When I created this blog, I knew I wanted to share my space with the copious amount of hidden talent out there.
So 'Write here, write now' is somewhere for the dreamers, the readers, the writers, the opinionators, the philosophers, the comedians, the just-feel-the-need-to-write-about-it kinda people, to express whatever they want to express in 1000 words or less.
Inspired by a movement
By Tonisha Egharevba
A few months ago my husband and I went out for drinks with our friends Lisa and Theo. They are a couple we have always admired and we were finally fulfilling what felt like an age old agreement that a get together for the four of us was on the cards. I’m nostalgic now just thinking about that night, one of our last evenings out in London before lockdown confined us to our homes and back gardens. I can literally still feel the vibration of the music as we huddled around our bar table after a whirlwind few hours of excellent chat, food and cocktails. The conversation by this point was tipsy and meaningful as we swapped stories about our passions and our purpose. Buoyed by tequila, I began to babble about my long deserted dream of being a writer. Lisa, one of the go gettingest people I’ve ever had the pleasure to meet, immediately fixed me with the intense and certain gaze of someone who always has a plan hatching. “You should write something for my website!” she announced. While I muttered feeble excuses, the boys nodded and signalled their support for Lisa’s idea. Straight away I felt as though a gauntlet had been thrown at my feet, but what took me by surprise was how much that gauntlet looked like a life saver. I bobbed nervously for a few seconds more - then I grabbed it. “Okay, I will.” Lisa told me to text her when I’d come up with something. It’s been over four months and I’ve not made a single peep about it. I’ve always felt that the hardest thing about writing is trying to accept the notion that it means I have something worthwhile to say. I have come to understand recently that my measure of worth was probably skewed. I know now that I can’t write for validation or for kudos. If the worthiness of my thoughts were up for debate, I’d never speak at all. Self expression is surely worthy of itself? Who knows, this may even be cathartic. So next, what would be the subject of my expression? I’ve thought about this while inching forward in the queue outside Sainsbury’s, while my daughter splashed gleefully in the bath, while reading Vanity Fair magazine articles and making a mental note of all the obscure words I need to go look up in the dictionary.
Then something extraordinary happened. All of a sudden the world, in the midst of an already surreal pandemic, became the stage for the biggest racial equality movement of my lifetime. In slow motion a penny began to descend from above as day by day, week by week, I processed and waded through my thoughts and emotions. The thoughts and emotions of loved ones around me also spilled over and muddled into mine. One night I got into bed after another failed attempt at starting Killing Eve season 3 (too distracted to pay any attention), and the penny finally dropped. I need to write about Black Lives Matter. I need to use this abandoned passion of mine to weave together my sadness, my disbelief, my pride, my fury, my gratitude and my hopefulness. So I suppose it makes sense to start with a bit about me. I was born in a town called Banbury which is about 25 minutes north of Oxford. My mum is white and British. My dad is black African American, born and raised in Philadelphia. In the 80’s my dad was stationed in England at a US Air Force base not far from Banbury.
At weekends it was customary for my mum (and all of her white girlfriends) to go out to the nightclub where the Airmen and G.I.s would socialise. I do wonder what my grandparent’s generation must have thought when suddenly their small town daughters were all dating black Americans. My own lovely grandparents were unfazed, but I’d imagine others were fairly horrified in many cases. My parents have been married for 35 years this August and they’re still going strong, which is no small feat. I’m the eldest of four siblings. I have two brothers and a sister all of whom share my complexion, which - when I think about it - is basically the same colour as my perfect cup of tea. That’s actually rather handy, but perhaps not a reference I ought to shout out during the office tea round.
My background sets up a fairly complex foundation on which my feelings and views regarding Black Lives Matter are anchored. Before I go any further, let me be clear about one thing - I am a black woman of biracial heritage. I don’t identify as ‘half black, half white’. I’m not half of anything. I’m wholly perfect tea brown. It may sound as though I’m dismissive of my mum’s contribution to my genetic make up. I’m far from that. I just recognise that my skin colour and my features are dominated by the black gene and in any racist encounter my ‘50% whiteness’ will not see me spared.
To me, blackness is not just any one thing. It’s a rich and broad tapestry of identity. It invites you to look closer and to explore its nuances. It connects you to a powerful cultural force, the very same one which pulls people from all backgrounds, ethnicities and walks of life toward it. Blackness is strength, and pride, and emotion, and music, and beauty, and art, and food, and poetry, and dance, and motion, and glory, and spirituality. Although, it hasn’t always been easy for me to find my place within the sphere of black identity. I went to school in Charlotte, North Carolina between the ages of 6 and 11 and I will never forget the way I sort of floated agnostically between the white girls and the black girls. Literally, at the lunch table the black girls would sit at one end and the white girls at the other.
