Black British Voices Project: ‘Being black and British is an abundance of joy’ | Race

A major national survey, launched by Cambridge University, I-Cubed Ltd and the Voice Newspaper, will explore the evolution of black British identity, from the generations who lived through the 1970s and 1980s to the students leading the Black Lives Matter movement today.

At the launch of the Black British Voices Project, the Guardian asked three people, from different generations, what it means to them to be black British.

Rhammel Afflick

Writer and political activist, 27

Rhammel Afflick.
Rhammel Afflick. Photograph: Handout

For me being black and British is an abundance of joy, resilience and creativity all under one roof. I think of the fusion of great Caribbean staples with British dishes. I think about the immeasurable contributions to society and culture. It’s really hard to describe. I think it’s interesting that irrespective of being of Caribbean descent, or more of African descent, there’s something celebratory about coming together.

There’s something joyous that in spite of people’s experiences in Britain, people still find that joy, and there’s something in that that’s about resilience and a bounce-back that feels unrivalled, though obviously that’s in my own experience.

I am third generation. I’ve only been to Jamaica, which is where both sides of my family are from, twice in my entire life. But my life is definitely fused by the experiences of my parents and my grandparents. I wouldn’t necessarily say I describe myself as black British as a predominant go-to. Describing myself as black British is dependent on where you are and who you are talking to.

I definitely would say our generation is a bit more comfortable with identifying specifically as black British. But at the same time, it can feel like an oxymoron. Look at David Lammy and the experience that he had more recently, talking about his Britishness.

Sophie Kabangu

Student and Black Lives Matter organiser, 21

Sophie Kabangu.
Sophie Kabangu. Photograph: Sophie Kabangu

I think being black British feels something different to everyone. For a very long time, people would say to me you’re not like a black girl. I always felt like there was one way to be black and British. And it was based on stereotypes. People are constantly trying to invalidate my experience as a black person, and it’s just really confusing because both my parents and my grandparents were black. What do you want me to be?

I live in Essex and I didn’t feel black enough and since I did the Black Lives Matter movement, people around me see me differently. Before, I felt like I was just Sophie. But now I am BLM Sophie.

I obviously identify as black British, but I’m also Tanzanian and that’s such a big part of my identity. I feel like a lot of black people, they don’t call themselves British. Some people identify black British as more of a negative than a positive, as like erasing who you really are. But I don’t feel like that’s the case. People always want me to be something else other than black British but I was born in England and been here my whole life. While I identify as being Tanzanian, I’m very much so black British from the way I speak to the food I eat.

Ros Griffiths

Community organiser, 55

Ros Griffiths.
Ros Griffiths. Photograph: Graeme Robertson/The Guardian

I’m proud to be black, first and foremost. Black is beautiful. Being British and being black means it comes with a history. So it’s not just black by colour, it’s about the culture that I am associated with. If it’s the Caribbean, which is my immediate experience, then the continent of Africa.

I am who I am because of my parents, and my parents’ parents. It comes with a rich history. Marcus Garvey said you got to know your history to know who you are. It’s like having a tree without a root, it’s not a tree. So I have roots and it’s important, to understand who you are in today’s society, you have to go back into your history, because I’m a member of the community.

As for British, it can be broken down into place – being in Britain. That’s very much about the locality, and what has influenced me to what to add to who I am. I identify as being British because I was raised in a British school system and I’ve worked in a British system.

Identity cannot be explained in one single word. If somebody asks who I am, we’re gonna have a long conversation about that because I can’t discount my Caribbean side, I can’t discount my origin. When they brought out the census, I asked my mum what I should tick under ethnicity and she said black Caribbean. My son asked me the same question and I said tick black Caribbean because I want him to recognise his Caribbean roots.

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