Why Black Britain Is An Illusion


[Edit – Disclaimer: Please be aware I am speaking of my personal experience. I am in no way trying to say you must think like me but I am just speaking from what I have experienced. I encourage your opinions as always]

I say this time and time again, I am not British, I am African. This is a kind of phrase that most African-born or even African people born in the UK will say. However, when I was in France, I asked one girl where she was from.

She said France. I was like no, where are you from? She then understood and said her parents were from Congo and that in fact, she had been born there but moved to France as a baby. I remember the ex-boyfriend (white) of one of my cousins who lives in the UK talking about a woman of Jamaican origin and calling her English. We both were like ”oh, she’s Jamaican”. and he was like ”she’s English”.

One major issue I have noticed in the UK is that people get scared when someone does not see them for who they are. This is the only reason why this Afropolitan has come to be and I don’t subscribe to its’ way of thinking of being a huge melting pot of different so-called ‘Euro’ identities for black people.

It’s that kind of transculturalism that TRACE magazine advocates and again, I don’t particularly understand. By doing this, people act like being African or Afro-Caribbean is some negative thing, by espousing their european identity only. I just find that odd. As a child, I lived in many different nations such as Russia, Sweden and Switzerland. I never once thought I was an Afropolitan who was part Russian and a drop of Swedish. That is farcical to me. I am a Tanzanian who has been lucky enough to live a cosmopolitan life due to my parents’ work.

Another thing that is a complete farce is this idea of Black Britain. I love living in London as a city, but the concept of the Afro-Caribbean society in the UK is something which does not really exist. First because many black people who are born in the UK do not self-identify as black in a proud way. I know what you are thinking, what a huge generalisation right? Unlike the USA, where black people create organisations and really have a sense of ‘community’, there is a real inferiority complex of black people in the UK. This is shown by the 100% complete lack of black love couples in the United Kingdom.

When I see a black woman and a black man walking down the streets, I double-stare due to shock.

This is manifested I believe in the lack of belief in one’s self identity. Many black people born in the UK to Caribbean parents have never ever been to their home countries. I was astonished to learn this, but no way judging. Does it seem weird to have parents from a country and never see that country? In no way am I saying people have to have the identities that they don’t want, but blackness and social identity is rooted in these home countries. I go back to Tanzania every year. That black Congolese girl told me she had never been back for 23 years. This is where I realised: how black people’s parents and families treat identity is INTEGRAL to how we see ourselves. One of my best friends was born in Uganda but moved to London at  a young age. She always says she is from Uganda and her family visit regularly.

I am happy my parents’ always made it clear who I am. I love living in London, but I know 100% that I am an African woman. I can’t imagine taking on someone else’s identity.

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34 thoughts on “Why Black Britain Is An Illusion

  1. I dont agree with this whole ‘I am black therefore I must tell everyone that I am African/Jamaican…etc even though I was born in England’.

    I was born here in the UK, and have lived in England my whole life.
    My mum is from Belize, and I have been there a few times and am very aware of the culture and am proud to have Belizean blood in me.
    However I don’t understand why the question ‘Where are you from?’ automatically has to translate to ‘How come you’re black?’
    I find the whole thing ridiculous, and I think this kind of mentality is a massive leap in the wrong direction.

    In my opinion we are all individuals regardless of race.
    Does it really matter that we are black, the next door neighbour is white, and the guy across the road is Indian, does it??

    Why dont we as a black community start talking about ”Judging people by the content of their character” – Martin Luther King ??
    Why dont we as a COMMUNITY start teaching our kids AND each other about black history and not just about slavery and racism!?

    I’ll tell you why, its because most black people have no idea about their history at all!
    The reason why most of us dont know about our history is because of this old fashioned and frankly quite embaressing mentality that we all seem to have.
    We’re too busy concentrating on ‘community’ and how black we are, and how terrible slavery was, yet completely ignoring the positive, rich, and empowering aspects of our history!

    We all seem to think that if we stand together then nothing can touch us. But what we’re really portraying to everyone else is a huge sense of fear, and cowardliness.

