by Kaia Allen-Bevan, Engagement Lead
I am Black all year round.
It was October 19th. I was on my way to Soho House, for a panel event curated by, and directed at, Black folk. A night of endless nattering (or otherwise known as, networking), anecdotes overriding structured questions and blackness bold under the lilac spotlights. The violent winds, the rain drowning the streets and the crashing waves did not stop me from disappearing into the self-made safe haven granted by the convenience of Black History Month.
I walked under the stars, which were fighting to be as bright as the Pier lights, with my headphones singing symphonies of my “Vibes” playlist. I reached the stairs leading my way and bumped into two ladies, who looked just as confused as I was as to where we entered from.
I can’t remember why they were going to Soho that night, but what I do remember is their response to mine.
“There’s a panel about Black women and power.”
“Oh, of course!” one woman responded, enthusiastic, and gently slapped her forehead, “It’s Black History Month!”
We said our goodbyes, but I found they both left something behind that I don’t think they will ever have returned to them – the irony.
We are nearing the end of the UK’s 36th annual Black History Month. No more social media threads on its importance, no more black-owned shea butter to slather over our skins cracked with guilt, no more events centring Black bodies to spotlight their excellence, no more “Black History” Netflix seasons and documentaries, no more themed logos or blogs; our books by Black authors sit uncomfortably on our bookshelves, collecting dust until next the year. Long forgotten, as we retreat back into our daily routines…
But, being Black is my normal.
Despite what the awareness day may say, I am left to tend the wounds that weep through the plasters of temporary solutions. My blood thickens with every injustice seeping through every institution, as racism mutates and manifests in plain sight. We return to work with forced smiles on our faces, as Janet scoffs at the smell of our food on lunch breaks, and Rebecca asks if we ever wash our hair, fumbling her hands through our crowns. We pretend it’s flattery that Dan has never been with a Black girl before and that his mother is indeed not racist, as her fourth cousin is mixed race. We walk through the streets watching purses being clutched, as if we have nothing better to do than steal them, and question if the security guard at the supermarket will insist we didn’t pay for something and let their bias rummage through our tote bag. We battle with productivity, as we should be working at least two times harder, and never truly rest – for what if, after I finally rest my eyes after scrolling past celebrities profiting off of my blackness, I have unknowingly been profiled to have committed a crime locally…so my house is raided and I am killed in the proceedings?
Those ladies did make me wonder what life would be like sometimes, to live truly in blissful ignorance. To have the privilege of removing the “Black Lives Matter Every Day” badge as soon as the clock hits 12 midnight on November 1st. To snuggle up next to the false security of white supremacy, while we wait for the real show beyond performative allyship. To stop reposting the inspirational “Black Sistas” (with a hashtag in solidarity) on your Instagram story, and question, “Why are Black people so good at everything?”. To put training on Anti-Racism to a halt until another unlawful incident, or headline, or statistic…
That is the very injustice at hand – it shouldn’t be optional to raise our fists when we so please. That is the very privilege, and power, given without merit.
Even if you switch off the lights on Black History Month, you are surrounded by Blackness. Its richness permeates our society and forms the very foundations of our existence, our evolution, our call to greatness. It is so abundant that, no matter what challenges come at us, we always survive – many are lost in the cleansing, but we live to tell their tales and demand celebration. Even when the placards are put neatly away, we are still protesting for our current and predicted realities to shift. We, as the future ancestors, finely tune into the signals of our past, to chase our roots in desperation.
And sometimes, it feels like they are still here.
For when we sob, the warmth of their hand grasps ours, resonating first-hand the pain we are experiencing. When we think we are speaking out loud to the ceiling, they are listening intently in the corner of the room, nodding in agreement and holding the comfortable silence. They may wish they had a box of tissues, too. They wait patiently for us to remember ourselves, to unlearn all that we’ve been conditioned to think, to feel, to believe. When we are so angry at the world, they are our therapists to give us mechanisms to cope, to grieve and release. They are also our biggest champions, who unclip our wings, for they have lived in the generations where the caged bird can’t sing, and they rejoice when we break the curses. They are far more than familiar with the currents of our climate, yet whisper to us to set sail and redefine the sailing of our seas.
I will wake up on the first day of November, still Black. I will brush my teeth and get ready, still Black. I will eat breakfast, read the news, and reaffirm that I am Black. I will leave the house, dissociated with the thoughts of “What If?”, because I am Black. I may clock into work and see my white colleague be promoted, and mumble that I am Black. I may go to my doctor’s appointment and be misdiagnosed, and the nurse and I stare back blankly at each other, for I am Black. I may be stopped and searched on the way home, in the pursuit of someone who they think is called Jerome, because I am Black. I may be spat at on public transport, or have the N-word shouted at me by giggling kids because we all know I am Black…I think you get the jist.
But I may also light my sage stick at my altar, and bring cut fruit for my deities, for I am Black. I may sit in front of the mirror, half asleep, yet my reflection smiling back at me, because I love being Black. I remove my bonnet, nurture my curls, and put an outfit together that SCREAMS Black. I may walk and smile at each person who looks like me, for those small moments make us feel heard by being Black. I listen to Solange and clear my blurred vision, for the fog reveals that everywhere is Black. My white friend confronted our co-workers that what they said was not okay, and today was a day that I didn’t have to over-explain myself, finding peace in being Black. I tuck myself into bed, reading another success story of a Black sibling, and we all raise a toast to being Black, around the globe, knowing that our Blackness is something we define, and is different for each and every one of us.
I am Black all year round. It is a dichotomy that isn’t just in the hands of Black people to “fix”…it lies in your hands too.
So meditate, and ask yourself, “What will I do beyond this month? Where can I use my power, to empower, without motives that serve myself?”
“How can I hold the space for Black people, every single day?” In tenderness, and in strength.
Kaia Allen-Bevan is a racial justice advocate, and leads anti-racism and active allyship training at Watch This Sp_ce.