Black and British in America

Daniel Kaluuya talking surrounded by the black panthers
Daniel Kaluuya in Judas and the Black Messiah

There is something I have observed for decades, its being Black and British. Its something got to reflect on while reading this piece form the Guardian.

The piece is mainly about American & British cultural differences which I got to experience early in the 2000’s.

I hadn’t even reached Ithaca, the tiny university town in upstate New York – my home for the next six years, as I studied for a PhD – when the confusion over my Blackness and British accent began. I was ill-prepared for Matt, the skinny white American in a cap sitting beside me on the plane. “But you don’t seem like you’re from London,” he said (I’m from Hackney, and very proud). Matt had never been to the UK, let alone London.

I got a lot of this in a different ways.

My best story in this space (which I have told too many times, but can’t seem to find on the blog) is when me and my ex drove into a fast food place in the mid-west. She parked the car and I went in to order in advance.

I walked through the door and up to the counter to order. The young short white woman with blonde hair said to me…

“Yo-yo, brother whats up? How ya doing? What can I get ya?”

In that moment, I was really confused thinking this isn’t the way to greet someone at all? And let out a “Uhhhh, what?!” in my typical British accent.

At that moment you could see the staff member’s face descend into utter confusion. The confusion was made clear as my ex followed me and made it clear what I was thinking.

Although its quite different from the Matt story, there is still something of a disconnect/confusion which is happening. I can’t put my finger on what it is exactly. Maybe a light touch of stereotyping? (depending how you look at it)

I remember always being called African-American and trying to explain, nope I’m black or UK-Black. Some interesting discussions were had too.

Author: Ianforrester

Senior firestarter at BBC R&D, emergent technology expert and serial social geek event organiser.

15 thoughts on “Black and British in America

    1. Its strange to me, as I call myself Black and at a push UK Black or Black British.
      If I was to say Caribbean-British, I would likely laugh afterwards.
      Guess it depends on the context, as I do enter it on the NHS track and trace system.

  1. @cubicgarden It’s clear the world is starving for lack of knowledge and empathy.

    This is not like anything I’ve ever experienced, (being a white Norwegian male), but when a couple of friends and I was taking the boat out to Alcatraz, (wearing a bit low key clothing), we talked amongst ourselves, and then I saw a father pointed to us and then tell his son “They’re Russians”.

    1. Wow!
      Funny enough a friend of mine, use to get asked if she was “really?” Swedish as she had red hair and spoke very good English.
      This was also in American, crazy eh?

    1. Yes its annoying after a while. I actually found a film recently (can’t remember which one) where there was a Russian Black man and they were very confused.
      I guess it makes for a good plot point but shows a similar point.

  2. @cubicgarden.com I get the importance of ethic origin … which is why African American is truly annoying since Africa is not a single ethnic source and as you say seems to exclude Carribean, Jamaican etc etc … Asian American is just as bad .. but there is something about America that insists on these descriptors because even when you come here you hang on to that heritage … Irish Americans, Italian Americans … though to my knowledge ‘English/British American’ does not seem to be used ..

    1. That is a interesting point, not certain why this is?
      I wonder why you don’t hear as much in other countries?
      I hear people say French Canadian but that’s more for the language?
      Its all so interesting…

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