    This is why the majority of black women use damaging relaxers to chemically straighten their hair.
    This is why black teens are portrayed as gang members in the media. because we constantly live up to the expectations of others, out of fear of standing out, and being INDIVIDUALS.

    What I think we should be doing, is concentrating on the good things about our past. If you really want to talk about how ‘black’ your are, and how ‘African’ you are. I suggest you start protesting that more of the positive elements of black history should be taught in our schools, instead of just concentrating on racism and slavery. We should be promoting the beauty of natural black afro hair and skin care.

  2. Hi Aulelia

    Perhaps some of us just don’t consider ourselves to be ‘black’.

    I was never taught that I was ‘black’ by my parents. This is a concept that I learned from ‘white’ society and from those, whom I assume, agree with them.

    I am of the Yoruba. There is no language in which ‘Yoruba’ translates into’black’, furthermore I have found the usage of the terms ‘black’ and ‘white’ in reference to people to be utterly absurd since my primary school days.

    As for ‘British’ – it is my nationality, ergo it has validity. Yoruba is the name of my ethnicity, ergo it has validity. Africa is the name of my continent, ergo it has validity.

    ‘Black’, when used in reference to people, in my opinion, has no validity.

    With regards to the lack of black on black love/community, I came across a really interesting lecture by a lady called Dr. Barbara Sizemore called ‘Black People Still Don’t Get It’.

    You can view it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=10QlAw_JtjA

    Whilst I disagree with the label she’s chosen to use, I think she makes some excellent points.

  3. Intresting in my experience I do see many black couples together could depend on what area you live so … yeah

    Anyway some people sometimes get race, ethnicity and nationality confused and that annoys me. I am black that is my race my ethnicity is nigerian (yoruba) and I am very proud of that indeed my nationality is british.

    One guy I know who is angolan will up and down say he is portugese before he says he is angolan when the question of “where are you from?” comes up the answer usually is your country of orgin your ethnicity not nationality wise.

    As for some black people not returning to their homeland there could be a number of reasons. I have only been to Nigeria once in my 17 years unlike some other of my black friends who have been to their homeland numerous times (big family and money is tight) my younger brothers have been twice.

  4. I am in no way trying to minimise your opinions about black on black love, just though I should clarify, I have lived in London since 2001 after. All the marriages I am referring to are IN London :-).

  5. Very interesting write up,,I lived in theU.K and I must say you are spot on about these observations. There is no real black pride and the whole interracial relationship business is a farce.

    Alesha Dixon came on The One show on BBC recently and she was asked what she thought about Nick Griffin going on Question time and she gave the silly reply … I can´t requote what she said but she gave off this air as if race was not important to her,

    Now this is a black woman in the public eye who could have used that opportunity to voice her o how she truly felt but she did not. You almost get the feeling that she is a bit embarassed that she was being recognised as an other and really wants to be as mainstream as can be.

    • Joicee, thanks for the tip about Alesha. I will make sure to check it out. With people in her situation, it doesn’t help that the black parents are not around to help raise them either.

      I hope Alesha was not as embarrassing as you say because if so, it’s awful and she needs to check herself.

      She is black and there is nothing that will change that (luckily because we are beautiful).

    • Alesha dixon does not self-identify as black, she was raised primarily by a white mother of course her viewpoint as a biracial person is likely to be differing to ours as black people.

      bless her she is pretty but not the brightest

  6. I am a fan of your blog as you are really fearless in expressing your views. I read this post with some interest as your views on identity seem fairly narrow minded and in my case offensive.

    I feel that you should re-examine what the black British identity is. Many British black people have a dual identity which is a mixture of their ethnic roots and the national(British) identity. We are not the same as white british people, but something different. Your post seems to suggest that to be proud of your ethnic identity means that you need to visit your ethnic homeland once a year and deny the actual place of your birth as having the person that you are. I have lived in the UK for the whole of my life, no amounts of visits to the Caribbean doesn’t change the fact that I am a proud English man, who is equally proud of his ethnic identity. One doesn’t have to be at the expense of the other.

    I hope my response is understood by you and your readers. Keep doing what you doing as discussion is great for development in us all!

    • @Trojan, hi and thanks for the fact you like my blog.

