Am I qualified to host a show amplifying Black voices?
By early morning, I am the breakfast presenter on Capital XTRA, one half of the first ever black female duo to host a commercial breakfast radio slot. We do things like laugh at Krept & Konan and gush over Saweetie’s Birkin bags – hardly ever is it part of the job to speak about the serious stuff.
That was until the Black Lives Matter movement was catapulted into the British consciousness this May, and stations like Capital – and broadcasters like myself – were forced to come up for air. We were forced to burst our bubbles of what was ‘suitable’ to speak about, and start concentrating on what we should really be talking about.
Before lockdown and the killing of George Floyd, the Black Lives Matter movement was something I spoke about with my friends, that I tweeted about from my personal account and that was something separate from what I actually do for a living. Now? There is no room for the compartmentalisation that came oh so naturally. We have to be loud and we have to be intentional.
You might ask why fans tuning in for some Skepta would want to hear about how black teenagers are three times more likely to be excluded from school in the UK, or why listeners patiently waiting for Rihanna’s ninth album would want to be reminded that Black mothers-to-be are five times more likely to die in childbirth?
Well, the answer is simple: because it is the truth.
“This is the kind of show I have wanted to host since I first picked up a microphone and told the world my name.”
I wanted to get more involved in spreading that truth – and that is why I am working with HuffPost UK on #BlackVoicesHPUK, a new series which will highlight the Black experience through a series of panel discussions with guests from all different walks of life. Each episode will focus on a different topic, from sports to entertainment to education to sex, from the perspective of the Black Brit. This is the kind of show I have wanted to host since I first picked up a microphone and told the world my name.
However, there was one thing that worried me when I agreed to front this project. One thing that I could either ignore completely and allow the elephant to potentially take up a lot of space in my mind – or that I could address and discuss. Am I qualified to speak for Black people?
My instinct is to shout and scream and defend my Blackness with a vim and conviction that would make even the biggest critic wonder how they could ever deny me. But instead I think it makes more sense to stop, take a second, and actually understand why this is even a question.
I am mixed race and, yes, my mum is white (Irish to be exact) – but when I read stories of other mixed race people not knowing where they stand or how to identify, I have never been able to relate. Growing up in Peckham, London, the only experiences I have ever had are those of a young Black girl. For me, there isn’t a question as to who or what I am: a Black woman.
But do my experiences differ to those who have two Black parents? Yes, completely. And in recent months I have taken a long look at what this means. I’ve thought about what it means to be Black, to identify as Black but live with the privilege of being lighter-skinned in British media, and I’ve thought about how I can be part of the problem.
“I am not signing up to be the Beyoncé of the show, but to be the host who wants Black voices to be heard properly without being questioned.”
Part of me believes that I am qualified to tell the stories because of my job. As a broadcaster that is what I do – I am the proverbial bus driver, getting the conversation from one stop to the other, leaving no passenger behind. I can show you my CV and hopefully you will agree that “YES… Yinka Bokinni is RIGHT for this ROLE OH YEAH!” simply because it is my job to speak to people.
The other part of me knows that I am here to learn. Sure I’ll contribute, but I know it’s more important that I listen and to hear the voices of Black people, both like myself and different. In working with HuffPost UK on this project I am not signing up to be the Beyoncé of the show, but to be the host who wants Black voices to be heard properly without being questioned like they so often are in mainstream media.
#BlackVoicesHPUK is also an opportunity for you reading this to really understand what it means to be Black and exist in the UK too. This will be a collection of Black voices discussing the things that should matter not only to us, but to everyone – the Black experience is part of the British experience.
This is the kind of show that is missing from the British consciousness, yet so very necessary. On #BlackVoicesHPUK we are not going to be talked about or tokenised – we are going to be leading the conversation, on our terms. And we are going to be a space that doesn’t simply tolerate, but celebrates, the contributors – something that I have been wanting to do since the very first time I saw a Black person have to defend their existence on morning television.
Yinka Bokinni is a breakfast presenter on Capital XTRA and founder of Sistem magazine. Follow her on Twitter at @yinkabokinni.
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