|Anthropology, Articles, Europe, Media Archive, United Kingdom on 2014-04-21 01:35Z by Steven|
Africa is a Country
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…
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