      My intention wasn’t to come across narrow-minded and if you got that impression, that definitely wasn’t the aim. I haven’t changed my stance on what I feel though.

      I was simply saying I find it peculiar that some Caribbeans in the UK haven’t visited their islands of origin, but I am not judging them for this decision. For me, cultural identity is really important and if black people identify as English, that is fine and great but I think it is incredibly important to always be cognizant of the original identity which lies in Africa/Caribbean (whichever people are from).

      It doesn’t help when I kept seeing those Sun adverts with Ian Wright saying that there are too many foreign players in the Premier League. UMMM Okay Ian…Next! Things like that really annoy me and again goes further to prove that I think some factions of black people in the UK like Ian are worrying in their attitude because they were foreign at one point to in their lives in this country.

      I am well aware that dual identities exist for black people here and there is nothing wrong with that. However, there is something wrong with black people who run away fromt the race issue and don’t want to forge links with other blacks, which is the overwhelming theme I get from a lot of black people I meet in this country who were born here as opposed to ones who weren’t.

      This will sound crazy but even when I first met my boyfriend who is from the West Indies through and through, I saw a distinct difference in how pride was really important to him, ie of the African diaspora. That was something I never really saw in black people I met born in the UK.

      I hope you see that I am talking of my experiences and not a general view.

  7. I disagree with your conclusions. I am black and born in the Uk, as was my mother. This makes me black british – this is where I am from. I think it is different if you are born somewhere then move, but my culture is that of a black british person. There are nods to my heritage, but my lifestyle and experiences differ from my family that remains in the West Indies. Identfying myself as black british in no way reflects upon how I feel about my origins but the culture in the UK is the one I know.

    As for black on black love, you are looking in the wrong places. I am a 30yr old woman that has been married for 8 years and am surrounded by friends that are all in black on black relationships (marriages ranging from 4-15yrs and going strong). Don’t know why you are so shocked when you see it.

    • @Sara, I never ever said that I think that you shouldn’t identify as Black British. I wish people would properly read the post before commenting.

      And please do not try and minimise my opinions on the lack of black-on-black love just because there is a lot of it where you are. Anyone living in most parts of London is privy to the fact that the majority of black people date outside their race.

  8. I don’t think that you understand the history of African-Caribbean people in this country. I think that we are unique in our mixture of West African ancestry, our Caribbean heritage and yes many of us will claim our British/Europeaness too – because we were either born here or have spent our most formative years here. My relatives in the Caribbean would think it odd for me to go on about being ‘African’ or even to say that I am the same as them, since neither I or my American cousins grew up there. It does not mean that I don’t claim my heritage or that I am not proud of being black. I am indeed extremely proud of all of it!

    African-Caribbeans (or West Indians – as my parents would prefer to be called) have made huge and significant contributions to this country – in the public sector, the health service and in the political sphere – the Race Relations and Equality Acts that allow you to have the quality of life you have here – was long and hard fought for by many in the black community during the ’60s and’70s. The fact that our efforts are not as high profile as in America does not mean that you can be allowed to disrespect us the way you have in this post.

    Many West Indians did not have the money to travel back and forth during the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s. They were sending money to support families there and bringing up families (yes to be British!) here.

    I think also that you will find that black people throughout Britain are involved in many things – political or otherwise, together or with others – this is something that is particularly unique to being British I think – though other European countries are improving too. It is just that being black is not all that we are about and we certainly don’t connect just because we are black.

    Can I suggest that you get hold of Doreen Lawrences’ And Still I Rise; Andrea Levy’s Small Island or anything about the Windrush generation before making assumptions about Black Britons.

    • Tricia, I think I am allowed to provide an analysis of what Black Britain is supposed to be judging by the fact I have lived here for over 10 years. Just because you don’t like what I have to say does not mean that my opinion matters less than you.

      I never said you should call yourself African. Why should you? If you are Afro-Caribbean, it would be a misnomer to do so.

      I find it astonishing that you can’t even look through the archives of my blog before jumping the gun on whether I have written about so-called Black Britain before, when I clearly have after I scanned a few pictures from a little known but incredible book called ‘Black Britain’ by Paul Gilroy that included shots of my ultimate fave, Shirley Bassey.

