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As a black American woman I used to romanticise about living abroad. Not anymore

By October 28, 2018 No Comments

As a black American, I was taught that black history is commemorated in February.

It has been this way since 1926 when Carter G Woodson launched Negro History Week and was solidified much later when that week was expanded into Black History Month in 1976.

Naturally, I was more than a little confused to see Black History Month trending on my Twitter feed in October. My first thought was: “Man, we’re really starting preparation for BHM early this year.”

But with time and research, I was surprised to find out that the Black History Month being addressed was not the same one I had grown up familiar with. This Black History Month was being celebrated in Britain.

I sat there in my American ignorance, shocked at the existence and the necessity of a Black History Month in the UK.

The first reason for my surprise is a source of shame. As black Americans, we tend to see ourselves as having a monopoly on the concept of blackness. We focus too heavily on the politics of origin instead of shared struggle. 

I’ve often heard black Americans negate the relevance of black individuals who hail from other nations. They struggle to grasp the complexity of the Afro-Latinx identity, and ask why Cuban singer Cecilia Cruz belongs in the February discussion. Similarly, many question why non-American black actors like Daniel Kaluuya keep playing our roles. It isn’t malicious – it’s just one of many symptoms of growing up in a society that functioned under the “one drop” rule, which determined that if you had one drop of black blood, you were considered black. However, we need to work harder to understand the wide range of cultural diversity encompassed in the black identity.

The second reason for my surprise was based on the myths and falsehoods held by black Americans in the United States. We have been taught to see other nations, notably Britain, as utopias for black bodies. We watch some of our favourite YouTube Stars discuss the normalcy of interracial relationships. We get glassy eyed as we watch black migrants celebrate traditional African culture with a European twang. Many even proudly proclaim their ancestor arrived by way of Great Britain, instead of a slave ship, as a badge of pride. 

I consider myself knowledgeable about the history of anti-black racism. That being said, I was more than aware of its global existence, but I had no idea how pervasive it was around the world.

America’s laundry has always been so openly displayed for all to see. And now, while many are laughing at us, we see ourselves as more shameful than others. But my quest to understand the need for British Black History Month removed my rose-tinted glasses of life outside the US.

I’m reminded of a recent display of racism in which an older black woman was physically threatened and harassed while on a flight from Barcelona to London. It could have easily been one of many clips from Trump’s America. But for once America wasn’t involved at all.

I could not bear to watch the video out of fear of feeling triggered and traumatised. The news is filled with way too many stories of racial harassment and my heart can’t take much more. So I read the transcript instead. In full transparency, I am not shocked that this event on the plane occurred. I am, however, disappointed at the lack of punitive action from the crew and the silence and lack of involvement from the majority of passengers.

There is racism everywhere, and too many scandals and individual incidents to count, whether it’s Israel calling for the deportation of African migrants seeking asylum from Sudan and Eritrea, referring to them as infiltrators, or the struggles faced by the Aboriginal Australians. And of course I can’t forget the reference to countries with black and Latino populations as s**tholes by my own national leader.

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My warped American understanding of race had me falsely attribute slavery as the cause or enabler of racism. In reality, it was racism across the globe that enabled slavery. Although chattel slavery is formally non-existent, we are still chained to implicit bias, overrepresentation in the criminal justice system and a range of health disparities. While American slavery dehumanised those of us with darker features, slavery in other places was equally harmful.

British Black History Month has become an inspiration to me. Not because black citizens affiliated with Britain have the idealised lifestyle I once believed. But because it reminded me that solidarity with my black brothers and sisters across the globe is essential and that there is no haven from racism. We are all bravely fighting the same battle for equality. 

From here forward, I will participate in every opportunity, regardless of national affiliation, to celebrate my blackness. Whether we acknowledge it or not, our experiences inhabiting a black body are connected. And that is something we can all benefit from understanding.

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