my journey to be my best self

black people ≠ black people

In travel, Uncategorized on July 14, 2011 at 4:31 pm

London has managed to maintain a lot of its charm while boasting its status as England’s largest city.  It is almost impossible to compare this metropolis to New York but as many similarities I find there are as many, if not more, differences. But the most startling is the black people. Whenever I see a black person I’m baffled by how much they look like me but how little they identify with me.

I’ve subjected my friend Whitney (who I also call White Cloud) to my frustrations as I try to figure out the deal with black people abroad. It comes up most often in London because it is my home base, but I have wondered in Geneva and Berlin, “how did they get here?”

How did they? Not as part of the transatlantic slave trade. So did they come by choice? They know where they came from. So they can go back, even if they don’t want to. But where can I go? Back to Africa with Marcus Garvey. That would be about my only option.

I’m so fascinated by black people abroad. I talk to them about their experience as black people in whatever city I am in whenever I have a chance. It didn’t take long for me to ask Francis about being black in England and he quickly replied, “were just like black people in America, we listen to hip hop.” Well there you have it.

When I was talking to my new coworkers over tea I said I’m flirting with the idea of staying in London but I really want to get a sense of the relationship between black and white people and, more importantly, how white people percieve black people before I change my status from visitor to resident.  And they looked at me with blank faces.  I tried to explain America’s unique history and how it impacts perceptions of race and they looked at me as if I were speaking a foreign language and then one answered, “Here we don’t even think about race.  We all get on fine.”

Get on fine? Get on fine.  Stop it.  I went back to my desk with my tea and thought there are really only 2 explanations for her response:

  1. She doesn’t have relationships with black people or, if she does, the relationships she does have are not developed enough to allow for conversations about race.
  2. She just doesn’t care.  She’s not bothering black people and black people aren’t bothering her.  They don’t live where she lives or work where she works so she doesn’t have to think about race.

Well that conversation left me even more confused.  Black people don’t want to talk about black people, white people don’t want to talk about black people.  Damn.  I need Michael Moore to come out here because he’s so obnoxious (more obnoxious than me at least) and has no problem asking the tough questions.

I’m just so frustrated and I finally get to Boots (drug store) to pick up 3 oz. bottles for Whitney before we leave for Barcelona and the woman at the till (the register) asked if I was going back to America.  I told her I am headed to Barcelona and before you know it I told her I am absolutely desperate to know about black people here and she said, “I will tell you everything!”  Well, I wish I had more time but the queue (the line) was getting longer and longer but this is what I got from the conversation:

Black people came from countries in Africa and the Caribbean in the 1950s to help repair the city after the second world war.

  • Black people live in migrant communities (and if I really want to get to know black people in London I need to go to their neighborhoods).
  • And black people don’t get on with white people as well as everyone else would like to have me believe.

Even the other black man in the store tried to convince me everyone lived harmoniously.

What is England’s dirty little secret?  There has to be more than the (little) bit I know that explains black people’s place in society in England. They didn’t have the same institution of slavery or the great migration or the civil rights movement.  We all know what it was like in America.  But what was happening here?

I have so many questions.  I am determined to know more when I leave this place than when I came.  I can’t go home not knowing how my black brothers and sisters are faring on the other side of the pond.

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  1. This has been your best post thus far. I have been so focused on my struggles as a black career woman in America that I have never thought about like African Americans across the pond (the ocean). lol. Well said! I look forward to your follow up.

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