You’re reading My Black History, a series of personal reflections from Black women in the UK on the meeting point of history and life lessons.
What does pride mean to you? For me, as a proudly queer woman, I think first of gay liberation and the global fight for all queer people.
But when I dig a little deeper, especially during times like Black History Month, the word brings to mind community. I would be nothing without the community that made me, shaped me, gave me wings and continues to inspire me. And that community functions for me on different levels.
Let’s take a dive. When it comes to my foundations, straight away I will always scream that I am a Londoner – more specifically an east Londoner, born in Hackney and raised in Leyton (which may be close, but aren’t the same!). My humble upbringing in this part of town is the base of my Black British identity.
Yes, Black British. There is much to be said about whether we identify as Black in Britain or Black British, and while I think this is a worthy discussion and a decision for each individual to make, I can’t deny who and what I am.
My parents are both Nigerian, my dad coming over in his late adolescence to study – what else? – history. He went to university in the same city, Leicester (with a brief stint in Nottingham) where I studied years later. Meanwhile, my mum arrived when she was 10, a decade after her parents had departed for England, leaving her with her maternal grandmother
Growing up in south-east London in the late 70s and early 80s, my mum had a unique experience. She came to the UK not speaking any English, arriving at my grandmother’s house to meet four step-siblings with whom she had no existing relationship. She attended secondary school in south London, where she lost her mother tongue – a specific language spoken in Eastern Nigeria, that I don’t even know the name of (sorry, Mum!). But unbeknownst to her, this would contribute to the strong sense of Black British identity I feel today.
Unlike many Black people in the UK, I can only speak one language – though that language is a healthy mix of the Queen’s English and colloquialisms. You will catch snatches of Jamaican patois, Nigerian pigeon, and Arabic and Somali words in my everyday vocabulary. These are the people and influences I grew up with in inner city London and, if you had a similar upbringing to me, I’m guessing you’d also have a hard time striking them out from your speech.
Fast forward to my present day and much of the work I engage with, champion, am a fan of, is Black British to its core. Take No Signal radio, for instance: Black radio, for and by us. Birthed out of lockdown, the voices, the music and the creative concepts of this station are truly black British.
The team present music, culture and creativity that blend the different parts of the diaspora that make up Black British identity. Influential Black British figures like Ian Wright and Julie Adenuga have collaborated with the team, which has also partnered with British summertime staples like Wireless festival. It’s been a beauty to bare witness to Black Brits dictating and dominating our own culture.
Black Brits are often left out of the global conversation about Blackness and Black culture, but ventures like No Signal – and many more like them – showcase just how strong and powerful our identity is. Within the community are countless individuals, tasked with navigating the perils of racism, misogyny and homophobia where they encounter them, and fighting for the visibility they deserve. But there’s more: Black women also feel like home to me.
Even before I had the terminology to adequately describe how I feel, I’ve always known them to be my tribe. In every stage of my life, I have floated to them and they to me. We have a unique understanding of each other, oftentimes feeling like “we are all we got”. We are dazzling, innovative, bring joy, and continue to show up for each other.
Knowing I wanted to do more for my tribe and the people who shaped me, I co-founded a community-based collective along with four other Black women called Black Femme Film. Over the last three, going on four, years, we’ve brought Black and mixed womxn together to enjoy each other’s company in the simplest terms.
And to have fun. Too often initiatives that focus on Black women are based on pain and trauma, or politics. We wanted to create a safe space where we could be surrounded by our own – without interruption. We’ve thrown many events, partnered with many brands, and most recently run a month-long partnership with the Picturehouse cinema chain to screen the movies that made us. Those include The Truman Show, Set It Off, Moonlight and Waiting To Exhale, but I chose Mean Girls, because, duh!
Holding space with my community and witnessing our greatness, our influence, and our infectious smiles, fills me with pride – and since events moved back from the virtual to the physical, this feeling has grown all the stronger.
I am proud of my unique community that, like every other, has its issues, but also such rich histories on this island. I’m impressed by the present and even more excited for the future of the Black British community and all its intersections. And I hope with my efforts for Black women that I can contribute, even in the tiniest sense, to our legacy.