There was no animosity, it was just likeness being drawn to likeness. Every morning our school bus would ramble along collecting sleepy students from plush middle class suburbs, through to vast apartment complexes and inner city housing areas, resulting in a motley mix of kids under one school roof. For the most part our socioeconomic backgrounds reflected the same parallels of the lunch table, which I suppose reinforced the divide. I vividly recall spending my days feeling not quite ‘black’ enough for the black girls, and not ‘white’ enough for the white girls. The coming of age dilemma of trying to fit in is a funny old thing. Now that I’m older I realise that the way I perceived ‘degrees of blackness’ was a limitation of my own immature invention. I now also have a number of close white female friends with whom I’m my regular black self and of course I feel a perfectly content sense of belonging amongst them all. I guess what I’m trying to say is that my own struggle with identity meant that I disqualified myself from feeling I could own my blackness with confidence and authenticity. I now recognise that as a child I was operating under a specific construct of what I thought it meant to be black. And I was entirely wrong.
My husband is black, British and of Nigerian and Sierra Leonian heritage. He has never in life questioned his blackness. He too spent time living in the US when he was younger and has always spoken so fondly of his time as a student at the University of North Texas. That was, as he puts it, his “first true experience of African American culture” and it blew his mind. Like I said, blackness is a rich and broad tapestry. You can be black your whole life and yet find yourself stumbling into a cultural realm within the diaspora with which you’re completely unfamiliar. It’s beautiful and yes, mind boggling.
I say all of this to illustrate what I feel is a really important point. Racism at its most basic level is incredibly binary. It’s about whiteness and blackness. The norm and the other. The accepted and the marginalised. It is founded on the most ignorant of assumptions and a complete disregard for truth. It seeks to impose a falsified characterisation of the ‘black other’ which is entirely unrepresentative of the breadth and depth of this wonderful culture. Black people are this. Black people are that. Black people do this. Black people do that. This simplification casts a foolish shadow over the reality of how remarkably diverse and nuanced black culture really is.
As I mentioned earlier, my dad is African American. Which means, at its simplest level, that at some point in time his ancestors were literally forced from their homes in Africa and shipped in chains to America where they were separated from their families, brutalised and forced to work - for free - on white owned plantations as slaves. For nearly 250 years. God only knows the atrocities they endured during those lifetimes. After they were finally ‘freed’ from slavery in 1863, the generations who followed our ancestors set about doing their utmost to rebuild their lives from that incredibly bleak starting point; but did so in the face of continued hatred, bigotry, terror and systemic oppression. The Civil Rights Movement, (the well publicised period in modern history where black Americans were mocked, beaten and murdered for daring to petition for the right to sit at the front of a public bus, the right to eat in any restaurant, to attend any school), only began in 1954. A whole 92 years after Abraham Lincoln ordered the emancipation of slaves. The fight for racial equality has never once been fair. Fast forward another 66 years and here we are today... wrestling the same old evil in a modern disguise. Racism is real. Denying the problem is perpetuation of the problem. It may not be personal for everyone, but it’s very personal for me and for millions of others. A fire has been ignited in all of us who are in some way connected to this cause and let me tell you, it burns and it rages. I’m not naive enough to believe that we will see total reform during our lifetime, but we as a generation have to do our part just as the countless number who have gone before us did theirs - and they did so while contending with far greater perils. The thing that truly bends my head, whichever way I think about it, is that the issues of racial discrimination - whether social, political, judicial, economic or otherwise - are all born of a view that black people are in some way ‘lesser than’. I could literally become the first woman to perform open heart surgery on the surface of the moon and someone somewhere would still say I was nothing, simply because of my perfect cup of tea complexion. I just can’t find the humanity in that. No matter who we are, if we really stop to listen, think and learn then we can all do something to proactively combat the evil of racism. We can all be anti-racist if we seek to understand what racism truly is, (even in its most subtle forms), and purposefully reject it.
It has been 400 years since the slavery of black people began. This story is centuries in the making. Look how far we have come as a human race. It's bizarre to think that we still have quite a way to go, but it is undeniable that something remarkable has taken flight during this surreal chapter in time called 2020. My hope is that having been given this mantle, we now propel the cause so far forward that the next generation might actually live to see the real and lasting effect of change. It may not always be comfortable, it may not always feel like we are winning – but the thought of what we, together, could ultimately achieve is so worth our contribution.
I'll be asking all of my contributors for their 3 favourite songs as music is so important, and picking your favourites can be a cathartic task. They'll all be added to this playlist for you to enjoy.
Find Someone Like You by Snoah Aalegra - This is my feel good down to the bones I’m in love bop. I like to think of it as being part of the soundtrack to mine and Ef’s love story!
I Like by Guy - I absolutely love this throwback R&B jam, one of my all time favourite genres. Such a vibe. We made our wedding reception entrance to this song 😊
Heroes by Peter Gabriel - This version of the Bowie classic gives me literal goosebumps and stirs up all of the feels. It builds to an incredibly emotional peak and of course the lyrics tell the most beautiful story of triumph over oppression.