A brief foreword: the following was delivered at Glasgow Caledonian University on the 25th October, 2016, as part of Black History Month. The subject was Race, History and Brexit: Exploring the politics of erasure and documenting the experiences of Black and minority ethnic communities in Scotland post Brexit.
I was proud to speak alongside Dr Ima Jackson and Dr Akwugo Emejulu – both due to their scholarship, and because it was the first time in my career I had sat on a panel composed entirely of Black women.
I am Black. I am Scottish. To some, it’s obvious that the two are not mutually exclusive. To others, Black Scottish identity is a contradiction in terms: either you’re of this place, Scottish and therefore white, or Other, Black. Rest assured, the two fit together – admittedly there are tensions, but those mostly arise from the expectations of other people (read: white people) rather than any aspect of what it actually is to be Black and Scottish. The plurality of Black identity often gets lost in how this discussion is approached, because constructions of national identity are so often treated as binary and static.
“Where are you from, originally?” Five words that plague people of colour across Britain. It’s essentially code for “if you’re here, then why aren’t you white?” When I was a child that question left me feeling sick, scared. I dreaded it, and have developed something of a sixth sense for when it’s coming. What caused me discomfort was that it positioned me as Other, and was often asked because white people couldn’t wrap their heads around the idea of a Black child belonging in an otherwise white family. Now, having grown up and inhabited this world as a Black woman for 24 years, I have a much thicker skin when it comes to micro-aggressions. But people still ask it. Random strangers still feel entitled to ask that, completely out of the blue, their curiosity outweighing basic courtesy. Read more Race, History, and Brexit: Black Scottish Identity by @ClaireShrugged
The recent image out of France that show policemen surrounding a woman who is removing her veil have struck many people because of how overtly Islamophobic they are. France – a country that constructs itself as being open and secular – recently imposed a fine on women who wear a ‘burqini’ at the beach. This announcement was controversial, and seeing images of this fine in action is bringing even more attention to the new rule. …
“For in the last resort, the only important question is, Do you want the British Empire to hold together or do you want it to disintegrate? And at the bottom of his heart no Englishman does want it to disintegrate. For, apart from any other consideration, the high standard of life we enjoy in England depends upon our keeping a tight hold on the Empire, particularly the tropical portions of it such as India and Africa. Under the capitalist system, in order that England may live in comparative comfort, a hundred million Indians must live on the verge of starvation – an evil state of affairs, but you acquiesce in it every time you step into a taxi or eat a plate of strawberries and cream. The alternative is to throw the Empire overboard and reduce England to a cold and unimportant little island where we should all have to work very hard and live mainly on herrings and potatoes.”
–George Orwell, The Road to Wigan Pier (1937, p 159)
Today I am officially launching a new campaign – British Empire State of Mind – to challenge Britain’s continuing colonial mentality, which I believe is the cause of increasing international inequality and xenophobia and racism in the UK. I hope you will join me in getting involved, taking part, or simply supporting the campaign.
“Obenjomade, clean out your ears: THE WHITE MAN IS STILL HERE. Even when he leaves, he is not gone.”
“Obenjomade, cup your endearingly large ears: EVERYONE ALL OVER THE WORLD KNOWS EVERYTHING THERE IS TO KNOW ABOUT THE WHITE MAN. That’s the essential meaning of television. BUT THEY KNOW NEXT TO NOTHING ABOUT THEMSELVES.”
“If you tear out the tongue of another, you have a tongue in your hand for the rest of your life. You are responsible, therefore, for all that person might have said.”
Sigh. The air has turned colder in the UK, it’s almost acceptable to bring up Christmas and three African countries are suffering from an (admittedly devastating) outbreak of the Ebola virus. We know what this means… it’s also about time for Sir Bob to come to the rescue, saving the African continent yet again with another excruciating rehash of the paternalistic, patronising and painful festive Band Aid classic “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” thirty years after the original.
Initially, one might ask why Geldof think’s it’s necessary to release this song when there is already a (admittedly French-produced) version “Africa Stop Ebola” with West African artists Guinean Kandia Kora, Mory Kante, Marcus and Sia Tolno, Ivorian Tiken Jah Fakoly, Malian Amadou & Mariam, Oumou Sangaré, Mokobe and Salif Keita, Congolese Barbara Kanam and Senegalese Didier Awadi (what a line up!).
The intentions are good, but the song is damaging, patronising and perpetuates the difficult-to-shift impression across much of the mainstream media and public perception in the UK (and much of the ‘West’) that Africans are helpless and are waiting to be saved. This is despite the fact that Liberians, Guineans and Sierra Leoneans are helping themselves to combat Ebola, and Nigeria and Mali have successfully contained and eradicated cases of the disease.
80% of the British public strongly associate the developing world with doom-laden images of famine, disaster and Western aid. Sixteen years on from Live Aid, these images are still top of mind and maintain a powerful grip on the British psyche.
This false understanding of the African continent has a huge impact on all who live and work and were born there. It defines roles such as ‘powerful giver’ and ‘grateful receiver’ and leads people living in the West to assume that everyone must want and need to embrace our democracy, culture and political models; beliefs that are then reflected in the global political, economic and social system and in relationships between countries and between citizens.
Here’s my take on why it’s time for Geldof to hang up his sword and cape, climb down from his white horse and ‘hand Africa back’ to those who live there:
It’s Christmastime; there’s no need to be afraid (Although it’s perfectly acceptable to stockpile Ebola Survival Kits, ban flights from the whole continent of Africa, and talk about Ebola as if the only reason we should be concerned is that it might actually leave the continent) At Christmastime, we let in light and we banish shade (Shade? Phew, that’s something they could do with in Africa surely? It’s SO HOT THERE ALL OF THE TIME) And in our world of plenty we can spread a smile of joy (Or how about some good old fashioned equality in the distribution of wealth and resources?)
Throw your arms around the world at Christmastime (But not too tightly, you might catch something) But say a prayer to pray for the other ones (Yes the OTHER ones) At Christmastime It’s hard, but when you’re having fun There’s a world outside your window And it’s a world of dread and fear (Did you know: they don’t have fun in Africa; only dread and fear)
Where the only water flowing is the bitter sting of tears (And tears are the source of the Niger, Nile, Congo, Zambezi, Orange…) And the Christmas bells that ring there Are the clanging chimes of doom (If only they had festive music like this) Well tonight thank God it’s them instead of you (REALLY?!)
And there won’t be snow in Africa this Christmastime (But there might… )