I, along with most Black British people, was absolutely glued to my television set on Wednesday night. The BBC surprised us and gave us not one but TWO programmes focusing on the Black British experience. Bonkers, I know. As a self-confessed history nerd, David Olusoga’s Black British: A forgotten history, was so exciting for me. However, I am acutely aware that not everyone will be willing to read what could very possibly be a dissertation length review on everything I loved about the documentary.
Instead this piece will focus on what followed Olusoga’s doc, #BlackIsTheNewBlack. This show featured a number of influential Black Briton’s from all paths of life. From the legend that is Sir Trevor McDonald to young entrepreneur Jamal Edwards. The show didn’t have a detailed focus, but it didn’t need one and I think the show’s producers knew that. It was so fulfilling to have a half hour filled with the stories of successful Black Brits just telling their story. I overcome with joy to see a programme about the black british experience that didn’t focus completely on gang crime or feature a rundown council estate. It was even more refreshing that a programme centred on black folk wasn’t solely dedicated to our experience of racism. I am no TV expert but I cannot remember a time when black people were on prime time TV not talking about racism, no mention of slavery, nothing to do with civil rights, but instead were their unapologetic successful black selves.
After the show I tweeted this:
Nah représentation really does matter. I am so filled with joy right now. Do white people feel like this all the time? #Blackisthenewblack
— SCmjb_93 🇻🇨🇨🇲 (@MallyMukete) November 9, 2016
I really did feel this. Due to being surrounded by media 24/7, it’s easy to forget what a huge impact it has on our psyche. Given the joy I felt after sitting in front of my television for an hour and a half, just being fed information about the monumental contributions people of African descent have made to this country, I did genuinely consider if white people felt this joy constantly. Of course I dismissed this thought quickly. Why would they feel joy? They see it all the time. Whiteness is granted neutrality and as such caucasian’s don’t need to feel overjoyed at seeing pictures of the first moon landing, or learning about the contributions the Greeks made to modern civilisation. Similarly, they don’t need to despair at seeing pictures of white criminals or perpetrators of atrocities from the past. White people are allowed to feel individual, a privilege BME people are not granted.
This is why representation really does matter, and having “black faces in high places” may not come close to solving any of the systemic issues BME people face in this country, but the symbolism is certainly powerful. For racialized people to be able to identify with people in public life who positively reflect their community is so important. As strange as it may sound, I don’t want to have to feel overjoyed as I did on Wednesday night, I want myself and generations to come to be able to consume that kind of content on a regular basis. Of course this has some problematic implications for how much we can expect from our celebrities, and how limiting it can be to hold them to a completely different moral standing, but let’s just enjoy this moment first eh?