Blackness Is Not a Monolith, But It Is a Collective Consciousness
I don’t share a history of enslavement with Black Americans — but what we do share transcends oceans and generations
“Story, story, time, time.” The echoes of my childhood reverberate in my mind, reminding me of when I would sit with my African Giant of an aunt as she retold Urhobo folklore to wide-eyed Black children in 1990s Britain. It was different from what we were used to in our south-east London classes. We sat with our legs crossed on the carpet, poised and ready to journey to story-land, but to our surprise, our beloved aunt-teacher was not reading from a book: instead, she reiterated stories passed down many generations from the connected consciousness.
Soon we were transported to a dense rainforest, where a fierce lion mimicked the voice of a child’s loving mother, in order to lure her out. “Bubẹ!” The lion would repeatedly roar the name of the female, Urhobo Macaulay left Home Alone. Who on God’s good Earth leaves their child alone in the middle of the jungle? I was appalled, to say the least. My sister is still petrified at the mention of that lion, even though she’s in her mid-twenties.
There is an unspoken privilege to my upbringing that ought to be discussed now more than ever. The privilege of knowing where one comes from, knowing one’s ancestry in depth — because Black people are not a monolith, and not all Black people were enslaved. Upon deep reflection, I cannot help but feel that the anger of those who cannot trace back their heritage is different from the rage I feel towards white supremacy. And that there appears to be a gap in the narrative of Black people, because this stereotype of the Black monolith has been internalized. Meaning that you cannot easily find the stories of Black people who reside in the U.K. not as descendants of those enslaved, but rather as a free people who looked puzzled at the primary school teacher when she pronounced, “Black people were slaves.” Being a Caribbean woman herself, I was stunned by the blasé blanket statement she made, wondering if perhaps she believed this was the best way to communicate that some Black people were cruelly enslaved, and that this was a stain on Britain’s history as opposed to Black History.
For these reasons, I offer a perspective that recognizes the silent privilege of being greatly in touch with the motherland and tribe, whilst navigating my modern day identity as Black British — African. I can no longer stand by and watch as today’s mediocre media outlets fail to take interest in what is a complex tapestry of the Black identity. More so, I will not contribute to the erasure of pain which is unique to the collective who have lived for generations with the knowledge that at some point, a member of their family body was torn away. Lived for generations having lost free access to the knowledge of their ancestry.
My people are a rainforest people. We conquered and tamed the rainforest in the presence of sharp-toothed beasts. Archaeological relics in the form of the native language, namely Urhobo, allude to the presence of ‘Ẹjẹnẹkpo’ (tigers), despite the West’s assertion that tigers never existed in Africa. We feel begrudging gratitude (influenced no doubt by western values) to the culture that allows polygamy, as because of it, there is a rich collection of characters in our lineage that we see ourselves reflected in. In tales of our industrious market women, entrepreneurial and overzealous men, warriors and soldiers, philanthropists and orators, teachers and engineers, I can find pieces of myself.
In the face of a racist, you will often catch me remarking, “Make no mistake: I know who I am, and I know where I come from!” An automatic response steeped in the privilege of living in proximity to my tribe in the U.K. diaspora. I am privileged because the racist remark that Black people should “go back home” does not hurt me; like the second home owners who showed themselves up in this pandemic, I actually have homes in Nigeria and the U.K. alike. What is meant to sting actually serves as a reminder that I have a place where I undoubtedly belong, that I have seen with my own eyes, grappled and learned from. I, unlike those who scream these profanities, am a dual citizen. I am only Black in Britain; I am African elsewhere.
Empowered by the stories of my ancestors, I Find the Brave I need to overcome the oppression of racism in the U.K. My voice is tied to our singers, the celebration of my life bound up in the feet of the dancers. And my burning rage towards white supremacy shows itself as a type of tyrant, who will not back down until his death.
