This is why we centre Black people
Growing up, I found it difficult to understand why Blackness was considered to be some sort of cultural monolith. The experience of an African immigrant to the UK, being different from those of a 3rd generation Black British person, similarly the African immigrant to the US, being different from those of a 3rd generation Black American person. It seemed odd that the Black American experience should stand as a cultural proxy for all things Black, yet it does. That’s because, despite the nuances between the geographical and cultural experiences of Blackness globally, there are many more similarities that exist between us. I’m referring to the oppression; the subjugation, manipulation, corruption and exploitation of Black communities, bodies, futures and minds.
The common denominator of the Black experience around the world is efficiently described in the Langston Hughes poem, “I, too”. The poem is set in the realities of the Southern slave plantations whose masters were known to habitually rape their slaves resulting in mixed-race children. The children were afforded certain privileges while continuing to be significantly deprived of any of the rights associated with being an heir of the master’s household. In the poem, Hughes meekly argues for equal treatment between the subject of the poem, “the darker brother” and his siblings, completely unexpectant of a positive resolution despite his protests.
Throughout history, there have been moments that can be said to have been inflexion points in race relations. These moments shock our core beliefs as a society and force each of us to redefine who we are and who we want to be. The recent killings of Ahmaud Aubrey, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd in America, are such moments. Like Martin Luther King Jr’s “I Have a Dream” speech and his subsequent assassination, the election of Barack Obama and the subsequent election of Donald Trump, we are faced with a series of momentous occurrences that have sent shockwaves through global and local communities forcing each individual to come to terms with the society in which they exist, and perhaps for some, for the first time truly question the values, and belief systems their position in that society depends on.
We are living through unprecedented times in which the gruesome death of a person can be shared with billions of people around the world. The disgusting, tyrannical and violent behaviour that led to the deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Aubrey and Breonna Taylor have ignited a level of empathy across the world Black people do not usually receive. These are not the first deaths, these are not the first people that have been reduced to the incident in which they died. There have been a lot of hashtags and every time one of them trends, we instinctively consider the hundreds or thousands that didn’t. These unprecedented times have rightly re-ignited conversations concerning proper and effective allyship. However, allyship needs to extend beyond the marching of the masses into seats of power. Until people in power can effectively display their allyship with minority groups, beyond thoughts, prayers and condolences, all efforts to work within the framework that is provided to us by those people will fail to bring transformative change to nations and the globe.
I often think about the murder of 14-year-old Mississippi boy, Emmett Till, who was lynched by an angry mob in 1955 because he was accused of touching a white woman. Emmett was innocent. 1955 wasn’t a long time ago. My mum was born in 1955. 8 years later, Martin Luther King Jr, gave his defining speech and was assassinated in 1969. The 60s saw many African countries gaining independence from their colonisers, the final country gaining independence in 1993. In the 70s, while other American racial groups were feeling “groovy baby”, Black Americans were fighting and dying for the rights to be seen, heard and valued as members of society. The end of South Africa’s Apartheid only began in 1994, before that, Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 27 years. In 2017, we were reminded that Africans are still being sold into slavery around the world. Black people are currently experiencing extremely harsh discrimination in China, with many of them being forcibly evicted from their homes amid the COVID-19 crisis. Only a few weeks ago, I wrote about the systemic discrimination that significantly reduces opportunities for Black people in the UK to live healthy and satisfying lives. On every front, we are being collectively oppressed. For as long as this history has played out, our society has applauded the verbalisation of allyship without reaping the rewards of action associated with it. Beyond allyship, we need Black activists, entrepreneurs and leaders; Black people who will utilise their resources, access, tools, creativity, skills and lived experiences to fight off the oppression, and succeed through the trials and tribulations so that they can usher other Black people safely to the other side.
Like the main character in the Langston Hughes poem, some individuals and innovators seek to redress the balance and aim to create a world in which the detrimental outcomes of racism no longer exist. Unlike the main character, our meekness has been replaced by righteous fury and passion for the development and empowerment of Black people globally. Until now, we have lived in a world in which the people with the power to change things have been complicit in the continued subjugation of our community by refusing to take opportunities to establish programs that will lead to transformative change and equality in our society. The people that are most in need of key solutions to aid social mobility should be the ones designing, and delivering them. However, with so few Black people being able to access the information, tools and resources needed to create authentic solutions to lived experiences, our future will continue to be held ransom by people who do not have a vested interest in our power and equality.
Bayo Adelaja | Chief Do-er at Do it Now Now | This is how I got here