On Being Black in Britain—


Well, I’ve posted about it before, but it is indeed strange to walk around and just blend in with everyone else, in a way at least.

After about month here, I feel like I can say that people in general are not as friendly here as they are in other places. In my experience so far, the stereotype of Britons being prim and proper holds true (at least for social interaction). I’m not an ooober friendly “hey friend, how you doing?” type anyway so I don’t care.

But there is one thing I do miss, the sense of black solidarity. It must come in different form here that I have yet to discover, but the young black folk here are a different strain from what I have encountered before. In Morocco and Spain, when I saw a black person or vice versa we acknowledged each other’s presence, even if it was a nod. We were both minorities in a land of people who either didn’t get us, looked down on us or both.

In Yemen, the “black” people there were from a certain class and called the Akhdam or servants (surprise, surprise it was the lowest class. The only jobs I saw them holding in Sanaa were street cleaners. BUt to them I was an oddity. Obviously not from their community but probably not a somali refugee either. Or at least, this was the vibe I got when I walked down the street. I would try to smile and say hello, but the stares I received were always perplexed, “Who are you? What are you?”

In good ole Beantown, USA, black folk generally say hello. Yes its the U.S. yes, it’s not uncommon to see black folk walking around, but for me as a black college student in the area, Boston still holds some of that black=minority=oddity sentiment. Bottom line, there aren’t lots of us around, so people generally acknowledge another black person’s presence. heck, there were people I never knew by name, but knew just because we had crossed paths tons of times and said hello to one another (or more likely given the head nod… “sup?”).

In Chocolate City (D.C. not the MIT living group) it’s much the same. of course there are soooooo many black folk you can’t say hello to everyone, but if you lock eyes with someone you acknowledge each others presence.

of course, this does not always happen, but generally speaking that’s the way it goes/has gone for me.

London however, is something totally different. As for men, I locked eyes with a guy on the tube one night (or rather he was sitting in the general path of this gorgeous man with an even nice messenger bag that I was staring at) and that fool got off at my stop and really tried to follow me home. He did not give up until I did a double weave around and back through the station. Then there was another one whose eyes met with mine after which he proceeded to stare at me until he got off the train. (It could have been a figment of my imagination, but I think people generally know when they are being stared at, moreover, it was a blank stare either, it’s hard to explain, but I felt like a circus freak for a good 5-8 minutes until he left)
eedless to say I am very careful about looking at men (that seems to be bit different here too, but I guess I will have to talk about that later).

As for black women, the older ones have generally returned my cordiality. But young women have tended to give me that “up and down, casing you out look.” So much so, that I have stopped trying altogether. I figure “bump them” until I can figure what this is all about. It’s not that this stuff doesn’t happen in the states, but the number of incidents are to numerous and closely spaced to be just a figment of my imagination.

It seems that the Americans in my study abroad group, generally hang together. It’s not that British people are impervious to friendships with foreigners, but it does indeed seem like the way things are done, bonds established etc. is different from what we are used to back home.

I personally don’t care too much, since I have my built-in blood-kinship-friendship network. Who needs friends when you have host of cousins and second cousins to parlance with?

At the same time, I have been the recipient of some random acts of kindness/niceness, A girl in my class went out of her way to draw me a map so that I would know how to get to the Next session.

Another girl extended an offer to help me with whatever I needed, and has actually been a psuedo friend during lecture.

Another classmate, made a copy of audio cd that accompanies our book.

a classmate treated me to coffee (wait, he’s south African, so I guess that doesn’t even count.

but you get the picture. It’s not all bad, but it is maaaad different.


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