Ruth is back with the second instalment of her monthly No Fly on the WALL column. This month she reflects on ‘blackness’, Americentrism, and identity.
I love being black. In more recent years, that love has become even more unapologetic, self-preserving and relentless in nature. A saying I coined through discussion with some African American and Black British friends that has now become my mantra in relation to this is ‘blackness is nuanced and diverse and lives in multiplicity’. Being black and African and British simultaneously whilst unpacking that in different social spaces has made this phrase so real and so necessary in my experiences.
Black people are the most ethnically and physically diverse peoples on the planet. Representation through mainstream media and societal structures and norms have not always depicted this and I believe we should be passionate about bringing the complexities of blackness to the surface.
For a long time, the global face of blackness has more often than not, been represented through an African American lens and experience. From learning about transatlantic slavery and the American Civil Rights struggle when at school (but not learning about Black British History), to the merging of many African American slang and vernacular in our conversations today, online and offline. As a Black Brit who has lived in the US and other countries, it often feels like our experiences of blackness have not been accounted for. Granted, even though African Americans do not always receive accurate or positive representation of their communities, there is a complicated privilege that comes with the American passport, nonetheless.
In hopes to decentre an unbalanced Americentric focus on blackness and representation, British-Jamaican filmmaker Cecile Emeke has been doing some phenomenal work. Her ‘Strolling’ series has revolutionised (at least my) engagement with Youtube and has also given an incredible and unmatched platform for Black Europeans across the continent to share our stories, our narratives and our experiences of blackness with our own voices and through our own lens. I personally have learnt a lot about the experiences of other black people in our diaspora from watching the episodes. I have identified with women discussing Black French culture, erasure, police brutality religion, and fake deep men, as well as with fellow Black Brits talking about gentrification, being children of immigrants, respectability politics, and queerness.
Blackness is not monolithic, even though there are things that often (in theory) unify us as a people, namely oppression. I’d like to believe there is more that can bring us together outside of our oppression, through the learning, educating and celebrating of our plethora of cultures. But even in oppression and the global anti-blackness and trauma we face, there is a disparity and disconnect in our engagement and whose narratives are privileged and awarded attention over others.
Examples include the genocide that is currently taking place against the indigenous people of West Papua, the ethnic cleansing of hundreds of thousands of Haitian-Dominicans from the Dominican Republic, the ongoing attacks from terrorist organisation Boko Haram across Northern Nigeria, and closer to home, the police brutality evidently taking place in the UK too, with the most recent case being that of Sheku Bayoh, a black man killed by police in Scotland after being arrested.
There are many other examples of tragedies throughout the world, in which black people are suffering directly or indirectly under white supremacist structures and ideologies.
This is not to be seen as a personal attack against the African American community or an attempt to diminish their plights and excellence as a people, but I wonder how we can have candid conversations about the complicated privilege at play here in terms of representation of Black Africans, Black Europeans, Black Asians, Black Caribbeans, Black Australians, Black South Americans, other non-American black people. I’m wondering if we as a global Black community would first challenge ourselves to learn about our own individual cultures and histories, as well as equally being invested in further educating ourselves about the cultures of other black peoples and how their experiences inform their blackness.
We must own up to being complicit in perpetuating anti-blackness when we engage in erasure of other black peoples.
So, black people everywhere, can we talk about this?