Black & White
We feel honored to share a blog post written by children’s author, Atinuke. Her titles include; Baby goes to Market, No1 Car Spotter, and the Anna Hibiscus series. Born to a Nigerian father and English mother, Atinuke grew up in the bustling city of Lagos, Nigeria. With fantasies of England imagined from the books she read as a young child, Atinuke begged her parents to let her go to boarding school in the UK. Her experience, however, was not as she dreamt it would be.
- Photo by Paul Mussos for Hay Festival
‘Any misdemeanors or mistakes that I made were put down to me being African. I coped not by becoming defiant, but by assimilating. By becoming as British as I could, as quickly as I could. When she left school Atinuke yearned for adventure. She studied at York University, worked as an au pair in Paris and then after running away, lived in a bookshop and on streets with other travelers.
Throughout her adult life Atinuke has suffered with depression, got married and divorced, had two sons and eventually settled down in Wales where, with the help of friends, she has built her very own house.
‘I moved to Wales and lived in a round house made of straw and clay with no electricity or running water. They were magical years of starlight, wildflowers and firelight and the songs of the streams and whispering of the trees. I still live in the same magical valley, in the same inspiring and infuriating rural community, now in the house that I built.’
It had not crossed my mind to watch the royal wedding. The royal family reminds me of the empire, of colonialism, of oppression, of the fact that people in my country still think that British culture is better than our own. Just seeing the royal family can make me furious.
And all that ostentatious wealth just makes it worse.
One of my strongest griefs is the unfairness of our societies. I believe that there is enough to go around. That everyone could be fed, and housed, and educated, and as healthy as is possible given medical science. It’s just that there is not enough for everyone to have excess.
And Royal Weddings are all about excess.
My dad rang from Lagos the night before.
“I’m just calling about the royal wedding,” he said. “Who are you watching it with?”
“I have already put the champagne in the fridge.” He said. “Your uncle is coming to watch with me. We are going to have fried chicken and dodo.”
“So what about you?”
“Actually Dad I’m not going to watch it.”
He sounded belligerent. My dad is old school, old school colonized. He bought the lie that the British queen was his queen, that she represented him as well, that her pomp and power and glory was something for him to be proud of. And I am furious that he was tricked like this.
But it’s not only that that makes him love the royals. He is a traditional Nigerian. He loves celebrity culture. He firmly believes in haves and have-nots. That some people are inferior and others superior.
“Dad,” I sigh, not wanting to get into it. “I don’t like the Royal Family.”
“Why?” He sounded even more belligerent. “What have they ever done to you?”
I sigh again. Not knowing where to start.
My dad came to Britain in the 1960s. But it was on a scholarship to do a PHD. And he went back to Make Nigeria Great afterward. If he had accepted the invitation to stay here and Make Britain Great instead then he would be in fear of deportation by now, if not deported.
“Just make those boys watch it.” He said, talking about my sons. “Weren’t you telling me that they are teased at school for being mixed-race? Well, now they can hold their heads high. What is good enough for the Royal Family is good enough for anyone.”
I put him on speaker phone and start to clear up the kitchen. I know it annoys him when I do anything else while talking to him.
“Just promise me those boys will watch it.” He says. “I will call you after.”
Then he puts the phone down.
By the next morning, I have forgotten all about the Royal Wedding. It’s easy to do. I don’t listen to the radio or watch TV. I live down a long bumpy track in the middle of nowhere.
Well, actually, I live in the middle of wild wet West Wales where I heat my house with a wood burning stove. And I’ve spent all week single-handedly splitting and stacking all the wood needed for a winter that seems to stretch on for 8 months of the years. Tons and tons and tons of wood.
And now it’s Saturday and all I want to do is potter around my greenhouse and then go to the beach. So I do.
But just before going to the beach I pop over with some seedlings for a neighbour. I’m surprised not to find her and her boys outside on this sunny Saturday. I peep in through the open front door and there they are sitting in front of the television!
She looks up for a split second and then frantically waves me in.
“You have got to see this!” She shrieks.
I’m just in time to see Bishop Curry begin his address. My jaw drops. Then I lunge for her phone and call my house. My youngest son answers.
“Come down here quick!” I say. “This is better than Black Panther.”
Soon I see his Afro bobbing past their windows. Then his flat nose peeps round the door. And finally, he plops down next to me onto his perky bottom. He stares at the screen. Soon he is looking as disbelieving as the royals.
“What is this?” He asks.
“It’s the royal wedding,” I say. “Look, that is Prince Harry. His brother is going to be king one day. And that is Meghan Markle. Who he is marrying. She is mixed-heritage. Like me. Like you.”
He watches for a few more seconds.
“It is not as good as Black Panther.” He says crossly.
And gets up and leaves. I want to shout after him. But I am too busy listening. I want to run after him. But I can’t tear my eyes from the screen.
Later that night, after the beach, I make him watch the whole thing.
“It’s nothing like Black Panther.” He whines.
“I know, I know.” I say. “I used the wrong word. I should have said that it is as important as Black Panther.”
“But it’s boring.” He whines.
“You have to watch it.” I say. “I promised Grandpa.”
The next day we are making lunch together. And he uses the word mixed-race.
“Really,” I say. “We should say mixed-heritage. There is no such thing as race.”
He stares at me like he does when I say things like there might be fairies.
“We are all one species.” I say. “Race was just invented to justify racism. There are no actual physical differences between white people and black people.”
“Mum,” he says, exasperated. “There are. We have dark skin, and wide noses, and curly hair, and big bottoms.”
I stare at him speechless. Then throw my arms around him and squeeze him tight without making any comment at all. Inside I am dancing - He said “We”! He said “We”! It’s the first time he’s referred to black people and said, “We!”
My son might have an Afro, but it is blond. His nose might be wide but it is white, as white as the rest of his skin. And his bottom might be big but his eyes are bright blue. So he gets to choose. And this time is the first time he has chosen, not to be white, but to be black!
Thank you Megan Markle! Thank you Prince Harry! For having your wedding as ostentatiously black as white - for celebrating both.
My dad calls that evening.
“So?” He asks.
“It was brilliant!” I say. “Brilliant.”
“I told you.” He says.
“I just hope that she can stand her ground,” I say. “I hope that she can stay choosing to be black. That those people don’t make her choose to be white.”
I can hear my dad rolling his eyes.
“What have they ever done to you?”