Black History: Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop

February 24, 2023

Nobody can teach me who I am. You can describe parts of me, but who I am – and what I need – is something I have to find out myself. – Chinua Achebe

In July 2022, Da Bagel Spot in Shoreditch advertised a new bagel consisting of jerk chicken, Mac and Cheese and Jollof Rice. One particular comment described it as the diaspora in a bagel. In 2016, Solange released A Seat At The Table. It was described as a love letter, a manifesto, a celebration to and of Blackness, Houston, joy, womanhood and many more. ASATT is not one thing. It is careful amalgamation of the multiplicities of Black identities carved into a small space of 51 minutes. The bagel is Blackness as commodity, a poor mish mash of Black idenities. ASATT is an honoring of Blackness more indicative of Solange’s experiences. Black identities across the world are varied in their interpretations of what it means to be Black and celebrating their Blackness. This is rooted in cultural expression, national pride and identity, and the intersections therein.

Global Black Identities

One of the underlying issues in online diaspora discourse is the failure to respect and recognize other experiences. Every few months we are reminded that Blackness is not a monolith and every few months we still descend into the chaos that rejects this statement. This is one of the issues with Black Panther and the ‘Wakandafication’ (Bentil, 2020) that has followed suit.  Black Panther was and still is an important movie in its own right. However, no movie under a monopolized media conglomerate was ever going to be the savior people wanted it to be.

Wakanda is not a real place, Wakandans are not real people. But Black people in the Global South are. Our lives are not all rooted in royalty and exempt from colonial and imperialist rule. That is a truth that sits rightly alongside the involvement of Black people in the slave trade, while also understanding the circumstances surrounding these occurrences.

Differences are not bad, rather they can be uniting. Ryan Coogler, on filming BP1, noted a familiarity and sense of community in filming the waterfall scenes, ‘I spent time with people in their rituals and I was like oh yeah, we do the exact same thing at home.’ It’s just got a different name. Film making to Coogler is a way to answer the ‘thematic questions that I don’t know the answer to and I’m curious to learn.’ This understanding is central to the movie which takes a stand against the commodification of culture. The need to monetize anything one has, can get their hands on as a means of coming up, making a name or digging oneself out of the trenches underlies the problem with capitalism and rallying community around monetary gains. It’s just not going to work. It’s not community either, it’s mass individualization and it won’t work in the long term.

Blackness in community

The warmth of community means an understanding of our differences, our experiences and the words we find to celebrate persons in their own words. It means that one’s description of their experience is not all encompassing and telling of all. If may or may not still resonate with others and that’s fine. Education and learning extends beyond the classroom, for many of us, important facets of history were learnt in other spaces. With a crackdown on what constitutes appropriate history, it’s up to us to rally around and share what we can in the ways we can. That’s why we have many words, many people and many forms of expression. We might be coming to the end of Black History Month but it doesn’t stop here.