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"It nuh good to stay in a white man's country too long"

WARNING: Mutubaruka may have prophesied the truth through song for some (image credit: 'Ghana Web')

DO YOU remember the Mutabaruka tune that goes, “It nuh good to stay in a white man’s country too long...” – well, for some reason, that was playing on my mind right through the heatwave.

I say “for some reason”, because I don’t really buy into all of this “this is a white man’s country/this is a black man’s country” business. And yet...And yet, during the recent heatwave, the self-styled Jamaican dub poet would have had every right to pull me up and holler:

“You cyan say me nevah did warn you.”

You see, until last week, I was of the firm belief that you can take Africans out of the continent, but you can’t take the continent out of Africans. I don’t even know what that means exactly, but I chant it every time a Nigerian parking warden gives man dem a ticket for pulling up on a double yellow line for a few seconds while man and man run into the newsagent to buy a couple sheets of Rizla and a single Silk Cut. Ya get me?

Okay, I may not know what it means, but I can literally hear that African continent calling me every winter time. I guess I always thought it had something to do with the ‘soul’ of an African. That there is something so pure and intrinsic about the soil from which we are umbilically tied that no matter how many okey-cokeys and okey-dokeys and knees-up-mother-Browns, we don’t bizness when it comes to the big freeze. And that’s nothing to be ashamed of. No matter how long you live in this country, there is nothing that reminds you more that you’re an African than the months of December, January and February. I don’t care what it says on your passport or how you chat labrish. No matter what colour you are, if you cannot walk semi-naked through a snowstorm like those lads and lassies up in Geordieland, you’re an African.

But some of us have forgotten that. We are so consumed with making a bread in these days of austerity that we ain’t acting like we’re black any more.

Like my father said, I don’t care what you want to be in life as long as you’re the best in the business. He literally said, “If you want to be a dustman, be a dustman, just be the best dustman in the world. Otherwise I’ll beat your arse for being a dustman when you could have been the prime minister”. Nothing against dustmen, but I don’t think he really meant that part. I think he was just making a point. And it was a point well made. In a nutshell, being a winner is what it means to “act” black.

STRIVING

Coming across a black man or woman striving to be the best ain’t as regular as it used to be. There are exceptions. Anthony Joshua is my favourite prime example, and so are the handful of others that I’ll mention below. And you’d be right to say that there are actually thousands more black men and women striving to be the best. Not just these celebrities.

My reply would be there used to be millions of us trying to be the best of the very best. Nowadays, it seems, everybody wants to make the most amount of corn, but it seems like the discipline to be the best is being lost and has perhaps become redundant for many, if not most of us.

And why does that matter? Well, for one thing, we need to be the best of the every best more than ever. These are crucial times in which the fittest of the fittest will survive better than also-rans.

Brexit means Brexit, remember. Brexit means Brexit? I wonder if that is what Mutabaruka meant when he said: “It nuh good to stay in a white man’s country too long.” Like I said, this “white man’s country/black man’s country” ain’t my thing, but does he have a point that staying away from home for too long turns you into a stranger like Odysseus after spending all those years in the Trojan Wars, and not even the woman who had nursed him from childhood recognised him any more on his return.


BEST OF THE BEST: World Heavyweight boxing champion Anthony Joshua (left) and actor Idris Elba

Let’s face it, we are virtually unrecognisable from who we are/were. Ask any African. There was a time when “Be the best, the very best of the very best” was a mantra that was heard in every black home. I’m talking throughout the 1960s to the ’90s, even. We heard it so often that we kept our eyes on the prize. Not all of us achieved the prize of being the best of the very best, but some of us did.

Not for nothing is Idris Elba’s face everywhere right now. After all, he’s the best actor in the business. Zadie Smith is the best essayist of her generation. And we all know, do we not, that Marcus Rashford will be the best of the very best of the very best of footballers. A testament that the mantra still lurks in the wings in many households. That mantra, born out of struggle in a stranger’s land and informed by a crisis of identity enabled us to achieve more and more and better and better every generation.

But I fear, if I am to understand Mutabaruka correctly, that eventually fades into obscurity if you live in a (white) man’s country too long.

ROOTS

In other words, if you’re away from your roots too long and you no longer have a crisis of identity and, more importantly, you can’t take the heatwave no more...Oh, so you thought I’d forgotten about the heatwave? Last week, for the first time in my life, I couldn’t take the heatwave. Britain was too hot for me. I’m ashamed to say it. But I bet I’m not the only one. Come on, own up. Which one of you wasn’t crying out for winter? Because I saw some big ol’ dreads running indoors from the heat. Nuh true, Chinedu?

And that is something to be ashamed of. That never used to happen. Even in the hottest summer of ’76, we hadn’t lived in a (white) man’s country too long to hide from the sun. Who would have thought, after all we’ve been through in this country, that the blazing sun that turns white folks into negroes, would make white folks out of us?

Dotun Adebayo is Britain’s most listened-to black radio talk show host. He presents Up All Night on BBC Radio 5 live Thursdays through Sundays on 909/693 MW, The Sunday Night Special on BBC 94.9FM and Reggae Time on BBC London 94.9FM on Saturday evenings. Tune in if you’re ranking!

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