This article was commissioned for Issue 04 of Akin Magazine. To see the full printed magazine please click here.
The term ‘Black experience’ makes me cringe. It is bold to assume that Black people have a homogenous experience. From the Black people across the entire world, we may share a colour but we are not the same. Within the colours we share, we share different experiences. Take me as an example. I am an Irish born Nigerian and I come from the Yoruba ethnic group and I wear the hijab. When I moved to London, I was teased for my Irish accent because some Black Londoners failed to fathom the existence of Black Irish people. Moving to university heightened this to another level, seeing Black Londoners attempting and blissfully failing to have this monopoly on Blackness. Interviewing my friends, Kevin (British-Ghanaian), Lafia (British-French national of Malian descent), Téja (British-Jamaican) and Zahra (British-Nigerian, living in Austria) — allowed me to delve into their experiences and understand what the term ‘Black experience’ means to them.
Speaking to Kevin, we came to this consensus that when Black Londoners attempt to police one’s Blackness — it is simply an ‘extension of London culture which is stuck up and untrustworthy’. Within the Black Londoner community, it is extremely common for Black Londoners to go to cities such as Birmingham or Manchester for university. Black people have a huge presence in London but Birmingham has the highest number of Black Caribbeans in the UK but their Blackness remains questioned by Black Londoners. Yet, when embarking on this university journey and meeting Black people from those areas — they attempt to police them. Why is that? When you shift from another culture and immerse yourself in another person’s culture, surely you should be aware of the differences, especially as Londoners claim to be the most diverse and accepting but if a Black person from Sheffield isn’t like you — all of a sudden, they are ‘weird’. This is why a Black experience or Black culture cannot exist because we are not a monolith. For example, Zahra’s experience of living in Vienna and attending a small international school differs from the assumed experience of being Black in London due to cultural differences.
When speaking with Téja, I identified that for her, the Black experience differs across cultures. Optimistically, Téja told me that as Black people, we share this sense of community and respect in relation to our elders. For example, as Black people in almost all cultures, we don’t call elders by their first name at all — it is either ‘Aunty X’ or ‘Ma’am’ within the Black Southern cultures in the US, just out of respect. Téja also mentioned that we know that Black people do suffer from oppression across the globe, but this is manifested in different ways because of colonialism and slavery. Overall, Black people do experience struggle but struggle is not the only experience. Many Black Brits, as diaspora children, deal with culture differently. Some may deal with cultural pressures such as getting married, conflicted with the Western way of seeking a career and being a dreamer. However, this is not universal for Black Brits.
Within Black British history, farming has unfortunately been overlooked and has obviously influenced the lives of Africans, impacted by the practice. In the 1970s-1980s, many African babies and children were informally fostered to white working class families across Britain. According to BuzzFeed, this was due to the growing presence of African student families temporarily taking residence at British universities. I cannot imagine how these people felt but it is their experience and their stories deserve to be told, reiterating that as Black people we don’t all experience the same things. For example, racism in the early 70s and 80s compared to now is not the same. This is why it is nonsensical to assume all Black people share the same experience on the basis of skin colour, as these farmed kids were not entirely raised in Black households.
Speaking to Lafia allowed me to uncover the differences in being a Black Muslim in France. We know colonialism has severely impacted the world and as Mali was colonised by France, the majority of the Malian diaspora reside in France. As Muslims in the UK, we know that Asians are the majority and Black Muslims make up 10% of our British Muslim population. Hearing the name ‘Mohamed’ tends to be attributed to being Asian, which excludes the fact that Black Muslims are present in the UK. However, in France because of its colonialist roots, West Africans and Arabs are the minority ethnicities and are more likely to be Muslim compared to the UK. The name ‘Mohamed’ could easily be attributed to a Black man or an Arab man. The dynamics within Blackness differ cross-culturally and being Black and Muslim is far more acknowledged in France than the UK. Moreover, Lafia is interested in Korean entertainment from loving BTS and Korean dramas such as ‘Suspicious Partner’ and noted that liking other forms of entertainment does not invalidate her Blackness, you can have other interests outside of the ‘norm’ of being Black.
Likewise, Kevin mentioned that liking the odd Kpop song or things outside the ‘norm’ is an addition to one’s personality and it is Black — ‘everything you do will be Black by virtue of you being Black’ and prompts us to question who places these narratives of Blackness on us, whether it is the media or our own individual Black communities. We know that Black boys and Black men are more likely to be stopped and searched at disproportionate rates, which is infuriating, but to deem as a universal experience would be flawed. Kevin has never been stopped and searched but that does not take away from his Blackness, nor does it undermine the experiences of Black boys and Black men who have been stopped and searched — this is just his personal experience.
It is easy to say a Black experience does not exist but Zahra notes that there are similarities. For example, being Black in the West, there are obstacles we face being minorities because of racism. Unpacking this, Zahra noted that discrimination intensifies based on your intersections — take France’s policies on the hijab and how this impacts Black Muslim women who observe the hijab. Therefore, a Black experience will always differ wherever you live whether it is the Parisian banlieues or affluent Kensington. Perhaps, the reason for this assumed collective experience is because of African Americans and their subcultures but still is rooted in American exceptionalism. Zahra and I came to a consensus on our dislike for assuming homogeneity amongst the entire race, which is degrading and strips us of personal autonomy. In contrast, Asian people come from countries like Korea, Bangladesh and Uzbekistan but would not be classified under having an ‘Asian experience’. In Black majority countries, the dynamics are different because class, ethnocracy and colourism are the main issues. Therefore, generalising Blackness is different because in Black majority countries, you are just a person. So, why attempt to unify all Black people under one assumed experience, reducing us to one category?
As a whole, we come from beautiful and rich cultures whether it is the vibrancy of the Yoruba culture, the Jamaican culture or the Garifuna culture — we are not homogenous people and our experiences make up our individual Black experience, by virtue of our differences but does not nullify our similarities.