This past week I was fortunate enough to be invited to be a part of BBC 1Xtra’s Black and British debate. (https://www.facebook.com/bbc1xtra/ if you want to relive it!) I was humbled to be among so many young, driven and talented young Black Britons. As much as we are disparaged, we black “millennials” are real trailblazers!
One theme that was prevalent throughout the debate was the uniqueness of our identity. Many of our parents who came here as first generation immigrants never got the chance to claim “Britishness” in the same way we can. Due to simply not being born here, as well as the overt violent racism many of them had to endure, being “British” was never really an option. Now don’t lose me here, racism is still very much alive and well. This is not about to be some liberal airy-fairy rant about how we live in a “post-racial” society and that we should just “get over it”, however it is far more covert and insidious now as it was in our parents’ generation.
For many of us, we are the first generation in our families to be born and brought up here. As such we have had to carve out a unique identity and culture for ourselves. In no way have we forsaken the traditions and cultures of our mother countries, if you look at our music, the way we behave and socialise, you will see that we are still deeply rooted in African and Caribbean ways of thinking. But we are still British. We have massaged the ways of our homelands into a contemporary British context.
I really despise this idea that Britishness lies in complete opposition to blackness or multiculturalism more broadly. Being outspokenly pro-black and proud does not contradiction to being British. I am very aware that my British identify does not mean that the majority of this country are my kin. My Britishness does not mean fish and chips on a Friday and standing up to attention every time I hear “God Save The Queen”. My Britishness has been created and maintained by my own and previous generations. In many ways Black British culture as I live it is the complete reverse of the more traditional facets of the British identity. My Britishness is not patriotism, but it is still British.
Black British history does not start after the Windrush docked in a Southampton port. There is over a thousand years of history of people of African descent living and contributing to this country. (As exemplified by David Olusoga’s documentary: Black Britain, A forgotten history”) Black people have been instrumental in shaping British culture, values and ideas, and this is NOT something new. As such we have a stake here. We have a right to claim this place as our home because to even have a vague understanding of what it is to be British, you need to understand the contribution of people of African descent to this land. Britishness and whiteness are by no means synonymous. As I said during the 1xtra debate; multiculturalism is not the antithesis of Britishness, but rather it lies at its very core.