by Emmanuel Agu
Let’s face it, the history we are exposed to in this state is white-oriented, Eurocentric and frequently glamourizes the power and history of Britain’s Imperialism. School curriculum’s explain theorems, recount stories and literature of white heroes, white professors and white creatives. Our history museums and art establishments are filled to the brim of treasures looted from Africa and Asia that continue to remain in our state for claims of ‘greater accessibility’ for the rest of the world– Infact even within the castle of our Monarch sits the remains of buried princes forcibly taken from their homes. In the supremacist society we live in- white history is celebrated and panegyrized daily, don’t be so ignorant as to ask for your time of remembrance when society does not exclude you.
Black history month exists in defiance of the structures that chose to exclude those that supremacy excludes- but one must, ask what does it mean to be black?
As previously discussed on the Radical– it is commonly agreed that race almost entirely socially constructed. The identity of white and black are arbitrary terms that only bear negative and positive connotations through the hierarchical ‘powers that be’ that have attributed desirability to the identity of white. The insidious effects of a colonial legacy are the reason however why we must look at these terms as more than just words and boxes to tick on a registration form; semantics are important- language is powerful.
Identifying as black is powerful on so many levels; with two main distinctions. Firstly for those of us who are darker skinned and descended from African, Asian, Native American, (I could go on) diasporas and settlements the identity of black stands in full indignation and defiance against the ‘white’ normative standards of excellence that reign supreme in British society (and arguably the same power dynamics occur in Arab society as well ), those ideals that have also permeated our native cultural societies through colonialism; look at the prevalence of skin bleaching in past colonial settlements to further illustrate this. The mere existence of successful, beautiful and intelligent individuals of those who identify as black stands in defiance against supremacy. Likewise, representative media and art forms that depict us in our true and varied forms only serve to reaffirm our self worth.
In theory, all those who do not identify as these aforementioned characteristics have the right to identify as “politically black” but practice throughout history has not shown it to be that simple.
Secondly identifying as ‘politically black’ is commonly adopted by many minority ethnicities in this country, and serves to demonstrate a unified front in defiance of shared discrimination many members of society face just because the deviate from the ‘perfect status’ of cis-gendered, white, heterosexual and ‘able bodied’/’minded’ individuals (and arguably within this state – those whose faith lies in Christianity). In theory, all those who do not identify as these aforementioned characteristics have the right to identify as “politically black” but practice throughout history has not shown it to be that simple. As illustrated through many liberation movements through the past century it seems that time and time again the voices of darker skinned individuals are silenced- and the rights of the white, cis-gendered, and able bodied, seem to penetrate mainstream discussion before all others.
Today, racism and fetishism is still rife within the LGBT+ dating community though the pride movement was founded in solidarity with and supported by many of those who campaigned for the equal rights of black people (e.g. Angela Davis, Huey Watson). Serena Williams dominates tennis, yet faces discrimination unparalleled to her white contemporaries, and minority ethnicities face internal debates of racism and colourism within their respective communities and ethnic tribes, within this country and home settlements.
With all of this considered it is clear to understand why many ‘ethnic’ identifying black people may take offence (myself included), to the term of politically black to encompass all those who are less privileged and feel resentment at being lumped together under the one banner of Black and Minority Ethnicities. Hence the need for terms coined like “misogynoir” and the need for black feminist movements and black pride. The danger however of splitting oppression and liberation movements results in the risk of creating a hierarchy within marginalized people and placing certain oppressions as more severe than one another (i.e. those disturbing ‘check your privilege’ bingo cards floating around on Tumblr blogs). Of course it is clear that certain liberation movements are further along in reaching legislative action to protect them from Discrimination, – but oppression should not be looked at through the eyes of relativity – attempting to quantize oppression, but rather regarding all oppression as absolute.
depict us as what we know ourselves to be- multidimensional, adroit characters, each unique and varied in our own ways.
In this coming month let’s take the time to learn about blackness in all of its forms. Let’s especially to take this time to celebrate black culture, people and history through multiple media outlets; engage in past and ongoing historical research and enjoy a varied amount of vibrant literature- that do not just document black people through endless stories of depravity, oppressions or as a token punch line; but instead depict us as what we know ourselves to be- multidimensional, adroit characters, each unique and varied in our own ways.
And as we look back to personal heroes for inspiration to inspire us in our continued fight, take time to remember them for ALL that they are, including those facets of their characters often erased through the preservation/propagation of white acceptability and respectability politics, paying special attention to Dr. Maya Angelou’s history as a sex worker, and similarly Malcolm X’s frequently forgotten history in sex work and his bisexuality.