My name is Tom Attah. I am Black British. You don’t see that on forms very often.
I was named after the Irishman – Thomas Larbey – who gave my mother and father a place to live in the late 60s whilst they studied medicine. Compassion and chance and tolerance from the United Kingdom are built into my name.
DAMNED RIGHT I am an Englishman. I’m never going to pass for white but I will always, ALWAYS pass for human. I have earned the right to call myself that down days of compassion and understanding and belonging and song. And if I will call myself human, English, European – then I have to – HAVE to – admit where my mistakes are, and to forgive people for making theirs.
That would be to forgive the 120,000 people in Yorkshire who voted BNP this week.
There’s a story about people who came on boats across the waters through the mist and fog because they heard tales of a land of opportunity, a place where they could make their names. They came on long journeys where many of them died, into a harsh climate that was NOTHING like their own, to a place where they were resisted and where they did not know the language – and where they had to fight to make their voices heard. But fight they did, and slowly but surely they integrated into the peoples and lands that they had come to so slowly and from so far away.
But enough about the central Europeans invading Roman Britain in the year 450. Enough about how England is named after a tribe of Germanic conquerors (the Anglii), from 1,550 years ago. This is about the BNP, so we need to skip forward almost 16 centuries to today.
I am Black English. I can tell you the names of every UK prime minister for the last 200 years. I don’t think that Nick Griffin can do the same thing.
What terrifies me most is that I understand. I know what the Barnsley BNP voters mean when they say they “…don’t know what they want,” I know where they are coming from when they say they don’t care who it is – just as long as someone claims to know who they are and what their pain is and how to cure it. It’s blues. Not racist blues, HUMAN blues.
Politics IS that simple and that serious.
But my understanding was bought at a high price.
Millions of my ancestors were displaced and murdered to buy my understanding. My forebears were beaten to death to give me my chances and my parents were abused in the streets to purchase my opportunities – so that now, when it is time for ME to understand and to forgive, when it is time for ME to share and to educate – I know how to do it. If I don’t stop the wheel of segregation and distrust and lies and ignorance from spinning then I have learned – WE have learned – nothing.
But I’m angry about this.
HOW DARE YOU Nick Griffin, lie to my people. HOW DARE YOU Nick Griffin, tell them that you are in this for them. HOW DARE YOU Nick Griffin, tell me that I have no right to be here. The only true indigenous peoples in the UK are the Welsh, and they are angry enough already. This nation was BUILT on immigration, invasion, inclusion and adaption.
My father fought so many battles to get into 2009 and now here we are thinking about the same old thing – a group of people feeling like they have been forgotten, who believe that they are jobless and who think that they have no rights.
The people who voted BNP think that they have been told the truth. Hell, on the streets of Barnsley the people didn’t even know the name of the BNP candidate they had voted for. My job is to tell people the truth. I play music, so that should be easy – anything that’s a lie sounds like dissonance, out of tune, discordant to me.
I know that the blues is a state of mind, not a style of music. The hard part is going to be telling people the truth, even though they don’t want to hear it. The truth is that everyone belongs. Some need it read to them, some need it played to them – but we all BELONG.
Musicians – please play it. Writers, please write it. Singers, please sing it. Artists, please paint and draw it – and everyone else – EVERYONE else – just show it and believe it and demonstrate it and let it shine out of you because you KNOW that it’s the truth. Tell everyone what you have told me, because we are friends, and we are friends for a REASON.
Me – I have some incredible and beautiful and talented people in my life. I am lucky like that. I play gigs so all I can do and WILL do for the next year or so is transmit the message above to the disenfranchised people or to those who didn’t vote this time round and tell them how important it is that they VOTE NEXT TIME – because if they don’t, shit like this happens.
The Barnsley people DIDN’T EVEN KNOW THE NAME OF THE PERSON THEY ELECTED. All they knew is that something – anything- had to better than what they have got now.
How do we explain to people about their potential? How do we show people that they are more empowered than they have ever, ever been?
I am open to suggestions. What do you think I can do – what do you think that WE can do to change all of this? It’ll be a slow process, but look at how far we have come, look at what we have at our disposal – if you are reading this, look at how easily we can talk to each other.
How do we take a message of understanding and inclusion – the message that I have learned and been taught for the last 36 years – to people who have forgotten it or never been taught that they belong in the world, not on an island?
But you know – it could be easier than I think. After all, everyone likes a curry and a bit of motown.
Tom Attah's blog is here.