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Living in London as an African American woman has had its ups and downs.

The ups:

– Escaping the daily soul-crushing racism of America.

– Meeting people from every corner of the diaspora during my frequent travels across Europe.

– Free healthcare.   

The downs:

– Finding a salon that has mastered the Dominican blow-out.

– Being asked, “But where do you really come from?” when the answer really is “Brooklyn.”

– Episode 205 of She’s Gotta Have It on Netflix.

In his highly-anticipated reboot of the 1986 classic movie bearing the same name, Spike Lee has brought the legendary Nola Darling into the 21st century. Our heroine faces street harassment, embraces pansexuality, battles gentrification and comforts her BFF in the wake of a BBBL (botched Brazilian Butt-Lift). Blending millennial experiences with vintage Spike-isms, Nola straddles Lee’s oeuvre and introduces the director to a new generation. But the recent flat depiction of Black Britons is still trapped in the pre-internet days when no one knew better, so we couldn’t do better.

Viewers first meet Nigerian-British artist Olumide “Olu” Owoye in episode 204, "#NationTime," where he is a participant at a Black artists’ retreat on Martha’s Vineyard. In a moment of foreshadowing, Olu tells Nola, “Black Americans get so caught up speaking to and for each other … it seems constricting.” The scene concludes with a rote discussion about the impact of integration as Nola and Olu walk off into the sunset.

Watching in my flat in London, I quickly hit pause and took a breath. I felt seen. Countless conversations I’ve had in the U.K. have centered on the perceived Black American “obsession” with race. I always counter with a quote from comedian Hari Kondabolu: “Saying that I’m obsessed with race and racism in America is like saying that I’m obsessed with swimming when I’m drowning.”

Race is the reality of America, stretching back to the days when it was still a British colony, ironically.

Race is also a reality in the U.K., but it’s positioned alongside issues of class and Eurosceptic xenophobia, then benchmarked against America’s brand of brash, in-your-face, caught-on-film racism. And thus, in the minds of many, it’s simply not the same.

In the subsequent episode, we find Nola and Olu discussing Samuel L. Jackson’s 2017 comments regarding Black British actors starring in African-American roles.

Let me say that again: 2017.

For reference, when Samuel L. Jackson made these comments, Donald Trump had just been sworn into office a few weeks prior. The #MeToo movement hadn’t yet hit Hollywood. The Charlottesville protests were just a glimmer in a white supremacist’s eye.

Yet, these comments surfaced again in this scene, with Nola stating that she was not mad at Chewy-toy Ijeda-tofu (translation: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Commander of the Order of the British Empire, BAFTA winner, Golden Globe and Oscar nominee), but Black British actors needed to “fall back” from taking American roles, and that they come cheaper.

I had to hit pause again.

In 60 seconds, Nola’s comments went from Brooklyn banter, to potentially thought-provoking commentary about globalization’s impact on labor markets, to the devaluing of a Black human being.

Olu agreed, somewhat. However, he felt that Black British actors were better suited for American roles because “they don’t carry the burden of f**ked up Black American history … Black Brits are free of the psychological burden and therefore they can really delve into Black American [roles].” This sentiment isn’t new; Black British actors David Oyelowo (The Butler) and David Harewood (Homeland) made similar comments in 2015 and 2017. Still, it stung.

Nola countered with a quick overview of Britain’s role in the Transatlantic Slave Trade, concluding that Black Brits have Stockholm Syndrome and fell in love with their captors.

That’s when I had to put down my tea and crumpets.

Cross-cultural dynamics within the Black community are, shall we say, a bit complex. Whether we’re discussing the role of African slave-traders, the caste systems Black Americans created in Liberia or the pricing of Rihanna’s Fenty LVMH partnership, finger-pointing is a full-time job in the diaspora.

Across social media, we debate the merits of Pan-Africanism, joke about which culture Drake is going to appropriate next (my money is on Brazilian) and learn to shaku on the beat as well. We also degrade each other. And we do it for the world to see.

This September will mark my fifth anniversary of moving to London. My first two years were spent in a constant state of confusion about Black British people. Why weren’t they making eye contact with me? How come no one is reciprocating my nods? Does every Black man I meet only date non-Black women? It took me years to realize that I was projecting my African American ideas of race onto them, making me no different from the Americans that show up to foreign countries demanding that everyone speak English. I had to learn to listen. And when I let Black Brits speak for themselves, I heard stories of Stuart Hall, and the Bristol Bus Boycott, and Windrush. I also heard anti-blackness and colorism and colonized mindsets — but I learned not to let that be the dominant voice in the room.

Days after my first viewing, I struggle to reconcile Episode 205 with the Spike Lee that cast Black Brit Delroy Lindo as a loving father in coming-of-age tale Crooklyn. The blowback on social media was immediate, with John Boyega (formerly, John Puerto Rican Bodega) responding “Trash” to the clip. Spike, for his part, has engaged with critics on Instagram, defending the depiction.

I imagine our ancestors, in Black heaven, finally reunited after centuries of bondage, colonization and Jim Crow. They are eating jollof and jerk chicken, polished off with a slice of sweet potato pie. What would they think of us? Regardless of individual views of Pan-Africanism, there is a shared history that predates our present divisions. There are conversations to be had and we are blessed to be able to bridge the oceans and land masses that separated us for centuries. And if we fight, we fight fair. Episode 205 felt like a sucker punch.