guest blog: only we can tell our stories / jojo sonubi

“For the most part, I was fed negative images of Black people growing up – whether it be in a school textbook or a charity advert on TV. Despite this, I was surrounded by Black joy. Being a Nigerian meant there was always some sort of celebration around the corner; going to a big church meant there was something happening every so often – birthdays were the most common. There was a Hall Party every month or so. Why didn’t I see these real-life experiences of Black joy in textbooks and on TV?

In the UK, the only Black history you learn is slavery – and more specifically, ‘Britain’s role in abolishing slavery’. I was fortunate enough to not have the ‘Roots’ movie as a part of my secondary school’s curriculum, but I know many people who had to watch and study that film. To this very day I’m yet to watch that film. I have no interest in seeing it. Why wasn’t the Windrush included in my school’s curriculum? It could be argued that since my school was 98% White British at the time (2006), such topics weren’t in the scope of interest for the students, but I believe it should have been. How, and why, do they think West Indians developed a community in the UK? How will they know the truth? Failings like this leave room for ignorance to breed and I sure experienced this first-hand.

Creativity, conversation and fate brought Tania Nwachukwu and I together to create the submission-based online archive Black In The Day – a tool that encourages people to add their family photos to build a personal archive and arguably a more accurate depiction of how Black people live and have lived in the UK.

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From Piczo and MySpace to Facebook and Instagram, people have been archiving their lives and curating their appearances for the world to see. Smartphones and their ever-advancing cameras have enabled us to capture every single moment. We’ve seen social media grow into a highly influential platform; people are able to see faces like theirs thriving, draw inspiration from the stories of others and also be educated (facts only though please, there is a lot of fake news out there). The photos people post on the Black In The Day accounts – past and present – are facts. We don’t have to necessarily rely on the media to see Black joy. We’re creating a new narrative that is slowly translating into a real-life culture shift.

We do need spaces to create these photos, though. In a society where it’s still awkward to be in certain spaces as a Black person, it’s important to have our own domains where we can feel at ease and express ourselves fully. We are fortunate that there is now a wide variety of events to choose from in London: from Jawdance to BBZThe Big Clash to Plantain Party, you can find somewhere for you to create memories. I don’t know much about other Black events that happen all around the country, but what I do know is that the variety London offers is carried over into the nationwide university scene. My beloved yet maligned Afro-Caribbean Society (ACS) is still the main Black space offered in university life; it’s often been accused of being one-dimensional in a number of aspects, but there are indications that change is happening with what the society offers Black students. Shout out to the likes of Abiola and Nikki for the work they did at Warwick and Nottingham University, for example. They set a precedent that benefits students and are an example for others to follow. Tania and I sat on a panel last year alongside Neil Kenlock and KirzArt about Black Identity, organised by BEMA (Birmingham Ethnic Minority Association) at Birmingham University, and it was so good to be a part of something like that, because I didn’t have such events when I was in university. However, as much as we like to congregate and celebrate, an old, dark, familiar shadow continues to loom.

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For decades, the Police and Central London clubs have policed Black nightlife, and the herald-ed abolition of Form 696 has left me unmoved; the much-publicized DSTRKT incident is a big example of this. Discrimination will still happen without the form. When I’m venue-hunting for my club night RECESS, I’ve had clubs tell me they “don’t do hip-hop nights because it doesn’t suit their venue”, and “R&B nights cause too much trouble”. I find it audacious that people are still using these excuses in 2018. At a time where Black music is dominating the charts and air-waves, why are we being barred from enjoying this music? Of course there are plenty of Black club nights in London, but it is no coincidence that they are mostly in small venues. It’s well-known that large crowds of Black people are perceived to be a safety threat, and it’s a damn shame. Why are we being chained down by an outdated and disproportionate stereotype? I spent my teenage years in a majority white area of Essex and every single time I went clubbing, there was violence – this happens all over the country, but isn’t scrutinised in the same way.

The term ‘diverse’ always comes up when describing London, but I feel this isn’t reflected in its nightlife. Despite the odds being against us, we’re still out here thriving, creating spaces for Black people to free up themselves in this cold city. Every club I’ve held an event at in London has praised the crowd for being lovely, almost to their disbelief. It’s a bittersweet statement, be-cause I’m happy that things went smoothly for them, but why are they shocked that the crowd were lovely and well-behaved? The aforementioned stereotype is something that keeps follow-ing us as Black people, even though we continuously prove that it’s a fallacy. I’ve begun to make peace with this by working with what’s available to me. When RECESS tickets sell out in an instant and people exclaim that we should get a bigger venue, this is my response; that is why it’s good that more events are springing up, because the demand is high and the supply needs to be sufficient.

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Documenting and celebrating Black joy is wholly important. With the ever-growing influence of social media, it’s something we have to keep pushing to the front of Black representation. Keep taking photos of yourself and the people around you. Stay creative. Buy a camera and carry it with you at all times. You don’t need to be a pro to capture memories.

Eventually, I want Black in the Day to serve as an educational resource in the National Curriculum. I want RECESS to be a massive source of joy for Black people in UK.

The road is long, but we’ll get there.”

 


jojo is primarily a graphic designer who runs a club night called RECESS and the submission-based archive Black in the Day.

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