Life after Blackkklansman


Recently, I watched the new cinema release, BlacKkKlansman, as directed by the legendary Spike Lee. The movie follows an undercover police investigation into the Ku Klux Klan led by undercover police officer, and black man, Ron Stallworth. The film itself was thoroughly entertaining, however, after viewing the film I was  left with a heavy heart filled with grief, hurt and above all, rage. This pit in my stomach is not an unfamiliar feeling, it arises whenever I am burdened with the reminder that my dark skin comes with a toll, a price I pay with my tears and my heart.

Later, I browsed through my Twitter feed and a video of Prime Minister Theresa May caught my attention. The video is an interview of May discussing her feelings, prior to a visit to the late Sir Nelson Mandela's prison cell on Robben Island. The interviewer remained firm in his implorations of May, probing her on how she personally feels about the impending visit knowing that although she was politically active during Mandela's incarceration, she did not protest against Apartheid, and neither did the Thatcher-led Tory party that branded the ANC, who were campaigning for Mandela's release, a 'terrorist' organisation. However, despite the interviewer's concerted efforts, May managed to repeatedly dodge the question and deflect the focus away from herself. The pit returns to my stomach as I am yet again reminded that the leaders of the country I call home did not and do not care about the liberation of my people.

During BlacKkKlansman, main character Ron speaks with Patrice (the leader of the Black Student Union) about W.E.B Dubois' double consciousness theory; a concept coined by Dubois in which he speaks of the duality of the African American identity, as the two labels can feel conflicting. To quote Dubois "One ever feels his twoness, - an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder." Watching the film was the first time I had heard of this theory, but the way the characters spoke of Dubois' work resonated with me so much that I made a mental note to research Dubois' concept once I was home. Upon further research I found myself awestruck; Dubois' theory perfectly articulated how I so often felt as a Black girl in Britain.
W.E.B Dubois. Photo Credit: Carl Van Vechten, © Van Vechten Trust. Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University

I was born in Liverpool, England in 2002 as the daughter of two first generation Zambian immigrants. My childhood was a multicultural cacophony; I vividly remember being a toddler and mimicking the sounds of my parent's native tongue as I listened to my Mum chat on the phone, but the timeframe in which I stopped admiring, and started resenting my mother's thick accent is not so clear in my mind. I knew that I loved my Mum but I also knew that her accent was different to the usual Scouse tone that echoed around the city I called home; and as an awkward 10 year old, desperate to fit in, this difference was bad.

Experiences like that shaped the rest of my budding adolescence, but as I grew, I learned that it was the quiet yet ever-present force of white supremacy that pushed me into assimilation and taught me to be ashamed of anything that distinguished my culture to be deviant from the norm. Britain is a wealthy, western country which gained the majority of its affluence at the expense of colonies such as Zambia. The effects of imperialism and racism in Britain are long standing and as a result, life as a Black Brit is trying, to say the least.

At times, to be Black and British is to be both the prosecutor and the defendant, two sides diametrically opposed co-existing in one brown body. My mind is tarnished with the blood of my ancestors, drawn in the name of the Union Jack, yet the only language in which I am fluent, is that of my colonisers. As a second generation Zambian living in England, I find myself at war with myself, seething with rage and futility and scorn; both at the system which oppresses me and myself for not fighting back hard enough. Of course I realise that, until recently, I had been too naive to realise that my reluctance to find pride in my culture was a result of social conditioning; but that doesn't stop me from feeling angry with myself for not seeking to reclaim my identity sooner.

The ending of BlacKkKlansman was the most poignant moment of all. Despite all of the courageous and progressive work Stallworth had completed during the investigation, he was left trembling, gun drawn beside his windowsill; taunted by the sight of a burning cross in the distance - a fear tactic often deployed by the Ku Klux Klan. This moment in the film served to me as a final reminder that regardless of the accolades black people in the Western world accrue or the community with which we surround ourselves, we are ultimately powerless; defenceless at the hands of white supremacy. Now, I don't want to sound facetious and claim that my life as a Black person in Britain has been drastically altered by this film, but life after BlacKkKlansman has been different. I have been equipped somewhat by this film, with the knowledge of how to better articulate my experiences and that to me, is invaluable.

Follow Nali on Twitter: @Nalisheboo
BlacKkKlansman is in cinemas now