Black History Month: Reclaiming My Identity
1st October marks an important date in Nigerian history; the day the nation gained independence from its British colonisers. Every year the “Happy Independence Day” messages stream in from family all around the world on the group chat, and my timeline is filled with celebratory posts and well wishes for our country, always without fail emphasising our people’s love for the green and white that represent our homeland. It was only this year that I really took into account the special date coinciding with the start of Black History Month here in the UK. This October, I have seen black British excellence celebrated all over social media and people highlighting the need for such a month to showcase the impact that black people have had on Britain and its culture. The label Black Brit is one that I have come to appreciate as being a British born Nigerian, it’s hard to know where you fit and this term helps in the process in identifying where I truly belong.
As someone from an immigrant background, I think it’s safe to say there’s always been some sort of self-questioning that I have gone through with myself about my identity and where I feel I belong. Being raised in a very traditional Nigerian household, where my family and I would watch Hausa and Nollywood films, eat rice and stew every other day and communicate mainly in the Hausa language, I was always aware and embraced my Nigerian roots despite living in a place with very few people that looked like me or came from the same place as me.
I’ve debated with myself as to whether I’m English or British since my childhood, when a classmate told me I was half English because I was born here, a concept that confused me greatly. For me, the term English only really applies to white people. I don’t think I can call myself English, I’m not sure I know what it’s like to be “English.” Despite being born and raised here in England and it being the only home I’ve ever known, I’m not sure English is something I can ever identify with as I grew up with Nigerian values and morals. I would say I’ve identified myself more as British over the years as I feel that term encompasses all those of us living in this country regardless of our race, and includes the diversity within the people as well. But even then, sometimes I feel that term still doesn’t quite fit with me or define me. You hear people saying they’re proud to be British; I can’t say I have ever felt that.
I’ve always faced the “Where do you come from?” question, or some other sort of variation of it, and I’ve never been able to give a simple answer. When I’m abroad, I always say England, as that’s where I live and was raised. However, whenever I’m asked that question here, I never know what the person asking is trying to get at. Do they want to know where I come from in the UK? Or do they want to know where I originally come from, as in where my parents come from? My issue with the latter is that I don’t think Nigeria is a place that only my parents come from, but I also feel very Nigerian despite never living there. I identify as Nigerian first and foremost and I have always been very proud of my heritage.
It wasn’t until a trip to Nigeria when I was 19 years old that I really began to realise that there were some things about me that were always going to be inherently British and things that I was not going to be able to change about myself. At that time I was at University, interacting and building friendships with other young British Nigerians and other Black Brits as well and I was beginning to realise that being both Nigerian and British didn’t have to be mutually exclusive. It was OK that I enjoyed having my plantain for breakfast alongside a cup of tea. Looking forward to coming back home to England during my eight-week holiday in Nigeria didn’t mean that I disliked being in Nigeria, but ultimately England was my home.
I have had situations in Nigeria where an aunty has scolded me because I’ve mentioned that I’m looking forward to going back home to England, telling me that Nigeria is my home. Yes, Nigeria has a home-like feel to it every time I go, but come on, after six weeks of course I would like to be back home in a more familiar environment. On the other hand, I’ve also been told by Nigerians that I can’t possibly be truly Nigerian as I’ve never lived there. So, you can see it’s quite confusing when you have your own people denying you of your heritage, but then also come back to your home country that you’ve lived in all your life and you’re continuously faced with assumptions that you were born abroad and never know what someone really means when asking you, “Where do you come from?”
Identity is a complex thing and something that I think many people have an internal struggle with at some point in their lives. But something I have come to accept through my journey of self-identification is that I don’t have to belong to just one group of people, and there is a beauty in being multifaceted. The fact that Black History Month exists in the UK is significant for many like me, as it gives Black Brits, particularly the younger generation, a shared culture and space where we can all truly belong regardless of background and nationality.
Written by Aisha Rimi