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Bun Babylon | Debrief #2

My thoughts after engaging with various BBC texts: 1 Xtra Talks presents Brave Conversations: The Black Experience (podcast); BBC Four's The Last Pirates: Britain's Rebel DJs (documentary); and BBC Four's Whoever Heard of a Black Artist? Britain's Hidden Art History (documentary).


Exploring the depth of the 'Black experience' in Britain is one of those things. It's necessary and important, but Black artists don't want to be called "Black Artists" anymore. Black Artists don't want their topics and subject matters to be assumed of them. They don't want every piece they produce to be tarred with the theme of 'identity', something that should probably be considered a neologism when talking about art. For me, I deeply desire Afrofuturist perspectives. I want to see Black joy and complexity, even though I appear to be unable to produce such work myself. And for a long time, I didn't know why.


What the hell does it mean to be Black and British? This is a question that has been asked countless times, yet the answer feels just as elusive as always. Rianna Jade Parker made a point on Richie Brave's podcast: we cannot begin to talk about a Black British identity until we are at least a few generations deep. We cannot begin to talk about a Black British identity until we are able to separate it from the countries of our grandparents. We cannot begin to talk about a Black British identity until we demonstrate a collective awareness of the history of Black people in Britain. Until then, we're asking a question that makes very little sense.


I can understand the desire to belong. I can understand wanting to be able to define one's self. But it's one thing to reclaim Blackness - invented to stand as the opposite of 'whiteness' or 'normalcy' - and express pride in ourselves despite only having a history of oppression in common. But if all of this is what it is to be Black, then how can we also be British?


That's the gag. It's a contradiction. Black Brits were probably never supposed to exist in the British imagination, and it shows. Our existence in the nucleus of empire means we cannot look at the good without contextualising it with the bad and the ugly first. What the hell is Black Britishness? Is it the Cheddar Man? The workers from the Caribbean who arrived in the 20th Century? Black Tudors and Victorians? The Black Church? The strong West African culture seen in British dramas and comedies? Can we even all agree that Black Britishness isn't a synonym for 'non-white' Britishness?


Surely this is what should take precedent over desperately integrating one's self into a burning house? We as a coalition of Black Communities must come face to face with what British nationalism is and stands for. If we then still decide we want to be called 'British', we'll cross that bridge when we get to it.

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© 2020 by Jaz Morrison