Tuesday 20 January 2015

Being British

In the absence of any definitive concept of 'Britishness' ( that doesn't sound like bullshit)
I've decided to think..
To construct if you like.. my own campaign..
Well.... it's less campaign really, and more.. hmmmm..thoughtful tribute

lest anyone get the wrong impression that I'm anti Britain.
I'm Pan-Africanist sure..but not anti British
After all.... how could I be...

I was born right here in London. The Royal London Hospital to be exact.
Born at Dawn.. of course.. when else.
I have lived in London all my life, lived well, and lived happily

I enjoyed school.. couldn't wait to get there actually.
Enjoyed primary .. didn't enjoy secondary.
god love 'em :)

I would consider my upbringing a typical Caribbean upbringing of the time.. well...typical ish
We had no plastic covers on settees, and unlike many .. we were allowed in the front room
'Do your homework!
'Dawna, It's late .. come inside!'
No you can't play out!
'Ask your mum/dad!'
'None of your business!'

My parents? , very open people, good people I'd say
Very 'Caribbean' so to speak
It makes me sad at times when I consider that after arriving in London.. they spent little time after that , in the country of thier birth
Still... they appeared happy enough with it
They were young when they came here...leaving behind friends ( in many cases) and family

Jobs were hard to come by, but they were able to find them
Britain was hostile to them. yet the few who embraced my parents.. more than made up for it

I remember an Irish couple who were very close to my parents.. and of course... the old crowd
many of whom are no longer with us

I also remember... I couldn't have been more than 10yrs.. telling my mum.. I was not English
You are! - she insisted... angrily
No..I said... British ... perhaps... but not English
Imagine that....
Surely I was too young for all that
Clearly not
In fact, I can't even remember what brought that on

Anyway.. to kick off my 'What is Britishness' series of posts.. I will present you with an image.. .
and all the images hereafter will mean something special to me..
Perhaps they will hold the key to Britishness.. In some way

So... without further ado, here's the 1st Image... simple right?

#1.The Library

I spent many hours here as a child.
I always took the maximum number of books allowed.
Reading wasn't an escape.. but a doorway to a new world
A world were anything was possible.. and everyone looked like a cartoon.. until I said otherwise
I wasn't running away from anything, but my imagination and creativity was allowed to run free
I had the freedom to be a child, a child who had been taught to read, and was not denied access to books.

Finding common ground with those who looked very different than I
yet shared the same love
I loved that place so much
Stamford Hill seemed very different back then

If I ever pass that spot. the old memories are never far from my mind
Creating a environment rich in creativity, difference and acceptance

Images Source: Google Images


  1. You are not English? What does that even mean? Now I can say this because most of my family is "English" but only an English person would come up with such crap.

    1. Okay. Let me try and explain
      I was born in England and speak ( and write) in English. However… let’s let confuse language, place of birth, or nationality, with ethnicity, or a total ‘marker’ of ones Identity.
      Whilst it is an aspect of our Identity…It’s not the entirety
      I am what I like to call… a member of the African Diaspora, part of that wonderful 'and dread' dispersal of the African people.

