Black House – A Modern Tragedy
The enlightenment that I have found on my vegan journey often surprises me with how it chooses to manifest. The well worn health, wealth and moral macro-mantras are all true to different extents but actually, on a day to day basis, what has served me best is the newer, leaner, hungrier voice in my head who grows in strength and confidence because of my new-found discipline in an otherwise chaotic existence.
It is from this reflective place that I developed an idea of a primal vegan philosophy which radically changed my mental approach to life. From this new, shall we say, ‘elevated place’, I began to understand how I’d been so sunken before and only from the vantage of an enlightened consciousness was I now able to see solutions to the plights of my former self.
Sure, I can talk about the animals whose daily, visceral and visual subjugation serves as a constant reminder of the type of society we live in, but I think I can start far closer to home to illuminate where my head is really at.
Identity politics are currently framing a lot of mainstream narratives in one way or another and for the most part, good for every former silenced party who is now getting their voice heard, even as patriarchal, supremacist forces work against us (Net Neutrality, mass surveillance, demonetisations etc). However, similar to discussing quantum mechanics with a room full of two year olds, not many people actually have a clue what is happening but still feel compelled to make noise because everyone else is.
Now, imagine that as the room of two year olds all gurgle, cry, scream, mumble and every other sound under the sun, we record the loudest, at close quarters, and then play that back into the same room. Amplified. On a loop. Previously, I had always believed the way to affect the ‘conversation’ was by being the loudest cryer in the creche who has all the other toddlers wailing in unison behind me. At the plane of understanding where I had come to that conclusion, it effected the optimum result of garnering the most attention, meaning…most likely to be picked up, noticed, attended to or (to fulfil the allegory) most likely to be heard.
Then it hit me.
Instead of crying for attention, even a two year old could instead focus and choose to try and comprehend what subatomic particles are. The behaviour of the pack defines our condition but not our character. The solution is rarely found near the centre but in the farthest perimeters, pushing the boundaries.
I stopped crying and started thinking.
Why do they come and tell us all this quantum theory when they know we don’t understand it? Why am I even in this room full of other two year olds? Why are we all crying and making noises at each other and not asking who put us in this room?
As I started to ask more and more questions, some of them innocuous, some of them pertinent, I began a metamorphosis. My vocal chords may have dampened, but there was a big splash in my understanding of the predicament.
It is intentional that we compete for attention without comprehension of our situation. It is intentional that ideas are framed in ways to stir us to anger and confusion. It is intentional that there is thematic symbology in these theories that appears both contradictory and convincing simultaneously. It is intentional to keep us crying because it means we aren’t thinking…
My thoughts led me to the problematic black identifier which continues to be the most pervasively dangerous scourge of African life, wherever on Earth we have now made home.
Because of the historical, abundant resourcefulness of the African peoples, when we were first referred to as ‘black’ we took it in our stride. In different styles at different times, African people have been known as moors, negroes, blacks etc, but this aesthetic ‘peculiarity’, diametric to fairer-skinned interpretation, was only an identifier and not any lead on ethnic or cultural values. From antiquity to now, there have been merchants and nomads moving across Africa and up into the Arab peninsula, Asia, Europe and beyond. Some brought gold, some brought frankincense, some brought nuts and oils, some were emissaries and ambassadors but, undeniably, whilst being of a darker complexion, were indeed individual people of varied sovereignty, integrity and ultimately, identity. The institutionalisation of blackness as a social underclass was conceived much more recently than people have become accustomed to believing.
Fast forward to today and black, by its sheer mammoth, is the biggest imposter culture that modern man has ever known. Let’s break it down to those quantum mechanics which are its building blocks.
How Did We Get Here
The most prolific and brilliant identifier that we have is our DNA. Billions of lines of code stacked and archived uniquely defining each of us but with broad sections the same in many of us. However, in these bespoke libraries housed in each of our bodies is (at least) one line of code that every person alive shares; from our most common recent ancestor (MCRA), approximated to be from Ethiopia. This identifies all of us to be one race, the human race, from which every other unique line of every human family since has built their identity upon.
But, to condense our human story into an aptly titled film franchise (Bourne), our identities became our legacies which in turn are enforced as supremacies. These supremacies (governments/autocracies/multinational corporations) serve ultimatums to those whose identities do not reconcile with their own.
Along that journey of global supremacy, there has been a systematic strategy to conflate the social classification of blackness with the ethnic identity of Africa and her diaspora. It has been at work for many centuries now and everything from blackface (in all its characterisations) and biological pseudo-science to H&M and Iggy Azealea, is the canonisation of the black imposter culture which, similar to Christianity, has been loaded with so many ‘goodies’ that it can still be an attractive proposition to opt in to.
The rhythm of modern music is African but it has been conflated with black, the resilience and humour in the face of abject adversity is African not black, the ambition and excellence in the space of opportunity is African. Not black. The very idea that history could have colour-coded months was a red flag even as a child.
