Not many people know what it feels like to grow up as a black man in Brixton. It’s a lot like growing up as a Pakistani in Bradford. Everywhere you go people want to talk to you about the riots and the issues and the ‘race problems’. You get used to becoming a barometer for the latest bout of hand-wringing about integration and marginalisation. Such a worry isn’t it? All those young black men drifting into anti-social behaviour and criminality and not treating their women right. Sound familiar? Now the debate has moved on to my Muslim brothers. It’s your turn to be in the spotlight as the contested focus of society’s anguish. You’ll grow accustomed to the profiling, just as we did, but that’s not to say that we’re fine with it. But hey, if you’re a Muslim black guy, or worse still a Muslim black guy living in the US, phew you certainly got a lot on your plate.
The wearying conflation of identity persists, oscillating between my race and heritage, depending on who is asking. As it turns out I’m not only black but also of African heritage. Specifically, my family are from Ghana, where my mother continues to reside. My formative years in the UK were spent in the care of my grandmother, who was as matriarchal as she was an empowered African woman. I was never sure if the family structures that were conveyed by my heritage had succeeded in defining me so I set about discovering ways to understand my place and space in the framework of those traditions. This desire to delve into the legacy of my history became a late passion, because I first needed to situate the concept of belonging in a wider context of lived realities.