DIFFERENT OUTLOOK: Olusoga aims to tell ‘new stories’ in the four-part documentary TV series
HEADLINING BLACK and British season is David Olusoga’s four-part series for BBC Two, Black and British: A Forgotten History.
Taking a ‘fresh approach’ to British history in demonstration of the enormous contri- bution that black people have made to shaping our world, Olusoga says “I’m very proud to be a part of this landmark BBC season and hope my series will provide audiences with a very different, challenging and enlightening view of black British history, a history that I feel is part of all of us.”
In the four films, specially commissioned black history plaques are unveiled at locations across Britain and the Commonwealth to celebrate people and events that are pivotal to this new history.
Olusoga spoke to The Voice about what drives him, being mixed race, healing from past trauma of racial violence and why he ‘doesn’t trust’ the concept of repatriation for black people as a solution to racial injustice.
Born in Lagos, Nigeria, Olusoga moved to the UK with his family in the 1970s and resided in the north east of England, where they were one of the few non-white families in the area. It was here that Olusoga experienced his first taste of racial abuse. “It was difficult. A time when the National Front was powerful, both politically and culturally,” said Olusoga.
The family were eventually driven out of their homes by attacks from the National Front and, experiencing this violence and not comprehending it, history offered the young Olusoga insight. He explains: “My journey into black history is a way of making sense of my own experiences in Britain, which were as difficult as they have been for many families.”
The definition of being and British can vary from per- son to person, as the entire BBC season serves to highlight. “For me, it’s that I am part of a long, global, complicated, sometimes tragic, sometimes difficult, sometimes rather beautiful story of this troubled relationship between this country and that continent,” he says.
Many who have suffered at the hands of anti-immigrant and racist attitudes in the UK have opted to return to their native land – whether that’s Africa, the Caribbean or, in the recent Brexit vote context, Europe. Repatriation is one of the central tenets of Rastafari – a pro-black movement. Ethiopia specifically has land available in Shashamane to encourage this project, though not every- one within the global diaspora has automatic right of return.
THROWBACK: The documentary looks at the experience of black people throughout history and their contributions to society
There are black people residing in the UK and America who feel that this is the answer to better quality of life, instead of trying to reconcile with and transform a system that was built off the back of their people’s oppression.
Olusoga carefully pauses before saying: “One of the great- est successes of black people around the world, is that in the most difficult imaginable of circumstances, we’ve cre- ated new hybrid cultures. We should find pride in this, see Africa as part of that diaspora and not feel that the answer is in some form of migration. We are where we are, in countries all over the world and we claim the right to be there. We fought to be there.”
The historian points out the similarities between repatria- tion and the xenophobic ideol- ogy ‘go back to where you come from’, and says: “I am nervous about it, because it was one of the plans of our enemies”.
Although he visits Nigeria as often as possible and has strong ties there, Olusoga admits: “I don’t feel that I could fully adapt to living there, because I am too British”.
Oftentimes, when individuals migrate from their country of birth and go back to visit, they are rendered as more of a ‘foreigner’ who is no longer able to relate to life in that particular country. Olusoga however, has had a different experience of his homecoming; “I am Yoruba and when I go back, I am swept up into my big family. What I feel when I go back to Nigeria is to be part of another culture which is just as frantic, people always come and go. It’s just as crazy as London”.
Whilst the author’s father is a black Nigerian man, his mother is a white working class woman from the north east of England. As a champion of black history, Olusoga equally identifies with his English heritage: “There has though I think we are slow in accepting this always been some white people who have not accepted the racial ideas of their time.
“There have always been mixed-race relationships, families that look like mine and I feel as much part of black history and of white working class history, as I do of the other his- tory of diversity, intermarriage and racial mixing in Britain”.
Olusoga continues: “When I was younger, there were very few mixed-race people and people were confused about who you were. Now, there’s a lot more mixed race Nigeri- ans and a lot more people are aware.” The broadcaster says he is keen to uncover, address and educate audiences about a wider range of other topics under the banner, too. He says: “There’s two things you can do by accident when making a black history documentary you can make it a history of racism or a history of slavery. One of the big aims of this series is to not tell stories that we’ve told before. This series was an opportunity to tell new stories”.