On Living As An African American Woman in The UK

February 23, 2019
Ghenet Actually || Living As An African American Woman in The UK

I’ve been sitting on this post for a little while now. I thought I’d originally share it back in October… you know, for Black History Month. But in the States, Black History Month is actually in February… The truth is, it’s taken some time to articulate exactly what my experiences have been now that I live in the UK. Yes, I’m American, but  I’m also African American. It’s a huge part of my identity, one that I’ve come to understand a little better since moving to the UK. Let me explain a little more…

Ghenet Actually || Living As An African American Woman in The UK
Ghenet Actually || Living As An African American Woman in The UK
Ghenet Actually || Living As An African American Woman in The UK
Ghenet Actually || Living As An African American Woman in The UK

I remember seeing a tweet last year from someone talking about the difference between black vs. African American. The thread was discussing the fact that they’re used interchangeably, how what it really means is that anyone who is African and American, would then identify themselves as African American. They argued that someone could be Egyptian and living in America or Asian, but born in Africa and also American, and in both of these cases, would be considered African American.

I had to step in and clarify that that is in fact not the case.

Twitter can be a funny place for that kind of discourse, but as someone who does identify as African American, I felt it was important to correct the assumptions that were being made in the series of tweets.

It’s a huge part of my identity, and whenever it comes up in conversation, I do feel obliged to explain what exactly it means to be African American.

African American specifically refers to the black people in America who are the descendants of slaves. You have to keep in mind as well that people who are the descendants of slaves are very unlikely to know where on the continent their heritage is from…

Which is why this all-encompassing term exists.

Why am I taking a moment to explain this? To give you a better idea of how my blackness has changed since living in the UK.

‘What are you on about, Ghenet?’ you’re probably thinking…

A lot of my friends of color, or people who I speak to, usually identify as being Jamaican, Nigerian, or Ghanian, as well as being British. They maintain their family’s country of origin as part of their identity.

Kristabel, for example, speaks very openly about her Jamaican roots, which I always find so interesting!

Even my pal Nicole talks about her Ghanian background. Nicole is American as well, but she doesn’t identify as African American. *Technically* she’s not African American. Her mother is Filipino and her dad is Ghanian.

When I talk about being African American, it’s an acknowledgement that I don’t know that part of my history. I have no country to identify with, no culture to call my own… other than being from America and having ancestors from Africa. The reason so many African American families don’t know where they are from is because during Slavery, families were intentionally separated, languages erased and identities decimated as an effort to keep slaves in line. If you had no family, no kin, you had nothing to fight for.

Now that I live in the UK, I’m more aware than ever of what that lack of knowledge means to me.

Ghenet Actually || Living As An African American Woman in The UK
Ghenet Actually || Living As An African American Woman in The UK
Ghenet Actually || Living As An African American Woman in The UK

If I’m having a conversation about race, and someone asks me about my background, I do find that I have to explain what exactly it means to be African American. Or that I don’t know more than that.

It doesn’t seem to be a concept people have too much of an understanding of.

Of course, this doesn’t change too much my experiences of being black. There are still moments when I’m very conscious of it, regardless of what I identify as.

Just the other week, something happened that made me hyper aware of the color of my skin…

I was at a birthday party recently and while I didn’t know everyone, I had a few friends there. At one point in the evening, these hats started appearing. Red hats, with white writing. They were MAGA hats, but they’d changed ‘America’ to the name of the person who’s birthday it was.

Those hats have become a symbol of hatred, racism and white supremacy. So to be standing in a room, the only person of color, and see people making them into a joke was pretty sickening.

I felt unsafe, and unwelcome.

So I left. I vacated that space because as a black person, I didn’t feel like I could safely exist in that room.

There are so many nuances to being black, and how that identity adds definition to who we are. It’s a minefield, to be sure.

Truthfully, even though I am black, I’m always learning about exactly what that means. To me. To others.

