As a first-generation Tanzanian born in this country, it was challenging to understand where I belonged. Where do I call home?
In this blog, I hope to explore being in a position where you feel you don't have a homeland. I was born in the UK, and my family originated from Tanzania and Burundi. Still, I've always had difficulty calling England home, and every time I call Tanzania home, I get wary remarks from those that come from there. So sometimes, I end up feeling isolated and feeling no belonging.
Having been born in London, I have always had a sense of pride and affinity to the city.
Having lived through the transformation of the whole Wandsworth borough from places like Tooting, Battersea, Streatham, from slums and no-go zones to now being beacons of gentrification. I've lived and seen how the internet has transformed the lives of many people within my community, whether through music, sport, influencing etc. I've hustled through the streets of London by exploiting loops holes.
All those experiences have made me feel like I belong to this city; I've been through the trenches and come through the other side. I've walked those cold streets of London, and by the grace of God, I've come out alive. But I've also come to understand throughout my lived experience that many people don't accept me or will never accept me as being from this city.
When I was thirteen, I was chilling with my friends at Southside, after enjoying our movie at the cinema, which only cost £1 😱. Whilst my friends remained idle in the shopping centre thinking about what to do next, I walked towards a store. As I approached the store doors, a black security man stopped me and said
You’re not entering this store; I don’t need that kind of trouble today.
I remember it so vividly. At first, I wasn't in shock since I automatically assumed as an elder black man, he was doing what was best for me & I walked away without even questioning why I was stopped. As I walked back to my friends, I turned around and stared at the security guard; he was also staring back at me, smiling. Then it just hit me this dude had no right to stop me from entering. I began questioning why an elder would do that? He's black, and he's an elder. Surely he'll have my best interest at heart.
But as I've grown older and kept revisiting that moment, I begin to develop reasons as to why he did what he did, sowing what I've been learning and experiencing into that one moment. I'll never honestly know his intention, but clearly, he racialised me and assumed what everyone else believed.
Racialisation - To impose a racial interpretation on a person or situation.
That was a growing theme when I was growing up; I never had the luxury of being my authentic self to develop facets of my character without being rejected by others. Black children and young adults are constantly bombarded with who they should be, how they should act, and say. We are never allowed to develop ourselves, making black children develop characteristics that are not of their own but propagated by others, which is used to justify racist narratives and policies.
Akala articulated this beautiful.
I would argue that through school and the different treatment and assumptions of teachers, encounters with the police, and portrayals of ethnic groups in print and TV, by thirteen, we have learned the meanings and implications of our racial identities quite well and have bonded over common experiences and perceptions.
For black children, encounters with the state and its agents, outright interpersonal racism, and much else teach you a sense of shared blackness, and by thirteen, this black identity is usually solidified. Ironically, this sense of shared blackness creates two completely contradictory behaviours.
First, it creates a fierce loyalty to your ‘man dem’, a sense that you are taking on the world together, and so you become willing to die to defend your friends as if you were at war. In fact, if your friend were not willing to risk his life for you, you’d very much doubt his friendship.
Yet this very shared blackening also begets fear and thus aggressiveness towards other young black boys who are not familiar. You internalise both a sense of black unity and common struggle, and at the same time a sense of self-hatred, a belief that other young black boys are a danger to you, and both possibilities wrestle one another constantly.
Added to the complexity of being black is being Muslim in the UK. Being black and Muslim makes me a minority within a minority, with South Asians being the dominant ethnicity within the Muslim community. I've never had a problem with that because we fully understand Islam is a religion of no ethnicity. But, the majority of Muslims I meet had the presumption that 'I became a Muslim' rather than being born into one, which made it incredibly exhausting and frustrating having to explain and prove myself to others who I was as if they were the 'Gatekeepers' that determined what made one a Muslim. Ludicrous.
Honestly, you just think to yourself, why can't you accept me for who I am. I've noticed that people who ask me those questions are soo enthralled by their existence in the UK that they allow it to distort their perception of the long history of Islam across the globe.
To further add to the pressure, the discourse around ethnic minorities people being accepted to the UK usually revolves around economics, whether you are a net gain or net loss. Luckily this doesn't directly apply to me. Still, indirectly you feel pressured into thinking that you should validate your stay here by trying to attain incredible academic records, become a successful entrepreneur or attempt to achieve the near impossibility in a particular field.
Yes, one should have that ambition, but it shouldn't be driven by a need to prove your worth. People are human, and their economic contribution shouldn't solely judge their value to a country. I'm not here to argue what people should be judged on or whether they should be judged at all, but rather the movement of people to different places on earth shouldn't be limited. Of course, as a state, you need to ensure the safety and cohesion of the society, and yes, that ambiguity opens the door for draconian policies. However, fundamentally the movement of people should not be limited at all since such movement allows for endless possibilities.
Then you have my Tanzania and Burundi heritage. Whenever I go to either country, I'm deemed an English man. It got to a point where I no longer attempted to speak Kiswahili with my family members for the longest.
- The trauma of being laughed at for my mistakes when I attempted to speak Kiswahili stuck with me, making me completely stop speaking and feel ashamed for not knowing my mother tongue.
- Whenever I attempt to speak Kiswahili nowadays, it's deemed Swahili ya wazungu. English Swahili. A form of othering, further enhancing the feeling of not belonging.
I've explained this to my mother before, and she told me that my family never intended for me to feel that way. Still, it was tough to fit in without feeling excluded because of my inability to speak my mother tongue like the rest. For me, I didn't have it too bad. But I know others in my situation who know the Kiswahili language perfectly, but their mother or father will never deem them Tanzanian but heartbreakingly call them English. You could argue, 'why do you care so much.' Because as humans, it's innate for us to feel a sense of belonging within a group or community. If you don't think that or have that, you end up feeling lost and bewildered, eventually resulting in an identity crisis.
This is a challenge that many people face and will continue to face. It's a challenging journey but one I think an individual cannot avoid since once you find comfort in who you are and where you belong, you feel a sense of ease and comfort within yourself. But the repercussions of not discovering where you belong or who you are result in you feeling detached from society, resulting in anti-social behaviour.
I hope you have a lovely day
Peace out ✌🏾