History books are written from a white perspective. As a queer black woman, I had to educate myself

For Black History Month, east London-based South African MC Toya Delazy writes about the importance of the education and celebration of black culture

Toya Delazy
Monday 07 October 2019 08:39
‘I wish teachers had taught me that the richest person in history was a black emperor named Mansa Musa’
‘I wish teachers had taught me that the richest person in history was a black emperor named Mansa Musa’

Being an African, non-gender-conforming queer black woman, I represent a group that has been repeatedly robbed of expression. Women in South Africa were historically powerful and greatly respected. Men couldn’t go to war or pick up a spear without the permission of their wives. Women were considered the spiritual superior to men and even the most autocratic kings consulted females in their community before making important decisions. This isn’t taught in schools.

Education is fundamental to improving the future for black people because you have to know who you are to know where you’re going. I’ve had the resources and mentors to re-educate myself as an adult, so I finally understand my identity. I have felt the pain of rejection. The pain of being silenced and the pain of being let down – these feelings made me realise who I am and I found my truth, which is why I now feel capable of sharing it.

Because history books are written from a majority white perspective, children grow up with no knowledge of black people’s history before slavery and apartheid. I wish teachers had taught me that the richest person in history was a black emperor named Mansa Musa. We have a rich heritage, we were industrious, we built cities, we created economies. I was shocked to see so many artefacts in the London Museum carrying the staggering history of South Africa before the colonial period, considering the British pillaged the land and erased our identity.

South Africa is patriotic. For example, 90 per cent of music played on the radio has to be by local artists. So I was surprised to learn that, until two years ago, London authorities could ban artists from sharing their craft based on the ethnicity of their fans, thanks to Form 696. And that, while Notting Hill Carnival is supposed to be a celebration of black culture, it is still measured based on the level of crime that takes place there. It seems that misinformation continues to fuel a negative portrayal of black culture.

As a queer black woman, like many others before and alongside me, I find it exhausting to constantly be confronted with ignorance. Since educating and accepting myself, I make sure I spend the same amount of energy understanding, nurturing and celebrating my identity. Not only has this positively impacted my mental health, but it’s freed me creatively which is what I’m conveying in “Funani”. Be yourself. Afro-Rave is a sound which finally, authentically reflects my beautifully complex being, such as mixing the sounds of Southern Africa and grimey UK garage beats. It’s my biography in musical form.

Black History Month is an opportunity to educate everyone, regardless of their race. We must unapologetically, relentlessly champion black culture and expose systematic discrimination. We are in this together.

Toya Delazy is a multi-award winning artist and an ambassador for Unicef. Her new single “Funani” is out now

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