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Personal perspectives on BHM2020: Ken Kittoe

Posted on October 2020

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1. Tell me a bit about yourself and your background.

I’m a proud East Londoner who is British born of Ghanaian heritage. My parents emigrated from Ghana to the UK in the 80’s when they were 23 and 24, they were childhood sweethearts and moved across for a better life in the UK. I’ve lived in East London all of my life and didn’t leave until I was18, when I went to university in Hertfordshire.

2. Why is it important we celebrate black history month?

I’ve got a different view on black history month, I feel we shouldn’t just have one month where we celebrate black history and the rest of the months where the negatives of black history are talked about. The majority of people (when they think of black history) think of slavery and that is such a tiny part of the great and amazing accomplishments that black people have brought to this planet. So I like that black history month sheds light on these accomplishments, but I feel we need to celebrate and change the narrative permanently. Sometimes I feel it can be 3 steps forward and 5 steps back as black people are still having similar issues to those endured 30 years ago. Security guards follow me around shops and I’m a tax paying, law abiding citizen and this would have happened to my dad, so having to fight the same battles that our predecessors were fighting is a bit dispiriting.  

For progress to happen, we need people to relate on a personal, human level and question their perspective, then they can understand and bear witness to the skewed portrayal of black people and the behaviours it has engendered. This will bring actual change and this allyship will be the difference between this generation and the last. Previously any type of racial group that were fighting against discrimination were fighting on their own and there wasn’t the allyship from other groups but this generation grew up in mixed areas, mixed schools  and we all work in offices that are mixed with different cultures and backgrounds. We have woken up to the realisation that people are just people. Allyship will bring more support to our fight for change and this will get more black people into rooms, board rooms and conversations that they have not had access to before. It is the defining point of our generation that I love the most. We are a very open minded generation and in it together.  If you don’t agree with something you have got to be able to call it out, because it is a human right, you shouldn’t be treating someone any differently based on their creed, colour, background and sexuality. 

3. Who has been an inspiration for you?

My parents.To move from one country to another, set up a whole new life, leave friends and family back home in order to give their kids a better chance in the future is just huge! I can’t imagine moving to another country now and I’m 28. So the fact that they were brave enough to just move to the UK and work 50, 60, 70 hours for us is my biggest inspiration and motivation. Every time I get a bit comfortable in life I think, no, my parents didn’t come to this country and struggle for me to mess around and not take life seriously. I will pass this onto my kids that we have come from a hard working stock and it doesn’t matter how successful you are you have to keep working hard as that is the foundation to building anything in your life. 

I’m sure they questioned if they’d done the right thing, as growing up in an inner city London estate, my brothers and I messed around and did things we shouldn’t have. Whereas back in Ghana there is a saying that a community raises a child and not just a family. So if I’d been outside misbehaving, then any of the other parents could of given me a slap, literally anyone in the community and my mum wouldn’t complain, she’d be like “what did he do, he must of deserved it!”. So seeing us get dragged around with different influences must have really raised doubts, but we all straightened ourselves out, all went to university and are all making successes of our lives so I guess we vindicated their decision. 

Someone who is also a massive influence on me outside my family is Kano. Kano is a UK artist from East London, literally 15 minutes down the road from me. When I was growing up and watching Top of the Pops it was always white pop acts, you didn’t see anything else, so growing up as an inner city urban black boy I was not seeing anything like me. I couldn’t make out if I liked music, and I love music, but I couldn’t relate to anyone. Then Kano exploded onto the scene. He spoke about things that I’d been through, he spoke the same language as me, he used the same type of slang as me. To witness someone being so successful, from down the road whose journey I knew right from the beginning when he was just rapping lyrics in a car park to being on Top of the Pops was such a big thing.

That is why it’s really important that people of colour are represented in every facet of society so when kids are looking at TV, they are seeing more ways to be successful than just a rapper or an athlete. It doesn’t matter what you’re doing, you can be successful in so many different avenues and they are only going to see that if people of our generation are doing that for them to see and take forward.

4. Is there an unknown/ untold/ underrated - story/ person that you think everyone should know about. (already reference Kano)

Definitely Chadwick Boseman, he played the Black Panther, a black super hero and I feel he and that story touched a lot of people of all ages, backgrounds and creeds. He was amazing in it and to find out that he portrayed that character so beautifully whilst battling terminal cancer is unbelievable. The strength and determination he must have had, to go from chemo in the morning and then the set. And nobody knew...people had no idea that he was dying. He must have known how much that role would have meant for kids worldwide and I’ve seen so many stories of children saying I’ve never seen a superhero that looks like me. It goes back to representation, every film doesn’t need to be about gangsters vs police and these nonsense stereotypes, yes, they happen, but there are far more positive stories to be told. He is one, for what he achieved his story deserves to be screamed to the heavens. I guess he knew he was doing something significant, all my respect in the world. Rest in Peace. 

5. For you which is a part of history that needs a different perspective?

As I said earlier, it is an injustice to black people to focus within black history on the slave trade and African displacement from the Caribbean to the west. Go back to ancient Egypt, we still haven’t deciphered all the hieroglyphics, we don’t understand how they constructed the architecture of the pyramids and that was 2000 years ago. There’s so much that doesn’t get the light of day as the focus remains on those 300/400 years of really negative stuff. Of course it’s important that we know about the slave trade but it should not be the first thing that pops into your mind when you think about black history. I would say the majority of people you ask about black history think of something negative such as the slave trade, the KKK, or apartheid.  Yet there is so much we have done and accomplished, and slavery is a blemish on that vast and impressive history.

6. Rule of 6, who would be the 5 to join you at a celebration for BHM?

A Pharaoh- I don’t have a preference to which one, but definitely a Pharaoh so they can tell me how they achieved what they did and I could get some answers to these big unanswered questions.

Kwame Nkrumah– he was the president of Ghana when Ghana received their independence from the British Empire. So I would want to know what went through his mind when he was trying to convince people that this would be a good idea and then learn about Ghana 60 years ago.

Mansa Musa– Who wouldn’t want to meet the world’s richest EVER person. (He was a 14thCentury West African ruler btw).

Kano - Definitely.

Sadio Mane- The best left sided winger in the world.

I would like to add I believe in the power of conversation so please talk to me about any of my answers.