‘Blackness’ is a white European invention that makes sense in America but is lazily applied in Europe.
One of the books I've finally got round to reading since I have so much time to stay indoors now has been Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's 'Half Of A Yellow Sun.' I am about 30% through it, and it's honestly one of the best historical fiction novels about Nigeria that I've ever read. Well-written, brilliantly researched and filled with a great cast of characters all living in Nigeria during the tragic Biafran war – Nigeria's first and only civil war.
There is a scene in the novel, and I won’t go into too much detail for spoilers, where an Igbo academic explains that the purest form of a Nigerian’s identity is essentially their tribe. The whole concept of 'blackness' is the invention of white Europeans who colonised and enslaved Africans.
It was a revelation in the book that hit me, and I had to re-read that part several times to digest it.
And I had to agree with the statement. This term ‘black people’ only exists outside of Africa. The entire concept of ‘blackness’ has not only robbed so many Africans and Caribbean of their true heritage, but it has effectively confined people with melanin skin and restrict us economically, socially and even culturally.
The very idea of blackness is probably the worst thing to happen to people of African descent.
Blackness was inevitable in America. But in Europe, it’s just lazy and dismissive
What it means to be a ‘black person’ is different across the diaspora. In my view, this concept of ‘blackness’ created by white Europeans has different connotations in America and Europe.
In America, the label of ‘blackness’ is inevitable. The children of African slaves who were shipped to the Americas have sadly lost any real connection to their African heritage. If you were to ask an African American where they are from, they would say from "New York" or "California." What else could they say? They see themselves as American. Since they have melanin-rich, brown skin, which signals their African heritage, they have been collectively labelled as African Americans, which they have proudly adopted. How else would you describe the population of people in America with African heritage who no longer have a link to Africa and, even if they do, it’s tenuous at best.
Even if an African American were to trace back their ancestry and head back to whatever country in Africa their ancestors came from, they would still be African Americans. You wouldn’t call them American Nigeran or an American Ghanaian unless their parents migrated to America during this century, so the connection to their motherland has not been tragically robbed from them.
But the idea of a collective ‘blackness’ in the European side of the diaspora doesn't make sense in the same way it does in America. In Europe, people with melanin-rich skin are very aware of where they came from in Africa or the Caribbean. Unlike African Americans, there is no disconnect to their African or Caribbean heritage.
In modern Britain, the term 'Black British' sounds odd to me now. A British Jamaican and a British Nigerian, the latter I identify as, are not the same, even if our shade of skin might be. Many, if not all, of the third and second generation of black people living in the UK today, have parents who had migrated from one of the former commonwealth colonies in Africa or the Caribbean. These children heard Yoruba, or Twi or Jamaican patois and ate African or Caribbean food at home. They heard, even if they didn't actively listen, to the African or Caribbean music from their motherland. It’s why Afrobeats, the popular music genre created mainly by the third- and second-generation European Africans, is so heavily influenced by music from the motherland. That kind of African influence is barely present in the R'n'B and Hip-Hop genre created by African Americans.
The term 'black people' to describe people with African heritage living in Europe is plain lazy. Instead, I would use the prefix 'British' in front of their place of origin or ancestry—for example, a British Nigerian. But the phrase 'black people in Britain' doesn't make much sense to me anymore. What exactly do you mean by 'black people' in a European context? It makes sense to use that term in America, but in Europe, it's just condescending. ‘Black people’ in Europe are not homogeneous in their culture the same way African Americans are in America.
Tribalism is the trustiest form of the African identity
This idea of blackness is ultimately a by-product of the transatlantic slave trade carried out by White Europeans between the 16th and 19th centuries. Unfortunately, African Americans are reduced to being 'Black people' because their link to their African lineage has eroded over centuries. But it's important to remember that 'blackness' is not the identity of Africa's children.
Tribalism is the most authentic identity of every brown person whose ancestry begins in Africa. Even Nigerian nationality is a construct from the minds of white Europeans. My real identity, one that white European hands have not moulded, is British Yoruba. Both my parents are from the Yoruba tribe, so that is what I am. White Europeans did not create the Yoruba language and its customs. It is pure African culture.
Of course, I understand that using the term 'black people' or 'Black British' is a much simpler way to group various ethnic minorities. And I agree in that context. It would be a headache trying to group people by their ancestral tribes on a hospital form. I still label myself as a 'Black British' author because it’s easier for my author brand. But what is important is that I remember who I am. I will not allow myself to buy into the white European construct, especially in Europe, that I am just a "black person."