Category Archives: Blogging

Together We Stand

Today I was moved by this image that I came across on Ms Afropolitan’s Facebook page.

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It is stunningly beautiful.  Arresting. I was so taken with this piece that I decided to check the artist out.  His name is Kehinde Wiley, a New York-Based visual artist.

His World Stage series depicts ‘urban, black and brown men’.  Here is the brief description on his Facebook page describing his work;

Kehinde Wiley creates highly realistic paintings of people of the African diaspora which reference the Western European portrait tradition.

As I looked through his work, seeing images of Black men faces from Haiti, Lagos, Dakar, Jamaica, Israel and France, I connected with his description of his work and more importantly, his subjects.  The Africanness of his subjects, no matter where they are, is what made my heart rejoice.  At this point in my journey, this is still very important to me.  Not only is it vital for me to identify with my African heritage, there is something about how that is acknowledged by others.  Kehinde’s work ( I love this name; it is the name of a character in Ghana Must Go) seems to break down the barriers between people of African descent. Through the lens of his work, we are all African, wherever we are in the diaspora.

Now, not everyone identifies in this way.  And that’s OK.  This thing of identity is multi-faceted.  And Caribbean culture is the one that is most familiar to me as this is the culture I was born into and grew up in.  Still, I find that the more time I spend with friends with African parentage, the more similarities I feel in how move through the world, our experiences of being Black British and Black Other, how we were parented, our values.  So many similarities yet still so many differences.

One of the things I want to explore in this blog is the perception of difference.  Growing up, I was always aware of was the unspoken understanding that ‘us Caribbeans’ were different from ‘those Africans’. Those Caribbean do not know who they are.  They have no true heritage. I don’t really know what us Caribbean had to say about our African brothers an sisters.  As a child,  it manifested in things like laughing at unpronounceable African names at school; grown ups turning their noses up at the smell of African food; how they dressed.  Why the laughter?  Why were these things chosen to highlight out differences?

This journey is about not about difference but about sameness.

I have not broached this topic with my friends as yet but know that is a conversation that I will have soon.  It will be a difficult one.  Because in there somewhere I do wonder whether it is true; many of us Caribbean’s do not know who we are.  That privilege was taken away from us many generations back.  This blog is proof of that in many ways.  I am envious of my friends who are firmly rooted to their heritage, with knowledge of their home, their people, their language, their ancestors.  Is there truly a snobbery about this?

In any case, those conversations will definitely be the stuff of future blogs!  Ghanaian Friend is in Ghana right now and I have asked her to guest on Musings From a Diasporan Newbie.  I think she will have something to say on this subject so watch this space!

On Sunday, I’m off to Africa Utopia at the Southbank Centre.  Some of the themes for Sunday are around Africa and the Caribbean as well as the wider diaspora.  I’m really excited and I’m sure inspiration for blogging will be everywhere.

In the meantime, I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic.  Are you of Caribbean descent and disagree with me?  Are you of African parentage and want to weigh in with your perspective? Or maybe you are neither but would like to share your thoughts.  I’m happy to explore different perspectives so feel free to comment!

Final words; check out Kehinde’s work.  It really is incredible.

 

 

 

 

 

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Fighting to Reclaim My Space

Once again, I’m in the midst of a busy week. I’m pretty sure I can start all my blogs with that sentence! I’ve been meaning to blog for days but just haven’t found the time. I’ve been prompted by an article I read yesterday which I sent to Ghanainan Friend (thanks for the blog title, btw!).  I knew it would be right up her street, being a pro-Black, pro-women no-nonsense kinda gal. She sent me a squealy email message this morning IN CAPITALS, (such was her excitement and identification with the words in the piece) saying;

“Surely this is blog material??’

So I’ll share it with you. The piece was written by Kim Foster who is the Founder and Editor of For Harriet, a on-line magazine with the tagline ‘celebrating the fullness of black womanhood’.  

Note that the italics in that sentence are directly from the tagline and not myself.

The piece is called On the Politics of Inclusion and Protecting the Sanctity of Black Women’s Spaces; already a provocative title.    I have been enjoying For Harriet.  Although it is written from the  African-American perspective, many of the articles resonate, as a woman and as a Black woman.  I love the humour that I find in some of the articles and they are frequently a discussion piece with one friend of the other.

So.  A couple of things sprang to mind when I read and reread this article.  Firstly, in starting this blog, I am in my own way fighting to reclaim my space.  A space that is sometimes unfamiliar and partially obscured due to the  history of my ancestors.  It resonated because I took a while to start this blog even though my journey started a while ago.  The reasons for the procrastination are many but probably the most significant one was the concern with how others (and by others I mean non-Black friends and colleagues) will perceive what I write and what I say.  I could say more but this extract says it all;

When we create movements, sites or spaces or choose to have these discussions, we’re pursuing a project to throw off centuries of baggage that have been heaped on our shoulders. We are reclaiming and refashioning our identities in our own terms. We have to do this work because we are living in a society that tells us we are not enough. That we should be silent and ashamed. It’s just not in our best interest of black women to pat the well-intentioned on the back and pretend like all of our issues are the same.

My interpretation is that Kim is responding to those who feel that the issues represented in For Harriet are not exclusive to Black women and therefore minimise that experience by claiming that is it universal.   And then there are those who feel that they can relate because they understand the issues, often taking a ‘seat at the table’ when one hasn’t even been offered.

Our experiences are not the same.  And whilst I welcome robust and vigorous debate, I also reserve the right to speak out on issues that are exclusive to me without having to justify or appease others.  And no matter how ‘down’ you are, please do not equate that with first-hand experience.  Not only is that offensive, it also becomes part of a system that seeks to silence or minimise more relevant voices.

So the decision I made was to write firstly and foremost for myself, as this is about my personal journey.  Along the way, I may cause offence and will cross that bridge when I come to it.

Which brings me neatly on to the other thing that sprang to mind.  The politics of inclusion are also the politics of exclusion.  And this is a tricky area.  When you are claiming exclusive rights to your experience as……(fill in the blank), what happens when YOU are the person being excluded??

Well, I think that depends of the context and the reasons for that exclusion.  And that is so much of what this is (some of which comes under the banner of intersectionality) is about context. 

More on this in my next blog.