Community leaders from Sheffield’s African Caribbean community are calling for people to ‘change the narrative’ in the way they refer to each other.
Sheffield and District African Caribbean Community Association is undertaking a project to challenge current narratives and one mission is to discourage the labeling of people using ‘colonial’ terms.
The Bantu Archive Programme, a project being run in conjunction with Sheffield School of Architecture’s Live Projects team, held a launch event on The Moor last month.
It is a program that hopes to “never end”, with the aim of building a clearer picture of the history of Sheffield and its communities, while also exploring issues such as identity.
Olivier Tsemo and Robert Cotterell pictured beside the Bantu Archive Programme mural.
Robert Cotterell, chairman of SADACCA, who is co-leading the project, said: “We thought it was time that Sheffield knew about our journey into this city, what we’ve been doing and why we’re here.”
He told how it was an idea that began three years ago and one that a ‘word of mouth community appeared to be interested in developing further.
Born and raised in Sheffield with parents from Jamaica, Robert emphasized the importance of self-identity, believing that it also informs how people think.
He explained: “We need to educate ourselves about ourselves, so we don’t have to rely on academics etc.”
Talking about the various terms that he and many others have been referred to over the years – including black, brown, and BAME – he believes there is a lot of negativity associated with such terms and believes it is “time that we challenged that narrative”.
Robert said: “The Bantu Archive Programme actually started off as the Black Archive. But, if we’re trying to tell our narrative, it needs to be uplifting. How do we do that with colonial terms? And so we’ve gone back to Bantu. A group of people – all the people in the world.”
Bantu means ‘people’ or ‘human’ and does not refer to a specific ethnic group or language.
The origin of Bantu comes from Africa, where the word has been used as a general term for over 400 different ethnic groups, united by a common language family and customs.
“We decided that it should be a word that will start conversations and challenge identity, not old colonial terms. We are who we say we are. It’s creating opportunities to have conversations,” Robert added.
He hopes that people’s stories and ideas will “always add” to the project, for example, learning about the things that communities built through the mixing of languages and how this informed part of history.
Robert told how there is often some knowledge – through the means of popular culture – about historical events like the slave trade, but many people are unaware of Britain’s role in it, or in fact Sheffield’s role.
He explained that Sheffield’s steel companies made plantation tools that would be sent abroad and exchanged for slaves.
Robert added: “Why don’t we know that?”
He described the Bantu Archive Programme as a mission to create an intellectual and educational revolution, acting as a “catalyst” to what could become a “worldwide platform”.
Robert wants to see transformation in Sheffield, as he believes the city has lacked leadership in recent years and has “a lot of work to do”.
He said: “We don’t want our children and grandchildren to be in denial of who they are. This leads to mental health issues and bad behavior, it’s why there are disproportionate numbers in referral units.”
Describing narratives as “interrelated and interdependent”, Robert believes that opening the debate on identity would let people know that “this is the story” – the stories of those who first arrived in Sheffield but also the stories of those who followed.
Olivier Tsemo, chief executive of SADACCA, who is also co-leading the project, added: “Nobody can tell us who we are. An objective of SADACCA is to be a centre of excellence.”
He wants to encourage people to learn a bit more about Bantu and to see more acceptance of the term, especially in the media.
Olivier is originally from Cameroon in Central Africa but told how regardless of wherever a person comes from, they can still be confused about their identity.
He believes that it can be made more confusing by the usage of colonial terms and practices, and the additional reinforcement of politicians and such.
Olivier explained: “Identity and identification are very important. Many are confused. We are not here to divide.”
He reiterated how Bantu refers to all human beings, humanity, and the uniting of humanity.
Olivier said: “We are not colored, black, etc. Enough is enough. Bantu is our new identity.”
As a father to a young child, he is keen to help lead on the intellectual and educational revolution which the project is hoped to bring.
Olivier is currently a commissioner on Sheffield’s Race Equality Commission and is already aware of inequalities that exist in the city.
SADACCA has funded most of its projects out of its own pocket, though the Bantu Archive Programme has this time been supported by the University of Sheffield.
Robert and Olivier have described the allocation of funding within the city as a “scandal”.
They told how organisations in certain areas of Sheffield benefit from millions whereas other areas receive minimal amounts or nothing.
Students from the University of Sheffield’s School of Architecture initially began working on the program as part of a six-week project.
Coming from various different backgrounds, the students have been described as “nothing short of fantastic”, “brilliant” and “outstanding”.
Robert and Olivier told how the students “totally understood” what was wanted to be achieved and have helped to create spaces within SADACCA to show that Bantu “didn’t just appear in Sheffield”.
One of their creations is a Bantu Archive Programme mural, which has been populated with the hand-prints of community members.
A YouTube page has been created to document the project.
For more information, visit here.