Thursday, 10 May 2012

Feedback To Ade Sawyerr's Comprehensive TAOBQ Article

Ade Sawyerr, a partner in the diversity and equality focused management consultancy, Equinox Consulting, has written an extensive piece on his blog entitled: Is it time to ditch the colour Black for our true heritage, African? 

The African Or Black Question: Colour or Heritage? – Ade Sawyerr
In an article I wrote last year, I wondered what people of African descent would make of the declaration of 2011 the International Year for people of African Descent,, and to what extent they would benefit from the message of recognition, justice and development that was intended to be the hallmark of the celebrations.  Though we are yet to evaluate the significant outcomes of the year of celebration, it has forced on us a question that is being asked about what people of African descent should be called in the Diaspora – ‘The African or Black Question’? Click to read the whole: 'Is it time to ditch the colour Black for our true heritage, African?'

This was my feedback to his blog: A long piece, but worth reading, as it pretty much touches on all the key points espoused by TAOBQ.

Surprisingly, but quite encouraging in other ways, I discovered Ade's article had ben posted on the website of Operation Black Vote (OBV). This time, it came with an introduction by OBV head Simon Woolley. 

Introduction by Simon Woolley
In a thoughtful and provocative article Ade Sawyerr ponders the question should we see ourselves as Black or African? As usual the great intellect of Sawyerr delves into the history and philosophical books to give insight and reason to his arguments. For my own point of view and of course Operation Black Vote I would argue that it is not either or? Our identities are complex, multiple and forever shifting. Such a diverse heritage should allow us to effortlessly weave in and out of our multiple labels, all of which should be valid.

I was immediately moved to write a feedback to the introduction. This is the feedback (which hopefully will be posted on OBV's comments, after it's been moderated):
Whilst I'm glad to see Ade's article, which chimes with our TAOBQ (The African Or Black Question) campaign, posted on the OBV site, I would like to clarify what seems to me to be Simon's conflation of black as a political construct with black as a race/ethnicity descriptor.

The political black was/is an umbrella term for mainly non-Europeans, as a political block - which at certain times include some discriminated Europeans, such the Irish, etc. On that basis, it's fine to have an organisation that's called Operation BLACK Vote, because the black is understood in terms of the preceding definition.

However when it come to a race/ethnicity descriptor, on what basis does Simon justify OBV's current terminology of "Black and Asian"? Who do the "Black" represent? Is it not essentially Africans or people of African heritage?

If the Asians can identify themselves in the context of the land mass from which they originated (never mind that most of them were born either in Britain, east Africa or the Caribbean), why should the Africans not be identified with the land mass from which they originated? 

Is the Asian racial identity not as equally "complex, multiple and forever shifting"?  But that has not stopped them from extricating themselves from the now nebulous "black" term.

My view is: yes, to the political black, a decidedly no, to black as a race/ethnicity descriptor.

Whilst I'm at it, I think when referring to Africans of Caribbean antecedents, the correct terminology ought to be African Caribbean, and not simply Caribbean. This is because Caribbean, strictly speaking refers to the indigenous Caribbean peoples such as the Caribs, etc, although generally speaking it can include anyone with a link to the Caribbean  - Europeans, Asians, and Africans.

Lastly, 25 years after the launch of Black History Month (BHM) in the UK, I also think we now have to think in terms of African, not Black History. African history is global and includes the histories of all its diasporas. Hence, BHM should be referred to as African History Month (AHM), in order to reconnect it with its original guiding principles: The African Jubilee charter, which many of the statutory bodies signed up to at the start of BHM, when the then current political terminology was Black, not Black & Asian!

TAOBQ co-ordinator

1 comment:

  1. That was a good article. Thanks for sharing. I posted a comment there.