So, here I am in Africa – Zanzibar to be exact – and having a chance to rest, put my feet up and think gives me time to contemplate the place I’ve come from. Not sure that I’ve come to any exact conclusion yet (maybe typing in front of the TV while my son watches Little Kingdom isn’t the best for analytical thought!), but it’s difficult not to compare where I’ve come from to where I am. And on the most basic level, the real sense of acceptance I’ve felt, and seen shown to people who’ve come from all over the globe – compared with current events in the UK, including the march for justice on the weekend, but much, much more than that – makes me think about exactly how much we withstand every day in the land where I was born, a place where travelers from other lands are more often called immigrants  than expats, and even people born in the country hold a tenuous grasp onto citizenship that is granted by name, but rarely by action.

And I know everything isn’t perfect here. Or that the actions of the people who govern us don’t always represent the beliefs of the governed. But I sit here and can’t help thinking about our PM insisting for the umpteenth time that social cohesion hinges on ‘immigrants’ (his terminology) learning to speak English, when last night, I sat in a Zanzibar bookstore and listened to local poets and expats read and discuss their work, ALL in English. And I have think to myself, ‘what’s going on?’ What can be gained by alluding to a truth so easily refuted? The bottom line is, we all know the answer, no matter which side of the line we stand, we recognise propaganda and the need to lay blame for the ills of our country at others’ feet. We all see the need for diversionary tactics in these troubled times. And I suppose I’m really trying to assess the role of the artist in all this, especially the beleaguered artists, the ones who don’t get their work in stores and anthologies and win prizes because they don’t keep to the status quo, and yet they keep trying to be accepted by the very people who shun them, they keep hoping to be the chosen one and be lifted away from the misery and madness, and pretty soon nothing else matters besides being seen as something else, something apart from the masses of the unacceptable, something unique.

I know I’ve been harping on about this of late, but I really think, in terms of Black British history (for want of a better term – read African British if you wish), this is our greatest fight yet.  Do we speak or stay silent? Opt out or assimilate? Is there any form of a compromise on the table? And do you know, sitting here listening to monsoon rain, I can’t think of an answer. And the scariest thing  is, I’m not sure I ever will.


~ by courttianewland on 20/04/2011.


  1. It’s human nature to try and categorise things, to put everything, including people, in well-defined boxes. The positive side of this is that it enables us, at some level, to start to understand the world around us and is the underpinning of all scientific endeavour. The negative side is that we label people, making it easy to identify anyone who isn’t like ourselves. We all do it, usually with no malicious intent, but somehow when it filters up to corporate and government level, it’s very nature changes. In the same way that crowd behaviour can be very different from the behaviour, and even beliefs, of individuals in that crowd, the power of government somehow corrupts the intentions of the people within it. Although, it has to be said, I find the (apparent) intentions of some people currently in government extremely disturbing, and it’s even more disturbing to think that there is always a hidden agenda that the public never sees.

    Regarding the question of the role of the artist, I think you have to regard yourself as a person first and an artist second, and there is only one answer, which is to be true to yourself. Both opting out and assimilating imply modifying your behaviour to please others, either by keeping out of their way, or by trying to make yourselves like them. Either way, you end up being miserable and losing yourself self-respect. That’s no way to live, as a person, and for anyone creative, it’s artistic suicide.

    There are no answers. Just be yourself. It’s all any of us can do.

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