#eye #eye

where are you from?

What it means to be Black & British today


words by Olivia Kellerman
“Where are you from?” “No, I mean where were you born?” “No, like where are your parents from?” A series of questions that every POC has been asked in the most awkward situations. For me, it always seems to happen in Uber rides. The question of what it means to be Black and British today, I understand is so multifaceted. Every city, community, activist group and collective will answer this question in completely different ways. And that’s what makes it great.

Spending my whole childhood and teen years growing up in the same cul-de-sac in Birmingham, means I have my own unique black experience completely different to the people I’ve met that grew up in London, Manchester, even Wolverhampton which is only up the road from home. Our communities have such a massive impact on the minor things that set us apart from each other, the effects of city and culture are undeniable, and it shapes our experiences as black people.

Now, in all honesty, being black wasn’t an issue in school life. It was if you were black enough. I remember big debates over the desks and in the playground at lunchtime, where it was almost a competition to see who had the blackest family. Whose parents spoke patios at home and who watched the most episodes of My Wife and Kids and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Now I don’t know whether this was just my friend’s competitive mentality, but it was a weird thing to be competing over.

I never felt like I fit in with those conversations, my parents were both born in the UK, been together for over 30 years and the only person who spoke patois around me was my grandma, who I didn’t see much because she lived in the Caribbean. I grew up in quite a suburban area of Birmingham, unlike my friends who grew up in flat blocks, came from single-parent homes and whose parents worried about them being out after dark. And I felt out of place for not being like them. For not having that upbringing. I didn’t experience life the way they did, and it made me feel like I couldn’t fit in. To top it all off that’s all I saw on TV too, even in primary school I noticed that the black experience that I was living as a child was different to what I was seeing everywhere else. I felt ashamed, questioning whether I was black enough.

Blackness and its many variations have time and time again been suppressed throughout modern history, into one thing. One view and type of experience and even though we can relate with each other on surface levels on what we experience on a day to day basis as a minority group, at home we all lead different lives. And it took me a while to realise that and to embrace my differences from other people and respect theirs.

Being born into the tidal wave of the internet era has massively affected the black experience for millennial kids. Over the past few years, thanks to the black love and black girl magic movements that have stormed social media (twitter mainly) we have seen a massive change in how black people are talked about and portrayed online.

From Nella Rose’s and Paigey Cakey’s resurfaced tweets from 2012, we’ve seen a change in attitude as a community being able to accept our different experiences through collectives, social media and print publications. Over the past 10 years, the millennial and Gen Z generations have been able to redefine blackness by branching out and building platforms to welcome people with all their different interests and identities.

My parents tell me it was difficult to express their identifies when they were younger. If they tried to assimilate with White British culture, they were coconuts or Oreos and if they tried to show their roots, like my Rastafarian uncles, they were cast out by society and even hated on by their families for choosing to stand out.

So, what it means to be black and British today, is the ability to identify as who you want and be part of communities that except that. It’s a working progress within the black community to be able to openly talk about different intersections that are still not accepted by the whole community - growing up queer, openly sex-positive, with mental health problems is still difficult. But with more platforms and collectives rising, we’re taking it one day at a time in a generation that’s trying to make a difference.