A Journey in Defining Blackness

Daisha Brabham studied at the Royal Holloway University of London in 2019-20 to obtain her Public History degree with a focus on reconstructing black womanhood in the UK.

Here, she discusses her latest project and the journey that brought her there.

I wrote in my personal statement for the Fulbright that to be born African American, is to be born an orphan. Detached from stories, legacies and histories untold. But I was wrong.

To be born African, is to be born a leaf. A small leaf, on a wide, vast living tree, that spreads across the globe. And while we may be whisked away to new branches and find new homes, we stay attached. When I first developed my Fulbright project, Homegoing: A Herstory, I had been feeling so disconnected from my own roots as an African American. I had originally been studying Early Modern English women at the court of Elizabeth I and held no real ties to an African American past.

When I was originally rejected after the Fulbright semi-finalist round and then rejected a second year, I decided to go upon an intellectual journey to help me to understand those connections. Homegoing, the play, is a physical manifestation of that journey into the historical past, in which I met beautiful black women from all over the diaspora from Cecile Fatiman, Harriet Tubman, Mary Seacole and more. The play became, in a way, a chance for the audience and more importantly, my students to meet them as well. In the end, each of the women joined hands as a collective. All one story. All one black.

By the time I had arrived in London for my Fulbright, I had already had most of the ideas of what the play, should be, in my head. I envisioned a Pan African dream, in which all of these historical figures from throughout the diaspora were to meet, in the context of the UK. However, my vision was challenged during my coursework and throughout my time on my grant.

Throughout my studies, I was able to understand that blackness has always been a complicated term that seeks to include and classify many, but does not recognize differences. I learned that the history and experience that I had with my historical past were not always similar to that of my UK friends. I began to understand that although cross cultural connections of black communities have always been there, recognizing the differences that we all have is just as important. I realized; the ending had to be the different. It could not be the same.

I was looking forward to reimagining the play before the pandemic began. My plans, as they were for so many, were thwarted as we were placed away into our homes. However, I began to see that in this digital environment, there was still an opportunity to achieve the goals of my original project. I had the honor to collaborate with a wonderful institution, The Black Cultural Archives, to launch a short series titled Bridging the Atlantic. The purpose of the series was to host a series of conversations between different black communities across the globe, online. The topics have ranged from Black Fashion to Black Feminism. The response has been amazing, in terms of viewership and the connections. However, I think the heart of the success has been in the joyous conversations that have occurred, from panelists to the attendees. During our second event, in which Dr. Tanisha Ford, Dr. Siobhan Carter-David and Carol Tulloch, each of the speakers were excited to virtually meet one another. Each of them shared how one another’s work had changed their views on their fields and the world, despite never having met before the call.

Even more astoundingly, that energy transferred into the chat as black communities ranging from Brazil to the UK to the US shared their experiences of getting their hair braided and expressing their fashion. Future talks include art historians discussing blackness in art and a live conversations of black power activists from the UK, US and Trinidad. The final talk will be a conversation between different communities from Portugal, the UK, the USA, Brazil and Jamaica to discuss the meaning of blackness in their respective areas.

In many ways, the series fulfills not only my individual goals for my final project, but more importantly the overall proposed aims of the Fulbright Scholarship. The series title, “Bridging”, is about far more than a single moment, but a way of operating. As a Fulbrighter, you act as a bridge. A way of connecting two countries. We live in a world in which so many voices are speaking, but few are speaking to each other. What the series has proved is that there is a value in creating spaces for different voices to be heard, especially within communities that represent so much diversity. As we move forward, it is important that we each create spaces in our own respective fields to be a bridge, to act as agents of accessibility, community and connectivity.