I can always rely on my mum to cut through the noise. This week, during one of our chats, she did just that as we talked about the firestorm around Oprah Winfrey’s interview with Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.
“These people always try to use their big big words to distract us. She chuckled, “have they forgotten that one of their descendents (Queen Charlotte) was a Black woman?” Mum was referring to the confused souls who’ve been scrambling to deny ‘revelations’ of racism against Meghan over the past few days. I use those quotation marks because those revelations are only that to anyone who hasn’t been paying attention. It certainly isn’t a surprise to anyone who grew up Black in Britain, myself included.
I belly laughed through mum’s analysis as I made my kid’s lunch and she kept dropping her gems, “I mean, what’s the problem with having black skin?” I looked around to see if I could find a viable answer. I didn’t find one. “And have they forgotten that without those people with the Black skin, who are part of their Commonwealth of nations, they wouldn’t have all the things they have?” She sucked her teeth “cha, leave dem!” she chuckled. I was laughing so hard, had to put my peanut butter laden knife down, because, I saw no lies in what my mama said.
She’d said in two hilarious minutes what I’d been struggling to articulate in the three days between ‘The Interview’ and our phone call. My attempts made me tired. So tired. I was mad, in the way my mother just wasn’t anymore. When I think about it it makes sense. She would have been barely out of toddler pants when the Gold Coast became Ghana. She was part of that wave of Ghanaian immigrants to come to the UK in the 70s. Her understanding of Britain’s relationship with ‘The Commonwealth’ and how it plays with – and on race has so much more context. As for me? Well, I was born in the UK. I was – and still am – invested in wanting to feel like I belong there. Afterall, who wants to know the place they were born in doesn’t like them?
I’d turned down a request to write a piece on the interview, in part because I was taking a much needed break. I’m glad I said no, because there was so much to unpack, and because Meghan and Harry’s candour scared me. There were points I wanted to shout, “
Molly Meghan, you in danger girl!” Because, as a Brit, I have a sense of how much power the Royal Family wields. The British stiff upper lip, combined with Ghanaian stoicism, meant I internalised the slights that came my way. I sucked them up, and tried to shrug them off, even as they threatened to topple me over.
I’ve lived *cough* decades on this earth, and in that time, I’ve seen teenagers who look like me get stabbed to death, simply for being Black. I’m part of a generation who had to watch Stephen Lawrence’s fight for our nation’s institutions to acknowledge it was a hate crime, and watch how the institutions set up to protect us covered the crime up. I’ve been spat on and had stones thrown at me on my way to dance class. Being told to go back to ‘my own country’ for walking to school — all before the age of seven. I’ve had teachers accuse me of cheating on a test, because they didn’t expect me to get grades that good. All before the age of 10. That means by the time I hit my teens, I already knew what Meghan had discovered, that – to quote her “It was all happening just because I was breathing.”
Black Brits get gaslit at the mere suggestion of racial bias or discrimination. Calling something or someone racist has the establishment clutching at their pearls or grabbing the smelling salts. Once the dust settles, the person foolish enough to use the ‘r’-word is subjected to a barrage of attacks about decorum and civility, followed by a request to leave the country if we hate it so much.If not that, we’re told that we’re racist for the transgression out. What a thing to say to someone who is asking not to be abused in the only country they know.
Just ask Afua Hirsch who spoke out about the coverage of Meghan’s pregnancy, the very one the anonymous Royal family member was speculating about. So imagine my complete shock when my phone blew up with texts filled with links of Gina Yashere, Dr. Shola Mos–Shogbamimu and Kelechi Okafor putting the British establishment on notice, and effectively reminding people to connect the dots between the nation’s colonial history and Harry and Meghan’s exile. For a short minute I thought Britain might be on the brink of having an honest conversation about race, until I kept on hearing pundits and news shows using their ‘big big words,’(to quote my mama), loaded with big hurt feelings, in the hopes that the rest of the world will eventually turn away.
I’m not sure this is going away any time soon, but I’m curious to see where this will take our conversations about race, respect and empathy next. Will it be business as usual, or will we brave a walk into this fire?
PS – Mama doesn’t ‘lurk on de internet,’ but she might have friends who do. If you’re one of them, or your mother/uncle/auntie is, abeg, don’t tell her I wrote about her, mmkay?