Something Old, Something New

Posted in Arts, Audio, Autobiography, Biography, History, Media Archive, Religion, Slavery, United Kingdom, United States on 2015-10-06 15:20Z by Steven

Something Old, Something New

BBC Radio 4
2015-10-06

Johny Pitts, Host

Peter Meanwell, Producer


Recorded & mixed! Finished @BBCRadio4 (Engineer Steve Hellier with Johny Pitts) Source: Peter Meanwell

From Sheffield to South Carolina, Johny Pitts explores alternative Black British identity.

What happens when your Dad’s an African-American soul star [Richie Pitts] and your Mum’s a music-loving girl from working class Sheffield? Are your roots on the terraces at a Sheffield United match, or in the stylings of a Spike Lee film? For writer and photographer Johny Pitts, whose parents met in the heyday of Northern Soul, on the dance floor of the legendary King Mojo club, how he navigates his black roots has always been an issue. Not being directly connected to the Caribbean or West African diaspora culture, all he was told at school was that his ancestors were slaves, so for BBC Radio 4, he heads off to the USA, to trace his father’s musical migration, and tell an alternative story of Black British identity.

From Pitsmore in Sheffield, to Bedford Stuyvesant in New York, and all the way down to South Carolina, where his grandmother picked cotton, Johny Pitts heads off on a journey of self-discovery. On the way he meets author Caryl Phillips, Kadija, a half sister he never knew, and historian Bernard Powers. He visits the Concorde Baptist Church in Brooklyn, New York, and the Bush River Missionary Baptist Church, in Newberry, South Carolina. He tracks down a whole host of long-lost cousins, and talks to Pulitzer winning writer Isabel Wilkerson. On the way he shines a light on the shadows of his ancestry, and finds stories and culture that deliver him to a new understanding of his own mixed race identity and history.

Listen to the story here.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

On The Cusp of Dual Identities #Dispatch: Afropean

Posted in Anthropology, Articles, Autobiography, Europe, Identity Development/Psychology, Interviews, United Kingdom on 2014-11-11 15:53Z by Steven

On The Cusp of Dual Identities #Dispatch: Afropean

Everywhere All The Time
2014-11-10

Bani Amor

Johny Pitts is a writer, photographer, and broadcast journalist interested in issues of Afro-European identity. He won a Decibel Penguin Prize for a short story included in the ‘The Map of Me’; a Penguin books anthology about mixed-race identity. He recently collaborated with author Caryl Phillips on a photographic essay for the BBC and Arts Council England dealing with London and immigration, and curates the online journal Afropean.com, for which he received the 2013 ENAR foundation (European Network Against Racism) award for a contribution to a racism free Europe. He currently hosts a youth travel show for the BBC and recently finished the first draft of a travel narrative about a five month trip through ‘Black Europe’, due to be released in 2015.

Bani Amor: Tell us about yourself. How would you describe your work and the impetus behind it?

John: Well, I hold American and British passports, I was raised between London and Sheffield, in the UK. My Father is black, my mother is white, and I was born on the cusp of Capricorn and Aquarius, so even my star sign dual! So I identify with W.E.B DuBois’ double consciousness stuff. I feel as though I kind of grew up in that liminal terrain between cultures, races and spaces, and I suppose my work is all about trying to find some kind of coherence in that liminal space. Instead of seeing myself as half-this or mixed-that, I try to solidify the cultural ground I walk on as something whole. And that is where this term ‘Afropean’ comes in.

It is a platform to engage with-and acknowledge the duality of- my influences, whilst bringing them together as something new. I didn’t create the term Afropean, so in a way I’m working off the backs of a Generation X who came of age in the 90’s. People like Neneh Cherry, Zap Mama, Stephen Simmonds, Les Nubians… artists and musicians who brought forth new aesthetics that were a mix of African and European influences. The word was being used, but it hadn’t really entered the popular lexicon, so I snapped up afropean.com and tried to create a community around that. See if there was a way for Afro-Europeans to get a sense of themselves in the same way I feel African Americans did…

Read the entire interview here.

Tags: , , ,

An Afropean Journey

Posted in Anthropology, Articles, Europe, Media Archive, United Kingdom on 2014-04-21 01:35Z by Steven

An Afropean Journey

Africa is a Country
2014-03-21

Johny Pitts

A few years ago, on a snowy January evening, a stranger mistook me for someone he had seen the previous week, aboard an evening train heading to Frankfurt. The moment lasted seconds, but our brief encounter would serve as a catalyst for what became a lifelong journey of (self-)discovery.

As a mixed race teenager growing up on a council estate in the north of England, it was the first time I contemplated a self-image tied with any sort of elegance. Who knows what this other mixed race guy with an afro was like, or why he was going to Frankfurt, or where he came from. For me it was the notion that a stranger stopped me on the street that day, because he thought it was plausible I was a black European traveller. One minute racing through the wintry German evening on a train, the next walking down a street in Sheffield. It seemed to offer a glimmer of a new, positive identity, and ever since I’ve been searching for that person on the 7.30 train to Frankfurt, within and without.

Until that moment I’d spent much of my teenage years divided, existing in the strange liminal terrain between the parochial white, working class north of England, and ghettoised African American Hip-Hop culture.

Growing up in Sheffield, England’s third largest district, I got the sense that Britain had just about come to terms with calling black people British, and a lot of the racism I witnessed was now being directed towards Asian communities. Inevitably though, I knew I was always on the fringes of British national identity. If there was an argument or a fight in the school playground, words like nigger or wog would rear their ugly heads again. I sensed that prejudice still lurked in the white British subconscious.

Things became more subtle: I was sort of English, almost British, kind of European and because of this, I started to seek out answers about my European identity in relation to my black experience. The problem was that nothing around me resonated, really. Black Britain was still largely seen as Caribbean, despite the fact that the mixed race community was the fastest growing ethnic group in the country, and African migrants began their steady rise to becoming the predominant black presence in Britain by 2011. More than that though, where I grew up it seemed the black community used the aesthetics of gangsta rap as a way of glamorising the destitution, the alienation, and the ugliness of their reality…

Read the entire article here.

Tags: ,