AFRICANGLOBE – Poppies and remembrance services call to mind ideas of sacrifice for one’s own country – but the experience of being Black in Britain brings up the question of whether it ever feels like your own country at all.
I SUPPOSE it’s an unequivocal aspect of the Black condition: at this time every year, every Black man and every Black woman is forced to take a deep look at themselves and to consider the question of Remembrance Sunday.
This year more than ever, as it is the 100th anniversary of the armistice that brought the First World War to an end. You’re going to get wall- to-wall coverage of it in the coming days – and will you or won’t you observe the minute’s silence on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month? Or in other words, will you be able to and a little pocket of space in the conversation where you fit in?
Remembrance Sunday, or Armistice Day as it is known elsewhere, is umbilically tied to the Black condition. Because it asks of us not just to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice in defence of this country, their/ our home, but it inadvertently obliges every Black man, woman and child to remember where we’re from. Whether we like it or not. As Marcus Garvey said, and echoed repeatedly by that son of a Garveyite, Malcolm X: a tree without its roots…
Now, once upon a time it was a straightforward reflection – we are Africans… or from the Caribbean, or from somewhere else. Anywhere but here. That was what we concluded, not least because we were being urged not to see Britain as our resting place, but to keep our Windrush suitcases on top of our wardrobes, packed and ready and waiting for departure once our studies here were completed, or we had earned enough money to build a little palace of our own in the sunshine. That was the reality
So it was always problematic to call this place home, with no sense of the warm embrace of ‘home’ or willingness to fight for our home against the Hun as those brave soldiers did a hundred years ago and more. They died in defence of ‘home’ – something more than just four walls and a roof. They died for ‘home’ as the essence of ‘soul’.
My once upon a time, however, never envisaged me laying down my life for this country. And it still doesn’t. Even though I came to the realisation in the last decade or so that I’ve got nowhere else to go. That is when I climbed off the ‘back to Africa’ bandwag- on. The wheels had come off, through the natural expiration of grandparents.
But still today, I feel an unease when I leave the country or enter it with my British passport. Not least because I feel the shame of an imposter. And if at passport control they say “welcome home” upon my arrival Back from overseas, well, I am absolutely mortified, to be honest.
Even though this is where all my people are. Yes, home is where you’re connected. Which, I guess, is why Idris Elba talks about Hackney as home, and his cohorts extremely successful Black (male) actors also declare their home advantage to Britain, whether it be David Harewood or Adrian Lester or… the list goes on and on and on.
Like I say, it’s problematic, our ‘Black condition’. Even if we want to claim our roots, which one of us would lay down our lives for Nigeria or Ghana or Jamaica or Trinidad or Guyana or Barbados? Which one of us?
Why would you do that? That is not where we lay our heads at night, that is not where our children are. That is a foreign country to us. Maybe it’s because we make them feel like natural women, but our sistas seem better connected. When I had my lunch date with Naomi Campbell at the Dorchester Hotel the other day, she was adamant that this was not her home.
She said even though she was born and bred in Britain, she does not regard it as home when she lands at Heathrow. Far from it. In fact, she is considering spending the rest of her days somewhere in Africa rather than the UK, as a ‘world’ citizen. The world is her ‘home’.
For the next generation, that connection to home is nowhere in their remembrance. They are caught in no man’s (home) land. This is their home. Whether they like it or not. Their sense of home is local and not national. They don’t lay their lives down for England but for their neighbourhood or their street or their endz.
Last week was such a week, when two young teenagers paid the ultimate sacrifice for someone else’s phoney war. The younger of the two was just 15. The other was a 17-year-old.
Both had so much to live for. Just as those hundreds of thousands of young men (and women) who laid down their lives for this country a century ago. We should remember that, this Remembrance Sunday – a hundred Armistice Days on, the war is not over for our children.
And just as the descendants of those who died on the fields of Flanders and elsewhere at the beginning of the 20th Century, many of whom were not older than the boys who were stabbed to death in south London last week, the families of our children who have lost their lives in this carnage on our streets will reflect for many generations to come that there are no passing bells for their loved ones who die as cattle at the bloody hands of butchers with carving knives.
Where are the poppies for them?
By: Dotun Adebayo