Commentary: Being Black, Not African-American

Still form Cecile Emeke's Web Series Ackee & Saltfish, episode 1
(Photo: Cecile Emeke via Youtube)

Commentary: Being Black, Not African-American

One woman goes for the bigger picture.

Published June 3, 2015

When Issa Rae released her web series Awkward Black Girl, Black girls — awkward or otherwise — were thrilled. We were more than aware of the disgusting lack of Black female-driven shows on TV and knew it was way past time for more. Now in the Being Mary Jane, Scandal, Empire, How to Get Away With Murder and Black-ish world we live in on primetime, it feels a little like victory to remember just how white television used to be. Still, it wasn’t so long ago that we can’t understand why Cecile Emeke launched her own YouTube channel.

Emeke is a Black British director from London. She created a channel to help bring some representation of Black faces to British media. The shows on her channel include Strolling (tagline: Connecting the scattered stories of the Black diaspora) and Ackee & Saltfish, a comedy series about two Black women who are best friends in London. 

Thanks to the Internet, Emeke’s shows can be seen by all of us on this side of the Atlantic. And if we watch with our minds open, we can learn a lot more than what she may have intended. Aside from being entertained, Black American viewers can get a peek inside of what it means to be Black when you are not African-American. We can learn from first generation French immigrants who sound off on discrimination, saying, “By denying history they can push this narrative of 'Immigrants! Why would their parents come here?' Our parents would come here because you f**ked up our countries. You exploited our resources." 

Emeke is determined to explore what Black identity means when you are from the UK or France or Portugal or the many other places Black people call home. As she does that, we here in the U.S. can remember that Blackness exists outside of cultural touchstones common to us (like, everyone may love Biggie, but the stories he tells are in many ways specific to the U.S.). To see what life is like and what Blackness means all over the world — and to hear how Black Americans and our politics, culture and activism (or lack of) are seen by other Black people — is an education we can really use here. American cultural imperialism makes it really easy to pretend that we have the monopoly on what it means to be Black, but now, thanks to Emeke, one simple YouTube click can open up an entire world to us.

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.



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(Photo: Cecile Emeke via Youtube)

Written by Ayana Byrd

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