Last October I decided to get my DNA tested.
I was intrigued to find out about the origins of my heritage and where my genealogy traced back to. Being a black Caribbean, I already knew that my DNA would trace back to Africa, but I wanted to know where in Africa, because all my life I’ve always been told how Somalian, Eritrean or Kenyan I looked.
For black Caribbeans, this quest for identity is important, because our ancestors were Africans who were enslaved and taken from their homes. So unlike those who have a direct lineage from Africa, we often know nothing about our own backgrounds because of the slave trade.
Questioning white Jesus
In recent years I've had several conversations with Christian friends about people we know who have left the Church and denounced their faith. In almost all instances, these people shared a desire to know who their ancestors were. They'd begun questioning not only their own backgrounds, but the roots of their own Christian faith. This is sometimes referred to as being ‘woke’, ie waking up to the truth; believing that the only reason why they are Christians was because the faith was used as a tool to enslave their ancestors, and that their cultural religion wasn't Christianity, but rather African spiritualism.
The western Christianity that many black Christians have grown up with doesn't cut it anymore. It can make them feel that their faith and cultural identity are two separate things.
I began to place myself in the their position and questioned why the Church wasn't providing answers. I began to realise the white-washing of the Bible has been accepted as truth. For example, why is Jesus almost always depicted as white when he was born in the Middle East?
I realised we’d gone very wrong somewhere. We'd begun to lose a grasp on what is true and in the process we've lost black Christians to beliefs and ideologies that catered to their questions about their history - because we weren’t willing to answer the questions that others outside of the faith were. Ultimately, I felt that we had failed in telling the true contextual cultural history of the Bible in all its truth.
Can the two coexist?
On YouTube there are numerous commentaries, discussions and poetic content which addresses the perceived conflict between black identity and Christianity. But hardly any of it was created with a UK audience in mind.
That's why I produced this film:
From a Pan African former Christian in Ryan J Bruce and a PHD student in Black Theology in Eleasah Phoenix (pictured, above), to youth minister Mark Liburd, and UK Christian rapper Jayess, it was important that the film gave voice to a variety of the views and opinions from people who are passionate about black Christian identity. I hope it also gives some insight into how the Church can get better at answering the hard questions.
Knowledge is power
My heritage and my Christianity go hand in hand. God created me to be from this rich region of the world on purpose. My DNA results confirmed some of what I already knew; it stated that I was from Nigeria, Somalia, Kenya and parts of Europe. This discovery of my pre-enslavement history was empowering for me and helped me to culturally identify with Africa on a deeper level.
Can you be woke and be a Christian? challenges myths and misconceptions (in that sense, its similar to my first documentary The D Word). The aim is to open up conversations that will foster long-term dialogue, understanding and change, in how we address these modern day issues.