is that we don’t misconstrue our own realities in order to identify with the “global black” concept and the issues attached to it.
I do strongly believe in the importance of solidarity amongst black people, but I also think it’s important that the black-American identity and the black-American experience does not become a blanket for the experience of black people everywhere.
I mean, what is black anyway?
If we were to go to a village in Nigeria, a “black” person would not primarily identify as “black”, they’d identify as Yoruba or Igbo or Tiv or Hausa (depending on where we are), their ethnic group would be perceived by them as more important than the pigment in their skin. Whereas if we were to go to a “black” person in America, they would be “black”, and to them, that “black” might well mean descendant of slaves, Jim Crow, segregation. If we come to the UK, we’ll meet “black” people who identify as black but who are first or second-generation immigrants, they’ve been raised on the flavours of Africa or the Caribbean, their lineage may not necessarily be familiar with the Black-British cultural evolutions since the 60s with the Windrush generation…
I say all this to say that “black” is a, almost demeaning, term for an entire multifaceted group whose core uniting factor is their African ancestry. There’s a lot more to the black experience than that which is trending in the media or that which is experienced by black-America.
What about us?
I had a very interesting encounter the other day with a guy they call Uncle G. Uncle G is from Hackney, he’s like 50 or something, he’s white. He’s witnessed the gentrification of the Hackney and Dalston region and I documented his hilarious anecdotes on my snap, he noted “I didn’t see a white person in a week, now Saturday night in Dalston there’s 15k white people and I’m scared”.
Having race discussions in London can become very weird, very fast, namely because what’s (almost) just as important than race, in the U.K., is class. And although the class discussion is one that is distinctly different to race, class is more complex than just black or white but sometimes class can blur the boundaries of race slightly.
London is the type of place where you’ll grow up with an Italian kid and he speaks exactly the same as you so you don’t even think about the fact that he’s Italian, you’re both familiar with the same music, same systems, same dress sense etc, so much so that even tho he’s not “black”, he’s “black”.
Going back to my conversation with Uncle G (he’s like the older Uncle of Skepta and them man, it’s a lot to go into) when he met Drake, Drake was (apparently) flabbergasted by this white guy who was so here for, about and with ‘the culture’ that the BBK crew call him “Uncle”. In America or Canada, the ethnically diverse melting pot that we have in London just doesn’t go down the same way. But it’s important to recognise that difference as also a part of the “black” experience and the “black” experience is different across the globe.
There’s a difference!
I feel it’s harmful for us to internalise the global black struggle and force it to be relevant for us. I believe we should stand together with black and brown folk worldwide, but we should also recognise the culture that we as individuals with brown skin across the globe grew up on, understand it better, celebrate it and push it forward and recognise other stuff is going on elsewhere but it may not be wholly relevant to me.