      Maybe you should stop making assumptions of how other people analyse Black Briton.

  9. Ok, off the bat i have to agree with all viewpoints, BUT…..

    When i as a proud black west indian british born woman, state my nationality, it is british, otherwise the bnp and their ilk win.

    The racists in this country love to hear the whole
    “i’m not british because i’m (whatever it is that denotes that you are a person of colour).

    I would never deny that i am black woman, i love my culture , my heritage and yes i have been back the west indies i go back every 2 and half years on average. But the simple fact is that this is the land of my birth.

    And yes africans and caribbean folk should not be so segragated, its deep but both communities need to grow the hell up and communicate.

    Just for the record most caribbean folk that i know love and respect themselves their heritage and culture, please do not generalise west indian refers to well over 20 nationalities and various ethnicities.

    • I am not generalising, like I have said, it is a trend amongst some west indians I have met. You got 2 years on average, there are some that haven’t been at all. That is what I am talking about not, not people like you.

    • That is a very American viewpoint and it’s how most African Americans think. My nationality is American, born and bred. My people have been on this land for nearly a dozen generations and helped build this country.

      My race, however, is black or African American. Racially, I am a proud black woman. My nationality and culture is American, which is a mishmash of all kinds of culture, including African.

  10. Great post and food for thought. Gives me an idea of what to expect when I go out there in a few months. Thanks for posting.

  11. Posts like this remind me of why I love this blog so much. I truly appreciate your perspective as a Black woman living in a different country from me.

    First off, I completely understand where you are coming from by saying “I am African.” I identify as Caribbean although I was born and raised in the States. It is such a huge part of my identity that I can’t deny it. I love when people proudly hold onto their ethnic pride, which is one of the great things about New York.

    That is pretty disheartening to hear about the lack of Black pride and community in the U.K. I suppose because most people are recent immigrants with their various languages and customs. Whereas Black people in the U.S. have been together for hundreds of years.

    Also, Africans and Caribbeans don’t really get along with African-Americans here. I don’t know what to say about the whole thing.

    • Aisha, thank you very much. The blog wouldn’t be the same with the astute comments you all make.

      I really noticed that of Caribbeans who haven’t been around in the UK that they tend to be more ‘proud’ of their islands. I have a love affair with the West Indies anyway but found the islands really great.

      I don’t think the recent immigration is so much a reason because if that is the case, people should be more proud of being black. It just seems with a lot of the black people here, it is this thing they try and ignore.

      • Well I meant recent immigration is the reason why Black people in the U.K . aren’t united. Everyone is coming from their own country, speaking various languages, and they probably don’t have that much in common. Whereas African Americans have been together so long that those differences were erased. Perhaps with time, the Black British community will come together.

        Maybe people feel they have to “blend in” to get ahead in British society, like with jobs and such.

        • I get the impression people want to blend in here. In all, it is frustrating because why does anyone think they have to lose their self-identity to be accepted?

  12. I agree with some of the points made in this post, however I disagree with the point that there is a lack of black couple in the UK. I was born in the UK to African parents and I live in London and their are plenty of black couples where I live. The reason most black people in the UK do not identify themselves as British is not due to a complex. I think its because Black people have not lived in the UK as long as Black people have been in the US. Many people are recent immigrants and still identify with dual cultures. You cannot compare african americans to black british people. We have different cultures african american have been in the US for over 300 years whereas we have been here for about 70-60 yrs.

    • Miss TT, I am not talking about black people in the UK who don’t identify as British, I am talking about how many black people in the UK do not look back to where they came from at all. This is particularly prevalent within some Caribbeans and more recently Africans too.

      I can most definitely compare the African-American culture to Black Britons because both segments of people are people of African descent living in diaspora. Time scale is irrelevant and almost used as a crutch in your argument.

