• Carmen Palmer, MSc Strategic Communications student at The London School of Economics
• from UK / Sierra Leone
What are your views on Black History Month?
Black History Month is very necessary especially in the Diaspora. it’s hard for us sometimes because we go to our home countries and we are not accepted as full natives, then you come back to the UK and again you are not fully accepted. Therefore, a month like this to commemorate, discuss, celebrate and educate ourselves about our own culture and history is really important. I do think however that we need a more nuanced debate particularly because Black History Month started in America which has a very different history in comparison to the UK where most of us are first or second generation immigrants so we know a lot more about our culture and history. As the Diaspora whether Black-African or Black-Caribbean we can do more to separate the debate and solidify our identity.
Is LSE doing enough?
LSE and particularly the Student Union have organised events to celebrate Black History Month, which I think is really good because there is definitely an onus on the university and places of education in general to put on events for BHM. The fact that LSE has on a variety of events for BHM is good and I will be attending some of those!
How often do you travel back to Sierra Leone?
I was last in Sierra Leone about 3 years ago, so it has been a while but I used to go every other year.
UAD has been having a debate about race and ethnicity and how people in Africa identify themselves. Do you think Black History Month is important in places like Sierra Leone?
No, I don’t think so. The concept of blackness is from the white gaze and it does not exist without the white gaze and this is why I say we need more nuance in the debate. Blackness is constructed and from my experience in Sierra Leone the need for BHM is not a prevalent issue. In Sierra Leone, colourism is more of an issue as opposed to needing to identify yourself as “Black” because ultimately everyone around you is black. I think BHM is much more important to Diasporic Africans and Caribbeans as it’s a good way to solidify our identity, especially because now there is a generation of Black Brits. Now that we are really establishing a Black British identity, BHM is very important for culminating that and give it more of a historical, political, academic and cultural grounding as opposed to just having a “Black Twitter” for example.
In the UK when someone asks about where you are from, how do you respond? Would you identify as British or Sierra Leonean?
That is such a hard question because it really depends on who is asking; where, why and when? I think identity is fluid and multi-layered because you can be Black and you can British and you can also be Sierra Leonean and they all don’t have to exist exclusively and I think us as Black Brits need to acknowledge that. Some people are almost ashamed to identify as British despite the fact they are born and raised in Britain but let’s call a spade a spade. I am Black British and I am fine with that but I am also Sierra Leonean.