Eko, Delta, Nigeria. My native hometown was anglicized to ‘Eku’ and, despite no longer having a strong missionary presence, the anglicized name has stuck. These are the kind of details of white supremacy that I find stomach churning. What is it about the English of days gone — though I have still seen the attitude alive today — that compels them to rename things, as opposed to simply taking on the challenge of learning the proper name? I dare not dabble with the conversation around students being renamed by teachers. I would not dream of critiquing the drowned ego and inability of the English to learn the tones of languages other than Deutsch (German) and Français (French). Nor will I dare speak of the absence of Cymraeg (Welsh) from the languages I could choose to study during my secondary education.
To the best of the memory of my family’s orators, we did not lose anyone to enslavement, perhaps because our region is far from the coast. Hard to believe, I am sure, for some, who have been force-fed the narrative that no one knows who was taken and who was not. I can already hear the mumbles of apprehension. White supremacy at its best. Unwilling to accept that our histories are not written, but instead are pre-destined to be remembered by those amongst us who are gifted with both wisdom and a far reaching memory into the collective consciousness. The resistance to the idea that we Black people do not live duplicated lives, but rather, might know exactly who went missing, when, and where they were later found — like the story passed down of our very own lovers who eloped. Yes, even my African ancestry has a real-life Romeo and Juliet. The forgetfulness of whiteness that would have African-Americans, Afro-Caribbeans and Afro-Latinos believe that your people in Africa do not still tell stories of how one of their beloved was stolen… (“sold I to the merchant ships…” — Bob Marley, “Redemption Song.”)
George Floyd was murdered in broad daylight, televised, and the Collective Black Consciousness writhed in anguish. That African Giant awoke from her deep slumber under the oppressive chains of institutional racism and wept. Her tears scorched the earth around her and the vibration of her devastation sent shockwaves to all who are aware that Black is a way of life; it is more than a race.
Black is the awareness that we stem from the same beginnings, as humanity, despite the fact that we might disagree about how those beginnings came to being. Black is the ability to empathize with another without squeezing your size nine feet into a size five, faux-leather, vegan-friendly shoe from Clarks. Black is the intellectual genius that creeps out from inside your walls to tell you that reposting graphic images and videos is not beneficial to the advancement of empathy, solidarity, or kindness. Black is the political stance that counters white supremacy. Black is the foresight that realizes that we must grow in political intelligence to devise a new system that does not take from one group to feed the gluttonous. Black is the management of natural resources, which may require that we simplify our ways of living or better still, make way for innovation.
Black is a noun, which demands that the first letter be capitalized, a name for the people who tap into the collective consciousness that Martin Luther King Jr. dreamt of. Black is the action that we commit to taking daily in order to tear apart the false narratives of Black Lives. And Black is the education we need to prevent the recurrence of anti-Blackness manifesting.
Though one may not be an African-American as Breonna Taylor was, it is not the color of her skin that causes one’s heart to cry out. It is the knowledge that we are all connected — if by nothing else than our very presence on this earth, at the same instance on this expanse called time. It is our deep shame that atrocities like these are committed under our noses, that these are the stories that will join the memory of humanity. The time where Black genocide was dispersed overtly and covertly amongst nations, buried within systems as a self-perpetuating mechanism and largely unrecognized for that which it is: generational genocide.
Eko, where the ant hills tower over six-foot-tall individuals, harboring ants that work in unison, an enviable trait. If we consider ourselves more than ants, then perhaps we can continue to reach out to each other, learning about the differences between us, and we too can connect to the consciousness that allows one to stream a story from their minds’ eye without the need of written texts, statistics, and two-sides-of-a-story — especially where one side clearly loses out and is harmed by the other’s brutality and gaslighting. Perhaps we can maintain hope that we will not end up in the same cycle as Bubẹ: visited again and again by the deceptive lion, who practiced his lines in her own mother’s voice — Open the door for me! — until the day he nailed the mimicry, the door swung open, and he devoured her at her doorstep.