      • Hi aulelia
        Sorry I guess this just comes down to personal experience, most of the people I have met and grown up with are proud of where they came from but I do understand your experiences may have been different to mine. I do still believe time is a major factor because community takes time to build as they say Rome wasnt built in a day

  13. I’m American born and bred and have only been London one time for vacation some years ago, so I am only talking from my experience and am in no way claiming to be an authority on the black community, or lack thereof, in Britain. But I myself was simply struck by the lack of “black pride” in the black folks I talked to. Now, I’m American and all for the melting pot and I have no idea what the immigrant experience is like. I can trace my black ancestry back before the War of 1812 and my white ancestry back to the 1700s in Louisiana. But my friends whose parents are immigrants, be they Ghanian or Indian or Trinidadian or Vietnamese, are proud to say they are those things. Yes, they are Americans first and foremost, but they’ve spent time in the homeland of their parents and love both cultures. I don’t see why black Britain can’t take that same perspective. How could someone have a grandmother in another country and never see her? How could you never see the place where your parents grew up? I just don’t get it.

    And why is there no black political power in Britain. That’s just astounding to me. Slavery was abolished in the UK decades before it was here in the US and yet I really don’t see black success and achievement like we have here in the US. Why isn’t there a Welsh Oprah or an English Obama? Why aren’t there a decent number of black CEOs in Britain. Why aren’t there a plethora of black and brown faces in Parliament?

    And the interracial relationships. I’m not against mixed couples at all, but I think if one has to do a double take every time you see a black couple, then the majority of those IR are not based on love, but what’s expected. Sorry, that’s just how I see it. There’s no way in hell that 90 percent of black people just happen to fall in love with someone who looks nothing like them. Sorry, not buying it. I mean, when you think about it, BW in American need to stop complaining about the BM who date interracially in this country, because it’s nowhere near what black British women have to deal with.

    What is is about blacks in Britain that keeps them from forming a “black community” like you see in the U.S. and Canada as well?

    • @Kelley, **lots of e-love from me **

      You have made some really astute points. I think a lot of what this boils down to is the complete lack of unity/community/self-pride within black people.

      It does not help that the black people in the public eye do not make public statements about their pride either. I love how Beyonce in a lot of her interviews when talking of her achievements mentions that she was pleased to do well as a BLACK WOMAN.

      A singer from the UK would never say that here. Shirley Bassey is on the cover of the Guardian Weekend magazine this week and I bought it today. I have a soft spot for her. She is 72 and was one of the first black female superstars. Even in the interview, she talks about how when they were younger growing up in Wales, they simply did not talk about their blackness.

      It’s things like this that happen to black people that deeply destroy any idea of a community or link.

      Which is why living in the UK is peculiar for me. I find it so odd when black people here do not embrace their origins whether they be Caribbean or African.

      Concerning the IR situation here, it is pretty bad in terms of how there are basically no black on black couples. I can honestly say after living here for so long, I always double take when I see it because it’s like WOW, really? But when I was in Paris, it was a different league of that. There were hardly any black on black couples.

      I mentioned that to my French Guyanese friends and they told me personally how it irked them.

      • I have to ask, why would someone be ashamed to talk about their success in terms of advancement of their people? Beyonce saying she’s proud to be breaking down barriers for black women in entertainment is just expected here. It would be silly for her not to acknowledge it. Do blacks in Britain feel that in order to truly be British that they must leave behind all ethnic pride and celebration? That’s unwise if they feel that way. You’ll never get ahead if you don’t acknowledge your past and present achievements.

        As for the interracial relationships, I have to wonder, do black folks over there ever think about the notion that blackness may be a fetish by whites over there. Not saying that whites can’t be attracted to blacks. Who wouldn’t, we’re gorgeous people. But when there are so few black couples, one has to wonder if black people over there feel like they aren’t really desired or attractive unless they are with a white person.

        • I get the impression that with some black people here, blackness is this almost hindrance so losing it to an IR relationship is used by a LOT of people, though of course not all.

          What I said sounds extremely harsh but I am only looking at the situation as what I see. When you don’t want to be with a woman who looks like you or a man who looks like you, that is a concern when it is happening with virtually EVERY relationship. It must be said.

          It is one reason why I am seriously not interested in the concept of the black community here anymore. I also find the separateness between Caribbeans & Africans frustrating as we are all on the same team.

  14. Aulelia,

    That was beautifully written. You should def submit this for publication in a mag or newspaper. I bet if that piece was in a newspaper they would get hundreds or thousands of responses to it.

    You are a really talented writer.

    Brava!

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