18 Feb 2019

What is blackness?

Is it a closed question? Can it be worn like a winter coat or a pair of cool sunglasses? Does it give owners freedom of their cities? Can it even be explained in a length of text? Blackness is everything and it is nothing. It is a weaponised concept and it is a blanket of community. In the right hands, those tired hands passed down by ancestors, it can revolt and rejoice through the pain of its history. In the wrong hands, those clean hands of oppressors, its coloured connotations are brought to the forefront; darkness, blacklisted, blacked out, evil. It is misconstrued as a binary system - the one drop rule has never died, just changed its visage. There is no percentage competition with blackness but it is used as such. What is “HALF-caste” really? There are gradients to this rhetoric but blackness isn’t a rhetoric. No one can “speak” in Blackness as a single entity for the truth is blackness is composed of numerous planes. The fact I speak of Blackness now in this language – my native tongue – betrays its true origins and yet represents its history so well. The English language is a melting pot of others, tracing centuries of raping and pillaging from other lands, taking words and refashioning them as “loan words” that have never been returned (much like artefacts of Blackness on those English language museums). The words I utter to describe this unfathomably large concept were given to my ancestors by force but without those words, I could not sit down to speak of Blackness. What a conundrum!

But I must refine them. I must celebrate the champions of Blackness from centuries ago, in the present, and what lies in the future. For those who suffered, suffer, and will suffer after me. It is crucial to inform that Blackness is not a proportion of melanin. Skin colour is a vice we all hold but it is not a defining rod or rule of judgement. Blackness transcends this all. But I am not equipped to be that judge. There are anthologies of work that can do better than me. I am merely a sentence worth. But with one sentence comes another, into a paragraph, a page, a chapter, a book, a series, a shelf, a library. This is the power of Blackness. To start from so small, under the foot of the oppressors and shout what we feel and what should be heard. This is what fuels movements like Black Lives Matter – because they all matter and this is why. The anger you see and hear? It is valid and necessary. It cannot be destroyed or extinguished as that would break the laws of the conservation of energy, laws we all follow. Covering up blackness is futile. Weaponising it has consequences, more severe with time. For those who suffer them (and I loathe to use the word “suffer” in this context), they must learn the hard way. But it is necessary.

I feel I have rambled. The truth is I cannot define blackness into a neat dictionary term. That would be the most heinous crime; an assault committed by oppressors who point to the book to prove they aren’t racist. But that book is written by them. “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house” said Audre Lorde. How can we determine whether the tools of Black people are truly ours or those of the master? That perhaps is another question and another I cannot answer. But we can certain refrain from using the most overt devices. Repurpose and refresh. We have achieved relative success in the form of language. I admire the reversal of meaning in the English language. It fascinates and saddens me in equal measure. The sadness comes from its use by non-Black people to attack or profit. Or complete ignorance in the form of active erasure. Why should Chaucer and Shakespeare be lauded and rappers be denigrated? They are modern-day griots and their stories use said master’s tools with such brilliance to attack them.