Does the way Black children are behaving have anything do do with the slavery of their ancestors and their own achievement? With Britain currently commemorating the 200th anniversary of the Abolition of the Slave Trade, it got me thinking about the real legacy of slavery on Black people, particularly in how we perceive ourselves, the names we use and the way our low self-esteem affects our children.
Once I attended a meeting in London of very keen, Black education professionals, who had each paid £75 for the privilege of discussing a particular report and its potential impact on the community. I waited eagerly for its content. However, my one abiding memory of that meeting was the negative way three very vocal 'sisters' totally hijacked the proceedings to question who had written the report and what colour that person should have been. For the next two hours, absolutely nothing was discussed until the terminology was sorted out and the colour of participants was fully checked and analysed: a total waste of delegates' time, money and talents. Months later, I am still trying to work out what we achieved on that day because we never did get to the actual findings! I am sure my experience is not unique and could explain why often so little is achieved within our community.
Black though we may be, if we have never been to Africa, we are no more 'Africans' than the descendants of the early Britons across the Pond who fought with the UK for their independence and are now very much Americans. They cannot call themselves Britons when they have very little physical or cultural ties with the mother country, and don't even speak the same language. Names are extremely important when they are associated with a sense of wellbeing and a definite history. However, people who cling to the past, long after it has lost its meaning, tend to be stagnant in their ambitions, fearful in their thoughts and fossilised in their actions. Having a sense of continuing frustration, yet not sure how to deal with it, they gradually find it easier to look towards another utopia, to see it as the answer, even when it is alien to them and is merely just a dream. Thus the place they left decades ago, like Bangladesh, Jamaica or India, is still 'home' even forty years afterwards. This view stops them facing their new reality, keeping them exposed as very obvious minorities, forever on the periphery while they abdicate responsibility for their future and blame the past for any present predicament.
Inscurity and Underachievement
The notion of a home far away also harms their children's present and future. It implants a constant reminder of instability and impermanence and is one of the biggest causes of insecurity and underachievement. If their parents are going 'home' sometime in the never never, why should they bother to work here? Why bother with making real friends? With buckling down to school work if you are going to be uprooted suddenly to 'go home'? Sadly, 15 or 20 years down the line, when the parents are still in Britain clinging to their outdated memory of 'home', the children would have completely lost theirs through apathy and alienation. In the meantime, the 'home' they fondly hang on to has changed beyond recognition. Trapped in time and fossilised in their brain, the cherished perfect past is a far cry from the actual reality; one which is a vibrant, moving form of constantly changing mores; one which would be almost as alien to them as to anyone else.
We stop developing when we live in the past and hang on to it for its own sake, while being constantly bitter and vengeful. In this way we learn nothing from it to safeguard or improve our future. Black people are of African descent, and that is labouring the obvious. Though we need to know our history and our roots, that knowledge should enhance, not retard, our progress. We have chosen, or been given, a different future which we must develop to the fullest in the brief time available. If you feel strongly about any country, more than you do about the place you live in, then DO something about it! Why not visit that place, examine its prospects and help to build it up? Share your expertise with the community to enable others to benefit from your contributions while you gain a sense of fulfilment.
Hankering daily after somewhere else, while we do little to improve our current existence, makes life needlessly difficult and frustrating. It becomes a good excuse, and a handy ploy, to prevent us ever facing our own reality. It also keeps us stuck in the paradise of our dreams while the paradise we could help to build disintegrates around us. A country divided cannot thrive. Its people has to work together, not against each other, to give it life and success.
It really doesn't matter what we call ourself. We can only extend and conquer the earth when actions take precedence over words; when we know who we are and wish to be, when we accept that identity fully and head off into the future to give it life. Only then will we be able to deal with any obstacles in our way; to feel confident about our potential for making a difference to ourself and our environment. Repressing our ambition under a daily concentration on labels, names and theories indicates real fear and little self-esteem as we replace deeds with semantics and a lack of vision.
Key Questions for Our Future
Whether you are an African who has never been to Africa, an Asian who left your country years ago, or a Briton who is going nowhere else, here is a little challenge to tease out your true identity: Apart from mere words, what have I done for Africa lately? For Jamaica? For India? For Pakistan? For Britain? For Me...?
The answer will not only be truly enlightening, it might actually point you in the right direction for the greatest achievement of all time: liberating yourself from the semantic slavery which has chained you for long enough to the aimless sinking ship of negativity and regret. There really is a connection between the death of seven Black youngsters in six weeks, the state of the Black community and how it views itself and the apology demanded from the British government over slavery. They are all linked to our self-perception, sense of impotence and genuine frustrations. We have got an apology from Tony Blair about what happened hundreds of years ago and the legacy it has left.
Fine, so what now? Only self-confidence and high self-esteem can propel our children to greater self-love and achievement. Unless we love and respect ourself, our children have no hope of loving or respecting themselves too. They will always be ashamed of who they are and keep taking it out on each other. Many of us are still back there wallowing in self-hate and slavery. But it's time to start taking responsibility for our lives so that we can give our children the reinforcement, strength and pride to take reponsibility for their lives too.
An apology from the politicians might force some superficial accountability and assuage some egos, but it is an empty gesture which reflects the past and does little for us and our future. The real question is: When are WE going to forgive ourselves for our distressing past and actually discard our slavery mentality to realise the wonderful, talented beings we are? This is fundamental to the progress of Black children, to their feelings of security and value, and to leaving our own positive legacy, no matter where we are settled in the world.