Black & British

I wrote this poem as a companion to my poem Good Immigrant, a poem whose title comes from a book of creative nonfiction edited by Nikesh Shukla.

Black & British is inspired from a poem called A Black American  and the book and  television documentary series Black and British: A Forgotten History. 


When Columbus arrived in the Caribbean from across the sea
there were already natives there who were content and free.
And those who were bought, sold and thrown from the slave ship Zong
were brainwashed by slavers into thinking their skin colour was wrong.

Simultaneously the free Blacks without chains
mated with local tribes like the Caribs and the Arawaks
and White history. And because of this,
we’re a market of multi-coloured fruits,
so to the hoots with pure bloodlines
and according to geography and genealogy
the first Britons may well have been Black.
As we’re a people of many shades, clans and tans,
from Idris Elba to Thandie Newton to Cheddar Man.

And through migration
our characteristics changed and genetics cracked
and bits of everything seeped in
creating pick n mix nations and historical revelations.

Photographer: Jakub Kapusnak on Unsplash

I am Black and African and European
and West Indian but I don’t know who I am
I’m human and that’s my identity.
A good immigrant,
because our ancestors went from place to place,
and that’s everyone’s family tree.

Once upon a time I was called nigger
and wog and coon and coloured
my Windrush grandparents suffered this too
in a Technicolor society, in the 60s
where they walked with purpose
as Black was beautiful.

But I’m still feeling edgy about being
Black and British; and if you think
being called a Black Briton
eases my mind, you’re wrong
putting my ear to the doors of
Holdenby, Sandringham and Althorpe
to hear the sad odes of slave songs.

Photographer: Olayinka Babalola on Unsplashed

There are many Black Britons
whose parents moved
from Cameroon and Nigeria,
Haiti and Grenada,
Barbados and Jamaica,

And if you go to Africa and the West Indies
in search of your race,
you will only find another Briton
lost in a foreign place.

However, your heritage
is everywhere. Look at all the
shades of our skin. Black is not
a colour, it’s the epicentre
of the society we’re living in.

Photographer: JD Mason on Unsplash

If you choose to be called British
I won’t persist. I know I’m not
the only one struggling
with their identity,
as the land I was born in
is a historical penitentiary.

I was born British
but raised West Indian.
Who am I? I don’t know yet.
But just let me be
and I’ll figure it out,

eventually.

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