Now I’m a British citizen, and I’m using the opportunities that I have at a second chance in life to make sure that what happened to me will never happen to someone else in Nigeria. However, being in the UK has its own challenges.
I always tell people that I was never Black until I came to the UK. I have stopped talking to Black Africans about race, because the reality is that Black Africans don’t get race. Blackness, as seen in the Western world—whether in Europe or in America—is not about the color of the skin. It’s about an experience.
I became Black in the summer of 2007. Walking from the university, I got to my street and I saw police cars, there were a lot of policemen around. They stopped me. “Oh, good afternoon. Someone committed a crime here. The description that we have fits you.” I was slim, even more than I am now. I used to cut my hair, so it was short. I’m tall, about 5’11”. They took my name, they took my fingerprints, they took my telephone number, and they told me they would be in touch with me. I had no idea what was going on, but I thought, innocently, that they were doing their job, and I even said thank you to them.
A little further away was another Black man, short, round, with dreadlocks. He stopped me, and he said, “What happened between you and those police officers?” I told him, “a crime happened, the description fits me, and they’ve taken my fingerprints.” And the man started laughing. I said, “Why are you laughing?” He said, “Because they told me the same. And you don’t look like me.”
A few years later, I shared the experience with my Black gay friends in Soho, and one of them laughed and said, “Welcome to being Black.” That was the start of my journey to being Black. Being gay here is so cool, that was a privilege I didn’t have in Nigeria. But then I realized that, oh, there’s another struggle I need to fight: I’m Black. And I’m not just Black now, I am Black and gay.
I don’t have the luxury of a choice. I cannot just confront homophobia and biphobia and pretend racism doesn’t exist. Because racism comes my way. Women of color, they do not have the privilege of saying, this is what I want to go through—to choose to confront misogyny but not racism.
We talk about the fact that it was trans women of color at the 1969 Stonewall uprising in New York City that brought us Pride. But, what were the police doing where trans women of color were hanging out? The root of it was racism. And that’s taken over 50 years for us to be having the conversation that it wasn’t just the clear-cut homophobia that happened at the West Village. It was a mixture of homophobia and racism.
Black Lives Matter is equally becoming a sexist movement in the way that we only highlight the plight of cisgender straight Black men. Nobody is talking about the trans women that have been killed in the US alone this year. Nobody is talking about injustice coupled with poverty and everything that Black trans women, Black trans men and Black LGBT people are facing.
This happens throughout history. Look at Bayard Rustin for instance. He was a Black civil rights activist who organized the March on Washington for jobs and housing. He was a mentor to Martin Luther King Jr., encouraging his pacifist approach. He was the only Black gay man at the head of the movement. And he’s been overlooked since then.
It is time that we spell it out. There are larger issues to be addressed. We have to be very clear what we mean when we talk about racial justice.