MOTHER LAND, MOTHER TONGUE
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.