My identity as an African American is very much tied to that as well. I sometimes feel a bit of a disconnect with other people of color, because they have the ability to talk about their roots and where their families are from. I sometimes feel like I don’t belong in those spaces.

And you know what? That’s okay.

All I can do, and all I want to do, is just share a little bit about my experiences. Share in the hope that it will shed a little light into a different aspect of race. Or in the hope that it allows me to be a little freer in my life and in my pursuits.

I am African American. I am proud. I am happy… and I am here.

Photos by Nicole

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Ghenet Actually || Living As An African American Woman in The UK
  • Reply
    February 23, 2019 at 9:07 pm

    Hi just wanted to thank you for a really interesting article. I always find this one tricky. I mean a person in England could have a surname that identifies them as having ancestors in Wales but they dont then say well I’m Welsh English. I myself am a person of colour with my parents, grandparents and so on being from the Caribbean. I identify myself as Caribbean British. I know the Caribbean being a melting pot will obviously be a mixture of slaves from Africa as well as those natives from those islands and many other nations. I personally never know whether to include that too in the title? Afro Caribbean British or Caribbean British. Especially as I identify with my Caribbean culture most. Ultimately I love my rich heritage which no doubt includes Africa, but also includes the Caribbean, Portugal and even Scotland but what really identifies me are my human qualities of kindness and tolerance. That’s my inheritance that I want to pass on to the generations that follow.

    • Reply
      February 24, 2019 at 11:04 am

      It’s absolutely a tricky one, and it’s different for each person! I can only speak from my own personal experience, but it’s so interesting to hear what other people are feeling! Thank you for sharing yours with me!

  • Reply
    February 25, 2019 at 4:16 pm

    This was such an interesting read! I didn’t know that there was such a significance to those 2 words; African American. But it makes complete sense to me now.

    Btw, you’re an absolutely delightful person and I love your blog! It was so great to meet you as well as Vix on Saturday. xx

    Teresa |

    • Reply
      February 26, 2019 at 6:14 am

      Oh, thank you so much! Yeah, now that I live in the UK, I do find myself explaining it to people pretty regularly. Not that I mind! It’s a huge part of my identity! Thank you for taking the time to read!

  • Reply
    February 25, 2019 at 10:43 pm

    Thank you so much for this insightful post! I had no idea what it really meant, and you put it so clearly 🙂

    Flor |

    • Reply
      February 26, 2019 at 6:16 am

      Thank you for reading it! I’m glad you found it helpful! Race is a very nuanced thing with so many layers, so I’m happy to provide a little clarity by sharing my own experiences! Thank you for joining in the conversation!

  • Reply
    March 4, 2019 at 10:26 am

    This was such an enlightening post. Like others in the comments, I never knew the difference between African-American and Americans from Africa. Thank you for sharing. Very helpful!

    • Reply
      March 4, 2019 at 2:22 pm

      I’m glad you found it helpful! I know it’s not always an easy conversation, so opening up a dialogue is very important I think! Thank you for taking the time to read it!

  • Reply
    March 4, 2019 at 4:33 pm

    Thank you so much for sharing this – I found it such an interesting and educating read! I have to put my hands up and say that I didn’t know of the significance of those words before (even though I’ve heard the term so many times) which just goes to show that it’s so important to keep reading and educating myself. 🙂

    • Reply
      March 4, 2019 at 4:34 pm

      Thank you for taking the time to read it! You’re definitely not the only one. It’s kind of the nature of the beast, that there are so many layers and nuances to race. This is just one side of the story, ya know? But I appreciate you taking the time to read and continue educating yourself!

  • Reply
    July 27, 2019 at 11:27 pm

    Thank you for this wonderful story. My wife is African American from Detroit and she has lived with me in the uk for over 6yrs. I am from Nigeria. It will be nice to link both of you as sisters just the way she calls any African American woman. Both of you will have so much to talk about from your experiences living in the uk. You could email me:
    Stay blessed

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