An open letter to Black LGBT+ people in Britain and beyond ahead of the 14th annual celebration of UK Black Pride
UK Black Pride’s 2018 Festival, “Shades of the Diaspora”, takes place on Sunday 8 July, 2018 in London’s Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens.
To our most beloved community,
On any given day we experience any number of microaggressions. You’re a little brown boy in Birmingham who doesn’t walk like the other boys on the way to school. You’re a Black woman in your workplace in London being told to calm down. You’re a Black man in Bradford walking into a bar and getting that look you know so well; the one that says, “Why are you here?” You’re an Arab looking man with a beard in Glasgow, and people won’t sit next to you on public transport. You’re a woman wearing a hijab in Belfast and you’re getting cat calls as you’re trying to make it from point A to B.
On any given day, a group of people are debating your existence on the evening news. They’re talking about crimes that no one you know was involved in, in places you’ve never stepped foot in. They’re looking to you apologise for lives you never helped to break and will never be able to fix. You’re being judged because you look like what society thinks is a man, but you’re wearing pink lipstick. You’re being ravaged by words designed to wound from the mouths of people too scared, too ignorant, and too self-absorbed to understand the harm they inflict.
On any given day, someone is telling you: “stand up straight and smile”, “all eyes are on you”, “don’t embarrass your family”, “no one will take you seriously if you talk like that”, “yeah, but you don’t need to flaunt in our faces, do you?”, “you were born with a dick, so you’ll never be a real woman”, “go back home”, “let me check your pockets”, and “you should be grateful we even allowed you in this country”. Someone is trying to free you from the oppression of Islam, save you from the savages who sit in their own shit, or mansplain what feminism actually means to you: a woman. Someone who’s never read bell hooks or Kimberlé Crenshaw Williams is telling you that intersectionality isn’t a thing and that “this isn’t the Oppression Olympics”.
A momentary reprieve from the assault course of life that we know so intimately is the reason we set up UK Black Pride thirteen years ago. We need spaces for ourselves. Spaces in which we can let out a collective sigh of relief. Spaces in which we’re free from ‘the gaze’. Spaces in which the only version of ourselves that will do, the only version of ourselves that is allowed, is the truest. Spaces in which we are protected, fought for, and celebrated. As we all know well, the necessity of safe spaces by us and for us hasn’t waned, either.
The continued growth of UK Black Pride isn’t only because it’s a space away from danger. As we come together and our histories and cultures collide, we learn that we are not alone. That in our pain is also our joy.
Thirteen years ago, a group of friends and I travelled down to Southend for the birth of what would be UK Black Pride. A bus load of queer Black women alighted to cut eyes and under-the-breath mutterings, and yet, in that moment, even under the watchful and suspicious white gaze, a celebration took place. There, in Southend of all places, a group of queer Black women connected. It didn’t matter that the group was a mix of descendants from Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, Middle East, and the United States. There, together, a group of non-white LGBT+ people were resisting and laughing and energising under the banner of Black Lesbians UK, or BLUK.
Of course, political Blackness was more clearly defined then, more widely understood. It made sense that every non-white person would band together in the face of the same oppressions, that we would unite to strategise our way to freedom, that we would come together in defiance of those who didn’t think we should be able to. There was an understanding that our experiences, while so completely individual, were interwoven, part of the tapestry of oppressions that cloaked all of us in silence and muffled our demands for justice, equality, and freedom.
Audre Lorde reminds us that we do not have to be each other to know that our fight is the same, and as some draw from the benefits of Black liberation struggles and choose to move away from the political Blackness that united the diasporas in the 70’s, 80s, 90s and early 00s, it’s important that we find a way to reimagine and revive the principles of collectivism that wound us so tightly together at the start of this journey.
For us, we’ll always be UK Black Pride. Our name will never change because we understand that the legacy and power of political Blackness still needs to be understood and applied in Britain, and across the globe. That’s why, this year, we’ve assembled a powerhouse team of volunteers from across the diasporas we represent to deliver our festival and our message: no matter from which diaspora you descend, you are welcomed, loved and fought for under the aegis of UK Black Pride.
“How do we ensure everyone feels welcome and knows they’re welcome at UK Black Pride?” is the question we ask ourselves every year. This year, with an expanded team gathered in a meeting room at Stonewall, we discussed and deliberated on this year’s UK Black Pride theme, until someone said: “Shades of the Diaspora”.
My mind flashed back to the throngs of Black bodies, of every shade and complexion, cheering on Diane Abbott MP’s message of unity against racism and homophobia. Everyone in the room smiled. “Shades of the Diaspora. I get it”.
Shades of the Diaspora speaks to our ongoing mission to unite Black LGBT+ people in Britain whose global roots shoot from Africa to Asia, the Caribbean to the Middle East, and the United States or Latin America. It speaks to the growing number of our diasporic community who show up to UK Black Pride each year. It speaks to the shades of our experiences. It speaks to the complex and interwoven experiences of our asylum-seeking and refugee family. It speaks to the unique hurdles of our gay Black brothers, the infuriating oppression of queer Black women around the world, and the relentless attacks on our trans siblings. It speaks to the experiences of our Intersex community, whose voices are finally rising in a beautiful chorus. It speaks to experiences that can’t be named, those who suffer in silence, those who cannot come out. It acknowledges that all our experiences are not the same, but that we will fight together for a future rooted in freedom and equality.
So, on Sunday 8 July, join us as we come together in London’s Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens to dance, sing, laugh, cry and protest. We’ll remember those we’ve lost, celebrate those who are still here, and inspire those who are yet to come. We’ll have intense political discussions. We will listen. We will laugh. We will exhale, and when we do, out will tumble every microaggression, frustration, and every unspoken word. And when we breathe in, and our lungs and bellies fill with the mass of Black bodies in dance and exaltation, you’ll be reminded that here, in this space, for this moment, on this day, the things that make you other to everyone else, make you perfect to us.
We see you. We love, respect and value you. We can’t wait to celebrate with you.
UK Black Pride’s 2018 Festival, “Shades of the Diaspora”, takes place on Sunday 8 July, 2018 in London’s Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens. Sign up for our newsletter and follow us on social media for regular updates, including how to get involved.