The one thing that we have had in forging our survival has been the strength of our spirituality – a sort of collective black spiritual power. Except, I do not mean collective power in the literal sense. Stuart Hall would have said that such a notion is false but gives us a kind of mythical sense of belonging to cling onto. I agree but on the other hand, racism produces real material affect – which Hall would also agree with. So how are we to make practical sense of our sheer will in trying to overcome the tortures in slavery, the agonies in racism, rape, child abuse and all the inexplicable violence upon black bodies. The trauma of slavery deeply embedded in the histories of British wars that we are told should never be forgotten, inevitably continues to permeate our everyday lives. Silently it conjures up the pain of ‘our’ history of black oppression just as it would I imagine for Jews if Hitler was annually celebrated. Still, I honour the courage of individual soldiers who sacrificed their working-class lives for the lessor currency of ‘honour’ though as a group of British soldiers in the context of African and other histories, false memory or otherwise, it is more difficult to deal with those war ceremonies.
It is no wonder that we as a black people feel safer to invest in our own private spiritual growth than to trust or invest in the politics of a collective Britain. Politics is white, so the conversation may go. It is a system that placed us in an oppressive condition in the first place so why continue to support it? Perhaps the very act of voting indicates an act of ‘conditioning’ with ‘black man’ voting for ‘white man’ perceived as simply ’choopid’. Except, this. Notice, political parties really are not that desperate for you to join them? Nobody begs or offers you incentives for you to get involved so what does that tell you? Nobody in power screams, ‘get out there for the sake of democracy black people!’. What does that tell you? How many young black men and women do you think these structural systems really want to politicise? Why do you think Marine La Pen and her father Jean-Marie La Pen before her, of the far right, have always been allowed entry into the UK but not Louis Farrakhan – as an objective example (both parties are probably sexist and homophobic)? You do the sums. Our decision not to get involved in politics reminds me a little of some of the slaves back in the seventeenth century who used to warn others not to read, lest they offended ‘masser’. Moreover, there was also a genuine fear that our ‘niggarish heads’ could explode or that reading could cause us madness. The bravery of some slaves read on regardless making it possible for me to write this or indeed to have gone to school at all.
The power of the spirit means for me, the will to endure, to survive, to fight for a healthy existential life – to be powerful not only on behalf of oneself but from a sense of duty – a service to those generations still to come. We have a responsibility to those not yet born. I think we are not being spiritually powerful if we do not engage with what encases us in ‘white politics’. I agree it is like being asked to walk into the lions den to be mauled by a load of posh political liars yet, we are already living in it. What we are not doing is fighting to get out of it, to change it. Us. Instead I see us as behaving like posh westernised slaves ourselves who no longer wish to get our hands dirty because we are so tired and ‘decent’. It is as if we have finally agreed to sit at the masters table even if they do not offer us food. We are a sleeping giant in this country fat on exhaustion, poverty and inertia holding onto the threads of our spirituality whilst praying to God that she will see us through just one more day for the sake of our children. We might buy a lottery ticket instead in a desperate, fantastical alternative as a back-up plan? Plus prayer. With odds on 14 million to 1, my friend Colin calls it ‘the stupid tax’. Thus, I predict, loads of lost lottery tickets and hard grafting for low pay ahead of us. Of course it is tiring to live in a den. Look at those lions cooped up in the zoo also full of resignation. They are us, looking at us.
If feels like we are living in a time and space that Homi Bhabha described as ‘liminal’. We want to leave, dissatisfied with our current position but cannot arrive at where we wish to be. I say we need to step into the brilliant thinking of such people like Audre Lorde who said, ‘When I dare to be powerful, to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid’.
Like you I wish not to be defined by my fears though I find it difficult. For example, it truly amazed me that Barack and Michelle Obama found the courage not to be afraid for him to stand as president. Who did those niggersthink they were, crossed my mind? I was certain Barack Obama was going to be shot as soon as he was elected back in 2008. As well as the unadulterated pleasure it has been to see such a beautiful black family grace the world stage – their biggest contribution to us I think, they have taught me courage. Secondly, it is clear that President Obama alone was not enough to change anything. He had no real back-up and with those odds, the lottery did not come in. We the people should have been his metaphorical lottery and real back-up if real change was to occur. Voting is the bare minimum not a deep political activism which is what was and is required. What did we expect him to do whilst we sat back and admired his eloquence and gentility? Thirdly, Obama has not been a great politician but he has been a beautiful man who, but for that dreadful ‘selfie’, has represented us well as a black man. That is a superficial compliment but a compliment nevertheless. If I do not think too deeply about the politics, he has been a breath of fresh air.
So where does that leave us? I am worried that we are going to let another general election in the UK arrive next year in 2015 and let is pass by whilst we as a black people continue to separate the power of the spirit from political activism. Those that I have most admired have never separated the two such as Nanny of the Maroons, Shaka Zulu, Nelson Mandela, Chinua Achebe, Bob Marley, Miriam Makeba, Toni Morrison, Desmond Tutu, Maya Angelou, Michelle Obama, Assata Shakur, Opera Winfrey, Queen Mother Yaa Asantewaa, Diane Abbott and Marcus Garvey to name a few. Like Lorde, they used their strength in the service of their vision and we have to continue to learn from those and others.
Consider this, without white politics there would be no black spirituality. We would just be. Black spirituality is a product of white oppression – a manifestation of our shared pain that affirms our collective experience as different and the same and real in its impact. I am sure we are not supposed to settle inside our oppression as home asking for peanuts as if this was the only way to exist? Living in ‘black struggle’ is to be living in that den. We are being mauled slowly and to the death. It is a pretty small vision for ourselves. For our own sake, do not stay in this lions’ den and forget we are there inside, within an artificial version of ourselves. We must engage with this white political process because we have to get out of it. There is another us that we owe to our future. Lets open the door of the den, no matter how hard that might be and walk out to discover who else we might be.
If we do not get actively involved soon, our power to influence as a black force will one day disappear. Do not assume that we cannot be made into something even less powerful than what we feel today. Use it now or lose it in the future forever. Also, remember that politicians own the police who are merely, working-class servants. Let us be smart and become their owners instead. Find a political party of your choice and make that party change. Turn up in numbers. Become a member of that party and take control of it. You change, they change because one thing is definitely for certain, nothing is going to change unless we begin it first. Lets use our strength in the service of our vision and be powerful, for change. You change, they change.