      My own parents were born, not in England but in the Caribbean.. Montserrat to be exact.
      Now Montserrat, was populated by Africans from West Africa, Ghana Nigeria and Senegal, (predominantly). Montserrat was also populated by Irish indentured servants and slaves.
      I’m feeling poetic this morning, so I’ll put it this way...
      I am of the evolution of the black African people. My story is rich and varied. We are as diverse as all nations and peoples across the world. In fact, so great is the diversity that exists within the African people that it renders many speechless.
      Who would I be therefore, to dishonor such a rich legacy? To denounce the story of my parents, and their parents before them. To place a limit… on the limitless.
      Unfortunately for many us (who share a similar background) our family history is almost impossible to trace. You Birdie, are very fortunate, and very skilled to have undertaken such as task on your own family history.
      The African holocaust put paid to that for large numbers of us. However, on a positive note, many African customs and cultures survived, and are alive and well, and reproduced across the Caribbean Islands. In the absence of records, we are walking history, walking living libraries. we are the story of the African people.
      It’s also important to know that we ALL construct and deconstruct our identity at will. Identity has never been, and will never be static. It is fluid, forever moving, forever evolving. It’s a process of inclusion and exclusion.
      I’m too fascinated by it to ever call it crap… and also too aware of its importance to ever underestimate it.
      But I can understand your frustration at it all
      But here’s a funny twist.
      If I travel anywhere in the world, Africa, Australia, Canada, the people will undoubtedly call me English. (and I’m of no delusions that I will not feel very English Indeed!)
      Of course I will, It’s the culture that I've known all my life
      Yet here in England. The No1 question I am asked, outside of… ‘ how tall are you?’ ...is
      Where are you from?
      Those who ask can hear that I speak English.
      Those with discerning ears can hear I’m a Londoner
      But that’s not the question.
      The real question is.. What’s your back story? Where are ‘your people’ from?.
      I have come to appreciate both the recognition, and their interest..
      After all, there is much more to me than meets the eye.. or tickles the ears.
      On a side note, I am also a nationalist.
      Which some may find contradictory, but I’ll explain that another time
      That's a long response I know.. I tried to keep it brief :)

  2. I'm going to enjoy this series, Dawna!
    Like you, I loved libraries, because their books were my gateway to the world.
    I used books to roam throughout time and space.

    I'm Canadian, but there is no typical Canadian. I identify more with a region than the country as a whole ~ so I'm a Nova Scotian. But I lived in Colorado longer than anywhere. It's my home, so I'm a Coloradan too. But I'm also Scottish and identify with Scotland and its traditions. I've even experienced just a hint of what it's like to be the outsider in the community when my brothers, sisters, and I were the only white kids in an Indian school ~ but I did have a white teacher (my dad), and I was definitely a member of the "top dog" race. Identity is such a messy thing.

    I have a definite image of "English" and it's not you! If I heard you speak, I'm not sure if I would think of you as English, because you wouldn't match my concept of English. British Black? What does that mean? You are so right ~ Such a diversity of peoples has come out of Africa. But I can see you as a Londoner, because London is so diverse, in spite of its heavy English overlay.

    I'll be happy when no one is hung up on labels anymore, and we can all just be unique people.

    Have a good one!

  3. I think the place I am coming from is many English look down on those who are not. We don't need that in our world. In fact, it is treading in dangerous waters.

    So, how tall are you?

    1. I hear you Birdie. and yes, it's true.
      I'm actually only 5ft 8'
      But people ask me , and look at me like I ate some of jacks beanstalk beans!
      Funny really. still... I'm okay with it

  4. I'm late to the conversation as usual Dawna. Can I throw my tuppence worth in? I have agonised over national identity for decades now. Principally because by defining myself as 'something' immediately sets myself apart from others. And that's not something I want to do. I've never settled on a happy medium and it continues to trouble me to this day. Now I'm going 'way out there' with my next thought - but I do so because it was a new thought when I first heard it and it resonated with me. I heard a video discussion hosted by Joe Rogan - and he pointed out that we are all passengers on an organic spaceship which hurtles through space at 66,600 miles per hour. Joe being Joe, there were a few expletives in his choice of words but his basic point was this - the land we walk, and the land we see is but a small portion of our reality - by looking up we see more of the Universe than we do of the land around us. The stars and beyond is what these strange creatures down here should have been focused on during their long history - and in many ways that's what early man was indeed focused on as testified to by so many structures built with some sort of inbuilt astronomical significance. I fear I have waffled too long - I may claim to be Scottish and in so many ways be proud to be Scottish - but there's a significant part of me which says I want to be part of something bigger, better, all encompassing, and defining myself as something which is marked by nation state boundaries just doesn't do it for me. I want to be all people.

  5. Rory, it's never too late, and your comment is of far greater value than tuppence.
    I liked that very much
    Thank you