African Ancestry Month at Ramapo College began its festivities by having a discussion featuring keynote speaker Lola Adesioye. Adesioye, who is a writer, social commentator, broadcaster and singer-songwriter, discussed the parallels between “black British” culture and the contemporary Obama era African American experience.
She has written for publications such as The Guardian, The Economist, The Huffington Post, CNN, The Root, Ebony and Arise to name a few. She also is known as one of the most notable Nigerian wordsmiths and black social commentators.
The speech began with a brief introduction by Tanadjza Robinson, an African Ancestry committee member. She mentioned Adesioye’s most remarkable accolades, for example studying at Cambridge University.
Immediately following the introduction, Robinson brought the keynote speaker to the podium. While the audience, which consisted of both students and faculty, applauded the humbled speaker, she took a quick glance at her notes then began to address the crowd. Although the assemblage was sparse, it added to the overall intimacy of the event.
She began by sharing a childhood story about herself. When she was an inquisitive child in a library in South London she stumbled upon a book about the slave trade in the U.S. Upon bringing this book to an adult for more information, she was told that she was too young to understand. It was there, she says, that her fascination began.
Right away she made it quite clear that the narrative of African Americans in the United States is entirely different from that of “black Brits,” as she often referred to herself. Although the two worlds are very different in their history, they relate in many ways. As she grew older, she looked to African American society in the U.S. to see people who “looked like her” on television and magazines. The United Kingdom is only 3 percent black, and they are concentrated in metropolitan areas. So, she looked to the U.S. with the hope that Britain would eventually get the message that “black is beautiful.” Much to her dismay, she is still waiting.
At first, it may sound refreshing that Britain didn’t have slaves, but she was not ashamed to tell the true story of her country.
“Slavery was never legal in Britain because they felt the air was too pure for a slave to breathe,” she said, as the climate changed in the room. She spoke candidly about Britain’s racism in the 1980s with popular sayings like “Keep Britain White” and “No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs.” To this day, they live in a society that believes that some people are just better because of their blood, hence the royal family, according to Adesioye. Class and social mobility are still huge issues in the U.K.
She discussed the confusion she felt trying to find her identity. It wasn’t until her teens that she realized she was different from most of her friends because of the color of her skin. She still struggles with being in the media, while disagreeing at times with the message it sends.
She concluded by encouraging everyone to be a positive force, because even though it may not be apparent to Americans, African Americans are heavily influential on black Brits. Lola Adesioye is being the change she wants to see in the two places she calls home, the U.K. and the U.S. She encourages others to do the same.