It might just be me, but I think the degree to which black culture is creating and shaping British culture is something not only unprecedented but very much admirable. I know there are exceptions, having lived in both France and Britain I can hands down say that the extent to which black culture has become an integrated and innate part of the British experience compared with the French counterpart, should not be undermined. To me, this phenomenon is inevitably and primarily driven by social media and the presence of so many black influencers on the TL – people of different origins and backgrounds. I don’t know about you, but I can’t think Black-British social media without thinking of this infamous debate – “Ghanaian Jollof or Nigerian Jollof?”. So, you know what? Let’s talk about that.
The prevalence of debates like these on social media lets other people know that we are not just “black”, much like someone isn’t just “white” or “Asian”. I think a very important part of our progression is distancing ourselves away from this idea that we are a homogenous group, because let’s face it: we’re not. Let’s acknowledge the fact that we have subcultures; different languages, foods, customs and traditions – ‘Black culture’ is a synthesis of all these things. Through this we’re also downplaying the various stereotypes associated, whether consciously or subconsciously, with the black community in the UK.
So often we’re seen as a mass of people who think the same and act the same. This makes it easier to box us up, categories us and move on. It’s actually just a breeding ground for stereotypes when you think about it. And as much as we try to combat against these stereotypical ideologies, you just can’t blame someone who isn’t educated on the matter. So I maintain my point that we need to continue our efforts in finding new ways to showcase our versatility and diversity, and personally that’s something that I’m very proud of. Everyone give yourselves a pat on the back!
I must admit that there’s still something that bothers me about revealing ourselves as a heterogeneous group, hear me out. To me, there’s a very thin line between showcasing our differences and using them as a basis for separation, and I think we often fail to realise this. Almost counterintuitively, it seems to me that we sometimes (unknowingly) culture a sentiment of separation and isolation within our own community, especially on the TL. For example, this Jollof argument may have started off as a culinary debate but it arguably became some sort of conflict of identities between two demographics of the Black-British community. Very quickly it became less of a “rice” thing and more of a “Nigeria versus Ghana” thing.
I have another example! The whole “plantain or plantin” argument. At this stage you’re probably wondering why I keep relating everything to food, but bear with me on this one. I grew up in what I like to call ‘the BBM era’. The “PING!!!”, “BC me pls” and change your DP to a black screen when you’re #NITM era. And back then, there was this unspoken battle between Africans and Caribbeans. The “Plant-ain or Plantin” argument is based on the fact that West Indian people tend to say “plantin” and Africans tend to say “plantain”. Very quickly, it became an “Aff vs Yardie” thing, and to me it was as if two cultural identification points seemed to be used as “tools” in some sort of “proxy war”, and fuelled by cultural stereotypes we found ourselves forming a gap WITHIN our own black community. You get me?
So back to the point. I believe we need to take greater care when showcasing our differences, if we don’t want to start growing a stigma that we work so hard to destroy. And honestly I’m not trying to be a buzzkill because I live for TL banter just as much as the next person, but sometimes I think it’s necessary to take a step back and look at the wider picture – what message are we sending out to people whose first exposure to the Black-British community is through social media? How are we representing ourselves and our values? Are we feeding into these pre-determined stereotypes that already exist?
I don’t know though, I might just be looking at it from a completely different angle. I’d love to hear your opinion!