Should Telling The Black Story Be Reserved For ‘Us’ Alone?

Are there any stories about Black people that should only be told by Black People?


Of course not! Race is an illusion created by a crew of dead white men who exploited and oppressed at will. To subscribe to this notion,  first of race and second that stories about each race should be restricted to each race is to give further power to these dead white men and limit the stories any of us can tell.

In writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED talk she emphasised the need to do remember there’s no single story amongst Black people. In this world of characters, stories and possibilities of course there should be space for white Anglo Saxons, European Jews, Italians and even others to join us in telling our stories. Better we get starring roles in their works than Black men and women be the first to be killed in movies, a phenomenon that has become a running joke in Hollywood’s recent past.

Neil Cross’ John Luther and the kinds of characters Chiwetel Ejiofor plays are part of a long line of Black characters in non-African specific roles that have been very popular amongst the viewing public.

Furthermore, there’s a unique perspective to be gotten from creative collaboration. The European propagated and benefited most from slavery and their perspective on our troubles since is unique and unrivaled. Indeed, Africa and Europe have had a very special relationship ever since the days of Alexander the Greek. To prevent the protagonists or even antagonists in a long story like ours engaging in the story telling process will be a big disservice to trying to achieve what the legendary Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe’s called “a balance of stories”.

spike-lee-denzel-washingto-malcom-xIn practical terms also a look at the majority of plays, books and films that get made and funded in the European and American mainstream will reveal that white involvement is a big help. And why not? Europe and America are majority white kingdoms. It makes sense that the arts will incline to that produced by their own, or at least modified for the tastes of the majority.

There’s an arrogance to resistance to ‘Black stories’ being told by whites or others that is comparable to attitudes to take up of African cultural characteristics elsewhere; Social networks cried out when started stocking wares made from Ankara print or when Tesco started stocking kenkey and rice and peas in ready meal form. This arrogance becomes counter progressive folly as it is not backed up by suitable alternatives where we’re able to provide our own visible platforms for the stories we want to tell. Until such time we can build up our profiles and infrastructure to the point we can go solo with our storytelling and aim for accuracy and integrity at that point.

There are even critics of  Tyler Perry films and he’s Black so it is not as though as Black story tellers are given carte blanche by the community. There are critics that his depiction of Spike Lee’s ‘Malcolm X’ was watered down to appease the industry key-holders. Ideally Africans should get fully abreast with our history regardless of ready access to TV, films, theatre made by us. Mine the ore and dross for the valuable stones and pearls of truth and inspiration.

Are there any stories about Black people that should only be told by Black People?



Absolutely! Storytelling has always been a very serious business to Black people. West Africa, in particular, was populated by people put to flight by invaders from the north who would burn and destroy all written texts by the Griots who were tasked as keepers of their people’s stories, history, poetry, and music.

It may be difficult today for us to understand a time when a people’s storytelling was the province of generations of one family. This is similar to the way priests and their knowledge and expertise was imparted to subsequent generations. Both institutions and traditions fell to European incursion before Africa was enslaved. The continent and Black people have been the weaker ever since.

Dr-John-H.ClarkeLions have to tell our own stories if we don’t want the tales of the hunt and what happened next to favour the hunters. Stories, who tell them and how we’re not just important to old-fashioned Africans either. When you let somebody else tell your story for you the historical perspective will be theirs and it’s no accident Black writers and directors find it so difficult to get funded as the sorry state Dr John H.Clarke said: “Hollywood never spent a dollar on JUST entertaining anybody.” George Orwell backed him up when he said: “All art is propaganda”.

Cast a critical eye over the world’s political, economic, cultural landscape and you will ascertain Europeans are at war with Africa. Even if it’s a matter of which Europeans it is we’re speaking of, the fact is the most resource-rich landmass on the planet is the poorest and its people worldwide are more likely to be poor, imprisoned or die sooner than their European counterparts. Thus, a European made film or piece of propaganda will favour who? Them. We must tell our own story.

Capitalism, religion, military might have done their work and just as important is the battle for minds. On the new battlefields, race is the lie we’re forced to fight on or we die in our ignorance.

The fuss over Tarantino’s ‘Django Unchained’ taught me something. As much as many are resistant to the idea of a Black homogenous community there will come times when we will not quite unite but feel strongly enough on a race-related topic to make media agencies second guess themselves. While we spend most of our waking hours wondering if racism isn’t so much an issue why all this fuss if a Tarantino decides to tell one of our stories for us with liberal use of the word “n1gg*r”
black_characters_eastendersThere are Facebook groups with thousands of followers requesting more Black characters in British household shows like Eastenders. There’s as much Facebook groups and twitter campaigns complaining about representation of Black people once those characters are created. All this while other communities get on with building up their own television subscriber channel networks.

Are there any stories about Black people that should only be told by Black People –YES or NO? I presented my thoughts like this because I wanted to talk for a minute to those that hold either view and because there’s a gulf between the perfect story and the realistic story. And also because like all good stories there’s the good guy and a villain. And as in every good F. Gary Gray (the African American director of  ‘Negotiator’ and ‘Law Abiding Citizen’) film, you will see the villain’s point of view.

It is the opinion of this writer despite the facts and because of the facts that we as Black people strive to tell our own stories. This blog won’t, however, stop Hollywood from making our films and making us look bad or patronising us if you interpret their output a certain way. What may stop them is if we put as much energy into creating and supporting our own stories as we do into complaining about what we feel are considered false and misleading stories out there now. Learn from history and how it repeats that Black people will one day return to a position than it is and the legacy we create now will be invaluable in that future.

Article written for the british blacklist by @gbontwianyetei



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