In this week’s #iTunuSpeaks, Itunu asks whether assimilation is the key to black progression in British society.
UNIVERSITY – the haven of self-discovery with a dose of missed 9ams and Pot Noodles. This is how University was sold to me and I wasn’t buying it. I was going to make my 9ams (most of which I have) and I’ve not so much as touched a tub of pot noodles. As for self-discovery? I’m not sure I can relate.
I like to think I ‘found’ myself a long time ago. I know what I like and dislike, I know the kind of people I want to be around, I know what I want to do in the future- I’ve got this, right? Well, after one poignant conversation, I’m starting to realise I have a lot more growing to do.
On the one hand, I feel like I’ve found my people. I’ve immersed myself into my black campus community, joining various cultural societies and finding enlightenment in a group of woke black women, where I feel free to talk about everything from natural hair to the whitewashed national curriculum, with Solange and India Arie playing in the background.
Happily saturated, I thought out loud to my friend: ‘I wonder if these four years are the blackest I’m ever going to be.’ There was a moment of silence, followed by a familiar smile that said ‘I get it.’ We’re proud to have integrated into our black community, but there is an underlying fear that we have created a utopia of self-assured identity that will eventually dissolve once I’ve taken off my cap and gown.
There’s a line in Chane the Rapper’s Blessings Reprise where he says ‘the people’s champ must be everything that the people can’t be.’ The notion of perfection, of being everything to someone is so crucial to perceptions of blackness. Just think of Obama- he had to be intelligent, witty, relatable and everything in between. Think of Beyonce, Solange and Jesse Williams, who, when taking pride their race, have had to step up as the ‘people’s champ.’ I look at my position in British society and ask myself- am I ready? Am I ready to be the ‘people’s champ?’
My life’s mission is to see more representation in the British media and school curriculum. But what if to achieve this goal, I have to make sacrifices. What if I let people touch my hair and cower under the screams of ‘why you always gotta be so mad’? Will I leave my seat at the table to play the notorious game; the game in which a bit of your melanin decreases as you go up the career and social ladder and home is the only place you can get a refill.
“Am I ready? Am I ready to be the people’s champ?”
How much should my identity be rooted in my race? Unless I choose to be colour-blind, it’s not something I can escape.
So, what’s the solution Itunu? Continue being black I suppose. I don’t have much choice, and I’m content with that. I’m going to continue following my passions and pursuing my purpose. I don’t know if I’ll get to a point where I’ll be silenced or I’ll silence myself, I pray I won’t. Part of my self-discovery I suppose is moving forward and figuring it out along the way and although that’s scary, I’m so ready.
Are you in the working world, do you find yourself having to assimilate? Are there elements of your culture and background, that you hide or adapt in a working environment? As a person of colour is assimilation the key to progress in British society?