Missed Opportunity of UN initiative prompts campaign on African identity
December 15, 2011
2011 was declared by the United Nations (UN) as the International Year For People Of African Descent. This prompted history consultant and community activist Kwaku to start ‘The African Or Black Question’, a guerilla documentary which solicits the views of a diverse group of London’s African community on the UN initiative and the preferred descriptor of their racial identity.
The documentary, filmed in the latter part of 2011, shows that the UN initiative seems to have passed by mostly un-noticed, and was a missed opportunity to put the African identity on the table for discussion. In the course of making the documentary, the aim has morphed into the TAOBQ (The African Or Black Question) campaign, which postulates that people of African heritage in Britain should be called African, or terms like African British or African Caribbean, where geo-specificity is necessary.
The film will be premiered as part of the You Are African discussion, a free event taking place at Westminster City Hall in London’s Victoria area, on Friday January 20 2012, 6-8.30pm, where attendees and special guests will discuss issues around African identity (booking via taobq.eventbrite.com).
The TAOBQ campaign provides an opportunity for us to begin to claim our African heritage by proudly describing ourselves as African, and refusing to be described by a colour, which has negative connotations, such as black market, black sheep, blackmail, and black Monday.
Black is a term that does not recognise the African identity or connection with the African continent. It was once a powerful and unifying political term, which embraced “ethnic minorities” such as Africans and Asians. However, the latter have in recent years forged a separate identity, whether or not they were born in Asia, which has led to classifications such as Black And Asian, and Black, Asian And Minority Ethnic.
Who does the ‘Black’ in these cases represent?
Whilst TAOBQ has no issues with ‘black’ in relation to an all-inclusive term for political solidarity among British ‘ethnic minorities’ or ‘black music’ describing a music genre, the campaign is advocating that people of African heritage be identified as African, instead of the meaningless ‘black’.
TAOBQ recognises that as a consequence of displacement within the Diaspora, or the nature of formal British school education, some of us may have no knowledge of our African history and do not identify with Africa.
However, it’s worth pointing out what African American historian Dr Carter Woodson, who championed the Black History Month initiative, once said: "Those who have no record of what their forebears have accomplished lose the inspiration which comes from the teaching of biography and history”*.
Hence it is incumbent upon us to study some African history outside of formal education and African/Black “History” Month. There are libraries (those that still exist) and reputable websites, with free resources to improve our knowledge of African history. BTWSC and many other community organisations provide accessible African history programmes and courses.
Although we have an association with the production of an African British role model project**, we recognise that biographies need not be just of notable Africans in order to resonate with Africans. However, there is immeasurable worth, particularly to young Africans, when the subject is of African heritage.
If the subject has an African name, then their identity is obvious. However, if the name is European and there is no related image, then one would not necessarily know that subject is African. For example, few Africans take pride and inspiration from the achievements of 19th century Chartist and workers’ rights activist William Kofi, because with his name spelt William Cuffay (Cuffy, Cuffey etc), instead of Kofi, they do not realise he was African.
For these reasons TAOBQ suggests the following recommendations:
1. People of African heritage be described as African, instead of black.
2. The opportunity for study of African history be made more accessible.
3. People of African heritage consider adopting African names in order to assert their African identity***.
You are welcome to get involved and help bring about a change in how African people are described.
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