It’s my last week in London. Somehow, a year in London completing my master’s degree has flown by so quickly. I sit comfortably in my neighbours’ kooky coffee shop as I write this letter thinking of my growth, my experience, and my life here. I look out the window next to me and watch as numbers of people from various backgrounds meander across the road in this perfect London summer. Despite London’s poor weather during the winter and fall, London in the summertime is incomparable in its beauty and delight. I somehow was also blessed enough that I was here during the summer that England reached the semi-finals in the world cup. Even after London lost, London is still bouncing with a fervour that shakes my very core with splendour.
The outward warmth and jubilee of London reflects my inner feelings towards my time in London.
Here, diversity took upon a different meaning. the US, I am rarely ever asked where “I’m from” unless by other Afro- Caribbeans, as many Americans tend to classify everyone under “African American” despite their origins.
The negative connotation that being African American can carry in America has pushed some (not all) of those of Afro – Caribbean descent and immigrants to attempt to differentiate themselves into self-made segregated sects of Nigerians, Haitians, Ghanaians etc, not for the purpose of differentiating and celebrating cultures, but to push for the idea that they are somehow “better and different” than those whose ancestors were brought by force to the soils of the USA. These Africans or Caribbean immigrants can be found only wanting to associate with those who have a similar Afro-Caribbean background. Now, before one argues that there is nothing wrong with wanting to spend time with people which share your culture, I do heartily agree with such a point. However, when one’s culture becomes the main determinant for friendship and association then progressivity, cultural exchange, and expansion of one’s own self becomes compromised. It must have been a stark slap in the face when Trump named a few African and Caribbean countries as shit holes. It was a distinct reminder that in America, no matter how much we try to differentiate our experiences, in the eyes of white America, the black experience and perception of blacks is monolithic.
On the other hand, in London, being black was understood to be as multifaceted as the faces of a kaleidoscope, each carrying a unique beauty.
Here, I could expect to meet black people from Kenya to Nigeria to Jamaica to the States, and their cultures are celebrated not only by black Britain but white Britain as different but all equally valued.
Furthermore, the differences in black cultures did not cause self-segregation between ethnic groups solely due to the reason of attempting to separate oneself from one particular experience. Instead, even though different backgrounds did celebrate their various cultures, ultimately, there was always a coming together of worlds.
In London, at the surface at least, racial relations seemed to be ahead of the US, even in the context of Brexit. Imagine my surprise when I would go out at night in London, looking for refuge in “a black club”, and realize that this is seldom present in London (at least for all my looking and searching, and I went out every weekend). Hip-Hop/ rap clubs in London, which In the US was a self- designated spot where a severe mass majority of the population would be black and brown, seemed to be a bastion of diversity that college campus brochure creators would salivate over as those from Italy to Nigeria would sing Did you See by J Hus, a British Gambian rapper.
Due to the transient nature of the city and the numerous universities, those from European countries like Romania to France, to Asians from Japan and South Korea to Caribbeans from St Kitts, all actually intermingled with one another. Since many who lived in London were not from London originally (over 40% of people in London was not born in the UK and even with the British in London, many are not from London originally), a strong appreciation of cultures occurred as many people recognized that they were newly experiencing this vibrating city together. Each individual had a very unique story which was seldom ever the same. This is unlike in the US where even in ethnically diverse cities like DC and NY, a mass majority identify as American, and so the mixing of cultures still did not match that of London. Furthermore, a majority of those of different backgrounds remained in their own areas/borroughs/counties in America, while in London, neighbourhoods would actually be some of the most racially diverse areas I’d ever seen (Shoreditch and Brixton, I’m talking about you).
This is not to say that London is perfect. Classicism, at least from what I’ve noticed here, is a more prominent problem here than the US. Social mobility seems to be less attainable. Nationalistic feelings are rising and are being expressed through Brexit. Treatment of Eastern Europeans still remains very poor.
However, during the first year of Trump, London gave me a much-needed mental break from the racial intolerance that is currently permeating US politics.
In most of the US, even before Trump’s presidency, the golden shine of diversity was simply an illusion upon when cleaned with a rag, showed a dark rust. I grew up near one of the most diverse counties in America, Columbia, Maryland, and went to school in another diverse city, Washington DC, and yet, I have not been to any city where across all racial lines, ethnic backgrounds, and country origins, the ideal of diversity soared with such success. After living here, I finally understood why many black American artists came to Europe for a refuge from the US.
Here, I rested. I met some of my best friends. I could’ve fallen in love but refused to let myself fall (a story for another day). I travelled to countries that I’d see in my dreams. Although I was starting over in a new city in the US for medical school, London will always hold that light in my heart, and so for that, I am thankful.
Until we meet again,