In this snap I'm sporting a traditional Eritrean hairstyle (called Albaso) with a homemade, 1950s inspired, very British dress. And before anyone asks, yes the hair is all mine because I bought it. ;)
Black is a catch-all term once used to describe people of black African descent, but its meaning seems to have shifted to the point where I am not always sure how to apply it. It can no longer mean everything to everyone, because it now seems to be used to describe specific communities.
I have a very strong cultural identity and heritage connected to my ethnicity (Eritrean) and my nationality (British). I was brought up in a semi-rural English town by Eritrean parents. Neither my home town or my parents had any connection with the British Black community. Surely, then it is inauthentic for me to identify myself as Black (capital B to denote community), because Black has meaning beyond colour and is used to describe race, culture, identity and heritage.
I am happy to be identified as black (small b to denote skin colour) in support of colour equality. The main crossover I have observed between myself and the British Black community is how I am identified and treated by all ethnicities outside of my own Eritrean heritage, including within Black communities. So for me to be identified as Black projects a set of expectations that are outside of my experience and heritage. I simply cannot meet such expectations.
For example, the first time I met someone who identified (15 year old uninformed) me as Black, they tried to engage me in a Black power handshake, which I had never encountered before, and this shocked them. Now, please don't misunderstand this to mean that I have no interest or empathy with Black culture and history - I do. However it is a perfect example of unrealistic expectations being placed on me because of my skin colour.
It is like expecting me to speak a language I have never heard (which coincidentally occurs with other ethnicities - I am sometimes spoken to in Bengali for exactly the same reason - my appearance). I suspect that this confusion happens because Black is now the name of communities with rich heritages, cultures and identities of their own. I cannot even refer to Black as a single community, because it is used to describe cultures in different countries - America, Britain, South Africa to name a few, and living in London I am fortunate enough to meet individuals from these communities and enjoy learning about our differences.
No big deal, you might think; what does it matter if you are thought to belong to a different community? It depends how far the thought is taken, and by whom. Initial thoughts and presumptions are absolutely fine, and to not expect appearance-based assumptions would be naive. But after being challenged or corrected, if incorrect notions are maintained? At best, it is a failure to recognise the importance of someone's culture and how it has shaped their identity. At best.
For this reason I prefer the term people of colour. It is inclusive of all ethnicities who are stereotyped and yes, suffer prejudice because of their colour, but does not expect cultural singularity. People of colour can be used by different communities to express the prejudices and injustices we collectively experience because of our colours and appearances.