“African blood runs freely through my veins” was always something that was said in the house, a mantra that we lived by. Perhaps one that my Father thought important to instil in us, one that in hindsight I am grateful for. As a young mixed African heritage boy living in the boiling pot of South London, I wonder if my father realised that this would mean something a lot different for me than it did for him?
I was born to a Zimbabwean Father and Ugandan Mother; and moved to the UK in August 1992. Already the seeds or questions of belonging were forming. Who am I, where am I from, Do I identify as Zimbabwean 1st, am I Black British,Am I Black African, How Black am I?
Regardless of the questioning, the reality of my situation was that even though I am African born I’m not entirely African, even though I’m Zimbabwean born I’m not entirely Zimbabwean and my place in this world would have to be created with my own hands, and so I did. Whilst I was struggling to identify myself, the world around me was simultaneously struggling to identify people similar to myself. I remember my mum telling me that the nurseries my little brother and I went to “feared” that we would fall behind if we didn’t learn English quickly. My parents reacted by giving up their respective mother tongues in the household and adopting English as the primary language, something they would regret later down the line. Looking back, I don’t think it had anything to do with fear, grasping language was never the problem, I spoke 3 fluently.
Identity and belonging I would imagine are themes that run concurrently in many children from the Diaspora. As a kid,the playground was largely Caribbean or West African, the teachers were mainly white British and the food was always atrocious lol. Not to mention, my closest friends at school were from Bangladesh and Algeria. Being a child from the Diaspora gave me a unique perspective on the makeup of the city we were growing up in, the African blood ran freely through these veins and there would always be someone to point that out – be it through praise or prejudice.
Now that I’m a parent, sometimes I wonder how my children will identify themselves. They are British-born so I wonder how much of their African heritage they will identify with. We have the luxury of being able to pick what we want out of our cultures and present that to the world like clothes on a doll. I can wear my traditional clothing eating a lamb curry delivered by a Polish delivery driver. I wonder how much my children will preserve and how much they will add to their culture, ‘African Blood Runs Freely through These Veins’will always be the mantra to remind them though.
Rogers Gambiza, opens up about his own identity and how he has dealt with growing up in the Diaspora. The question of identity and belonging is one which is common amongst members of the Diaspora and this story touches on the feelings of surrounding such questions, deeply. How many of us can resonate with Rogers story?