Before We Were Black, We Were African.

Black History Month is with us again. Each year I find myself a little baffled by Black History Month. I find myself asking, "Is a month enough to celebrate the accomplishments of a diaspora that now reaches beyond England, West Africa and the Americas?" Added to this, we are now frequently told that Black refers to political Black and does not include all people who are classified as black or who identify as black. It strikes me that we still have a long way to go to genuinely celebrate ourselves, our history, our survival and the many folds within the cloth that constitute our diversity.


The ordinariness of what it is to be black is what makes being black extraordinary. The diversity of people of colour, who not only come in all hues, shapes, sizes, identities, beliefs, values, tribes, clans and fill a multitude of hierarchical orders and natural orders that predate colonialism and slavery, is universal. Much of our submerged history and culture remains unexplored, overshadowed by the limits in our understanding of the past.


For me, every single day is black history. Like every other person, I am the living embodiment of all those who came before me. I recently asked my 11-year-old step-daughter to draw me a historical map of Homo Sapiens. Without batting an eye, she told me that if I was interested and wanted to understand, I needed to go back further in time, to Homo Australopithecus: a genus of early hominids that existed in East Africa around 4.2 million years ago. It was a humbling proposal, one that makes a month seem like a barely perceptible blip in the arc of our time on earth.


Our ancestors have been around so long every single human on the planet has a strand of DNA that links us to early modern humans. And in that time, the concept of days, months, years and epochs have been created. In that time, hybrid vigour has changed, adapted and modified us to be suited to survive life on earth. It seems worthy of acknowledgement and celebration, given that species die out all the time. We are still here.


There are ancient African civilisations that simply disappeared. Demi-Gods, kingdoms and dynasties across Africa's vastness, a land home to over 1.3 billion living souls and the source of much of the world's natural resources. In reality, it is a continent with 54 countries and 2000 languages, tribes, clans and many more totems. Africa is not a continent of black people. It is a continent of people. And given how many black people at some point originate from there, it is worthy of our attention. In truth, Africans and all their descendants were the first true colonisers to roam the world and occupy tabula rasa. We often forget that colonisation is nature's way of ensuring the continuance of life and that colonisation is the realisation of potential.


People from Africa have been migrating, exploring and populating this planet for nearly four million years. Many of those people have survived; famine, war, changing weather patterns, pandemics, slavery, the accumulation and loss of wealth. They have been victims, perpetrators, helpers and heroes. They have invented, inspired, motivated, developed, languished, toiled, achieved and failed. Empires, dynasties, new worlds, old worlds have come and gone. Their descendants, our ancestors, have created life, proliferated and died so many times that not one of us alive today outside of Africa has not at some point married and reproduced with people from another clan or ethnic group. The will to survive, for life to go on, is a constant driving force. Each subtle nuance in the shade of skin, each differing belief about politics, religion, art, music and the meaning of life itself reflects a history steeped in the double helix that is our DNA.


When I think of my family in Africa, how they frequently tease me and say, "This one thinks she is black." Soon after, laughter turns to tenderness when I speak my truth, "I am human, I am African." I respect the difference in perspective each of us brings to life. Without it, we would be sunk. I know as a human that in the absence of diversity, we all would struggle to survive.


When we look at people only as brown, black or white, we are blind to reality. When we observe, something beautiful starts to arrive. The reddish-brown hue of my skin serves as a reminder of my Maasai ancestors. The flatness of my nose from the Bantu, the slant of my chin, from my Tutsi ancestry. Some might sense the history of my Jewish ancestors in a serious, quiet temperament. Or the connection to nature from Amerindians, the Yuroba sense of pride in being me, the Ashanti love of academia. My love of the English countryside comes from my Irish and British ancestors. Those on this earth who are truly solely black in ancestry share the most similar genetic information with Scandinavians. Some might say they are the whitest people on the planet. Without hybridisation, species quickly become extinct.


Black History Month is, it seems to me, a way to honour the arrival of Africans in the New World. That arrival may have been for many reasons; humans migrate by force of will or by force. It is not new. It is only that we have forgotten our ancestor's ancestors. Black History Month is a celebration of what it is to be black in this modern-day western world. In a few short years, we have integrated, merged and become part of a whole new emerging culture called the Modern Western World.


Remember, the colour of skin is the colour it reflects; it is not the colour it receives and absorbs. The same can be said of our history.





Zita Tulyahikayo is a Systemic Constellations facilitator, coach and therapist. She supports individuals and organisations to resolve transgenerational trauma held within the wider systems of which we are all apart.

The systemic approach offers us unique and dynamic insights to heal and resolve the seemingly intractable challenges that touch us all. Rooted in the knowledge and wisdom of universal laws of life and living, systemic work is founded on true equality that allows everyone to live a fully expressed life. As a result, individuals, families and organisations are strengthened to step confidently into a future that supports and uplifts.

Zita is also a mentor to young women from African, Caribbean and Asian backgrounds who aspire to a career at the Bar, and she facilitates a regular diversity discourse forum.


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