As the granddaughter of 4 Jamaican immigrants of the Windrush era, I often faced the familiar ‘but where are you REALLY from?’. Both my parents and I were born and bred in the UK, but nevertheless there was such an easily identifiable ‘otherness’ - being British wasn’t the end of the sentence.
Rather than seeing this as an identity struggle, however, I’ve always appreciated the beauty of sitting between two distinct cultures and claiming elements from both. It helps, of course, living in London, where much of the culture has heavy Jamaican influences. Going to the shop to get hair for my canerows, or going to the local market for salt fish and plantain have always been firm and comforting reminders of my blackness, grounding me in my Jamaican roots before I’d even had the chance to visit.
Yet, ‘visit’ is the operative word, because Jamaica is a holiday for me, not quite a home. So I embrace my position as a Black Briton, cheering on England in the World Cup and arguing over the perfect cup of tea - but also family gatherings with West Indian music blasting until the early hours and wearing my flag proudly at Carnival.
Going to a school where people belonged to several different cultural backgrounds helped me to become secure in my identity, but the concept of Black Britishness has definitely exploded into popular culture as I’ve gotten older. Seeing creators like Michaela Coel bring Black British representation to the fore has been incredible; and whilst there’s undoubtedly more work to do, it’s been empowering to see part of my identity find its home in the mainstream.
Coming to Oxford has inspired me, more than ever, to embrace being Black British. As a small minority of the population here, it’s been so important to be uncompromising with who I am, and highlight that there is room here for me and others like me. There have been ups and downs, but I’ve been lucky to find communities where I can be loud and proud about myself.
I don’t think it’s always easy to settle yourself at the intersection of two distinct cultures. But whether I’m eating a Sunday roast, or rice and peas, being Black British is a badge I continue to wear with ever-growing pride.
- Liberty, studying PPE at Brasenose College
NB: this article was originally published by the wonderful people at the Oxford African and Caribbean Society - https://www.oxfordacs.org/
photo credit: Tolu Duckworth/ACS