Black or British, should I really have to choose?
From the time I was born to the present day I have always had to contend with two cultures whether I was aware of it or not. My parents were not born in England and came to England in the 1960s as young adults – they followed the Windrush Generation an initial wave of post-war immigrants who arrived in England from the Caribbean. Before this time English natives had never seen immigration on this scale, of people who looked nothing like them and this in turn caused racial tension between the two groups of people, the Caribbean immigrants and the English natives.
The racial tension trickled down to future generations of black people and white people as described by Deborah Asamoah in Racism: The unwanted generational gift? and the conflict of culture was prominent. One of the clearest demonstrations of the growing unease was the race riots that gripped Notting Hill in 1958.
Eventually first generation Black Britons were born, people who were of both sides of the conflicting parties and I am one of those people. While racism is not as prevalent as it once was in England (thank God!), it still exists due to the trickling down effect from parent to child and so on and so fourth.
I’m half Bajan, half Grenadian and I have been to both a few times, mostly as a child. I have a vivid memory of being in Barbados seeing that everyone looked like me, but still feeling like I did not fully belong. One day, I was playing Pokemon with a child I had made friends with across the road from my aunties house, he asked me where I was born to which I replied England. He then told me about British Colonialism and that it was my people who enslaved his; I was taken back by what he said and left his house feeling bewildered. Following the revelation, at that point in my life I didn’t want to acknowledge British culture was part of who I am - I rejected it due to the racism I experienced in school and the racism I had heard about.
Being a Black Briton can be a conflict of culture as for a long time Britain rejected black culture and in response black people rejected British culture resulting in Black Britons being forced to pick one or the other when they should not have to.
Last Autumn the BBC had a season of programming under the banner of ‘Black and British’. The season of programming focused on Black British and individuals their varied experiences; it portrayed just how entrenched black people are in the fabric of British culture, even if we have not always been made to feel like it. ‘Black is the New Black’ featured a string of famous and successful Black Britons talking about their experiences as a Black Briton.
Seeing programmes further cements the what I know which is that I don’t have to choose Black or British, I can blend both and make a new very unique and diverse culture, I can be Black and British.
What is your experience of being black and British?
How do you view black culture in a predominantly white society?