The debate as to whether a British identity can also be European, has been running since the conception of Europe itself when formed at the end of the second-world war. So to has it often been said that the great British disease is that of nostalgia, still grieving for the loss of its empire – an empire still etched into the hearts and minds of many British people. It is quite understandable that the expansion of Europe be regarded as a threat to those bygone years – perceived as the final nail in the Great British coffin perhaps. Ironically, I do have some sympathy with the dilemma to either fight with that ‘old bull-dog’ spirit in order to revive a history of putting Britain back in charge of everyone or alternatively, to relinquish that and move onto being a bit-part player in the world. In all but the British subconscious of some, the latter has in-fact happened but that aside.
On the other hand, as a black woman of Jamaican heritage, born in London and raised in care, I could not possibly want Britain to be ‘Great’ again since I, like many, regard that as no more than a euphemism for colonialism, class arrogance, a superiority complex, the oppression of black people, the slave trade etc. etc. Thus, I have always at least partially considered, if not crudely, that Europe was a ‘white debate’ whilst I, in the scheme of identities, concentrated on the fact that I came from Africa. I am Negroid so African. Whites are Caucasian so European. Simple. Well, not quite.
Over the course of my travels particularly through my association with a small black business trying to build our own trade links, most of my visits have brought me closer to other African people (Francophone), also trying to build their micro businesses. There is no doubt that there are relatively small differences between us despite language. Black people born in Europe are unsurprisingly, fighting the same struggles and it mattered little whether their racist blend was of Marine Le Penn, Nicolas Sarkozy or Silvio Berlusconi. Accepting Sarkozy and Berlusconi are not with us for the time being, we need not forget how they garnished huge national white working-class support in their overt-racist standpoints and much like UKIP is today, Le Penn was yesterday described as humiliating President François Hollande, in the current polls.
When I was in Africa and as idealistic as it sounds, I felt I was historically and spiritually home. Some called out, ‘welcome home’ and to my joy, Tanzanian seasoning of black pepper, thyme and coconut milk was very similar to that as we eat in Jamaican food. I loved being non-black though I was always reminded that I was ‘Western’. Desperation and poverty makes that inevitable and very fair. When it was time to go back home to London, I remember feeling some trepidation after living without racism for that period. In the US, and New York in particular, where much of my Jamaican family still live, that is where it struck me that I was not only British and African but also European? My British Westernisation had unknowingly metamorphosed into something European. It is a bit clichéd now but my tastes in the way I cooked or drank, had more in common with Philippe, a white French friend of mine in New York, than with some of my African American sisters that I was hanging with over a fair period. That was a shock to me. Even in the way I thought sometimes? When my tastes and values were distinct from being American, I had unquestionably assumed those distinctions were about being Black British until confronted with that when I spent time with Philippe who had lived in Britain for but a very short time in his life.
My point is this. Our black children are going to become Black British and European tomorrow before our very eyes. In which case, we are lagging behind in this debate in conception, strategy and organisation – not in the national British debate (that we should also be a part of) but significantly, the Black European debate. Who are we if we are also British, African and European? Can we visualise extending and integrating ourselves with another identity as Afropeans? I have certainly learned that I might have at least, if not more in common with a black family in Paris, Lyon or Montpellier (whether African or Antillean), than I might with an upper-class White British family here. I just have to think of food, music, dance, laughter, struggle and racism to name a few. Across identities, when I next step into the US, I will no longer be surprised if I find myself relating more to a French Cote d’Ivoirian living in New York, or an Italian Eritrean living in Philadelphia, than an African American or a white British protestant living in Colorado. (No criticism of African Americans or white British people living Colorado intended).
So consider, when European Members of Parliament (MEPs) meet in Europe, they do not meet within national boundaries but across them to develop on ideological grounds. There are 28 Member States (countries) in the European Union and 751 MEPs. The UK has 73 MEPs of which London has 8. In 2009, London had 9 seats but European expansion meant we lost 1.
In the last election in 2009, the MEP results were the following:
· Labour – 3 seats
· Greens – 1 seat
· Lib Dems – 1 seat
· Conservatives – 3 seats
· UKIP – 1 seat
Europe over the last few years has gradually lurched further and further towards the right. Given the present climate with the dislike for this Coalition Government and the popularity of UKIP, what do you think is going to happen this year on the 22nd May 2014 when these elections take place again?
I know we are continually in the struggle one way or the other, but I think we are not doing enough about the conception of ourselves as an identity across Europe as possible Afropeans (I use this as a ‘working word’ only). Yet, if we ignore our links, opportunities and ultimately the potential unity with our Black European brothers and sisters, we will isolate and worsen our condition. It will be a mistake whether Britain pulls out of this European project or not, to confine ourselves to national boundaries not of our making. There is more travelling for us to do, more languages for us to learn and more bridges for us to build because always but always, unity will be our strength and survival.
I call on us all to;
1. Vote for the blackest/socialist MEP candidate on ideological grounds only – on the 22ndMay 2014
2. Have an independent political African-European conference to discuss what an Afropean identity might stand for politically, economically and socially and,
3. That an Afropean identity development always be consistent with the growth of the African continent itself.