To my assessment, the problem is one that has its clearest elucidation within the parameters of tort and IP law but can be best allegorised as a property story.
Once upon a time, the inhabitants of Europe House conspired to build a shameful new property, meant to be hidden from the eyes of polite society, but a cash cow for their main build. They invested the bare minimum so that the house would stand but not flourish, provide shelter but not comfort. They called it the Black House. They then proceeded to fill it continuously with African tenants. Eventually, no matter where the Europeans found people of darker skin, they were processed and sent to the Black House.
We have done a lot to make the Black House as homely as possible because we are forced to live here. As I have mentioned, we are all of resourceful, resilient, creative and excellent, so, with little opportunity or access to resources, with tariffs, embargoes and a whole load of our landlord’s other heinous artefacts piled up in our conservatory, basement and attic space, we have made it not only habitable but, for all its structural flaws, something beautiful and to be proud of.
Obviously, after so many generations as leaseholders we have become very attached to the Black House, what with our long term investment and constant improvement on the property. Every milestone that the Black House has seen, achieved and surpassed has been in spite of the owners not because of them. The owners have tried to condemn the property (whilst we are in it), set constant hazards to endanger our habitation, killed our best architects, builders and foremen, siphoned resources from the scant we have amassed and regularly overcharge for basic materials we need for essential maintenance. The owners also persistently engage in negative PR campaigns to deter other people from visiting or investing in us. However, even with the odds constantly stacked against us, the Black House is now a cultural beacon and continues to draw people from other houses.
As the success of the Black House continues to grow from strength to strength, the unscrupulous owners and their progeny see fit to exercise their ‘right’ to entry without prior warning. This extends to regular breaking, entering, stealing and co-opting things they find in the house. They have also seen fit to sublet parts of the property to visitors and tourists (at our ultimate behest) who want to enjoy the experience, commitment-free, before going back to their comfortable institutions.
So to the most pertinent part of this whole shambles: Ownership and where, therein, the problems inherently lie.
The Europeans built the Black House.
Prior to its opening there was no Black House – we lived in different franchises of Africa House. Because we (Africans) did not build the Black House we can never own it. We can populate it, promote it and even feel proud of it – but we will never have the title deed nor will we ever have commercial rights; only licence. We so often get caught short on this point and get wrapped up in notions of cultural appropriation forgetting that strictly, under the law as it was drawn, the commercial activity undertaken in the Black House is property of the owners not the tenants.
Meanwhile, Africa House, where we were largely stolen from, has been depleted because so many of its best people have been living and working at Black House for so long. Black House where we have no privacy, no planning permission, no right to buy and, in fact, no rights at all. Black House where we have been historically industrious but still not on the executive committee. Stakeholders but never shareholders. A Black House where black lives don’t matter.
It’s time to hand in our formal notice at the Black House and reclaim the birthright and title deeds of our varied ethnic homes. Black House is a worksite ONLY; a parody, a pastiche which we have given more than enough to without our fair share of its spoils. Society is so quick to mire us in black crises but never there to praise Bantu achievement, Akan success or Mandinka triumph in adversity.
Only by claiming the titles of our ethnic houses can we unlock the vast cellars and wings of our ancestral homes and all the rich history that they contain. Whilst we have been caught up in Black House administration and politics, the Rest of The World’s Houses have plundered our undermanned and strategically exposed Africa House. It continues to be the richest (as it was the first) and this is why it is in no other house’s interest to inform the lost Africans of our call of duty; we no longer remember the cry and so the raised alarm at Africa House falls on deaf ears.
We immerse ourselves in entertainment even whilst we are at war such is the malaise at Black House. We are forced to fight on so many fronts we have accepted hostility as an expected reality and so do our best to entertain our guests regardless of their behaviour; just to keep their aggression at bay. This adoption of entertainment as a survival mechanism has extrapolated over the centuries and now presents as its own dominant subculture, honed from necessity but born of African creativity, the richest and the oldest…
We are at war.
The terms of engagement may have changed but more fool any soldier who believes it to be over. The cultural war for hearts and minds is being fought with every waking second of our existence and even as you read this, that inconspicuous thematic symbology I earlier mentioned is within your peripheral vision and subtly informs what you believe to be your free will and decision making processes.
The knowledge that I have gained as a sponge-like surveyor, neither habiting Black House or Africa House, but instead visiting and studying all the houses in disguise has informed what I have surmised here today. This analogous understanding of the gravity of our situation has also allowed me to see the promised land. This knowledge of the ages is something that I now wish to share only with new architects, planners, foremen and builders. People intent on rebuilding Africa House back to her former glory. Otherwise, my years in the shadows, of self-taught comprehension of blueprints, atriums, rotas, circuit boards, security details and more will have been in vain.
It has been a long time now since I cried in this room and slowly but surely more two year olds are noticing. My eyes may be puffy, my hands raw, my spirit exhausted but, to know that hope’s horizon is in visible distance means that my mission’s objectives have been achieved and when nap time comes, I can rest assured that change is coming.
Jay Brave © 2018