Any list of the pleasant surprises from the months of book-related touring, talks, events, and appearances in 2019 would include the week I spent in London in May. It was my first time in England—a place I never had any desire to visit. (I’ve seen Closer seven times, which I figured was enough London for me.) Fortunately, the person responsible for my trip (Ebele Okobi, Director of Africa Public Policy for Facebook) curated a black AF experience for me.
I sat on a panel on black masculinity. I did a book talk at the Young Vic—the iconic space where the artistic director (Kwame Kwei-Armah) is the first African-Caribbean to run a major British theatre. A day before my talk, I saw an all-black production of Death of a Salesman which was also at the Young Vic and starred Wendell Pierce as Willy Loman. And a day before that, I attended a dinner party hosted by Matthew Ryder, the former deputy mayor of London. I ate at Nigerian restaurants and bar-hopped in Brixton—the South London neighborhood that felt, aesthetically and atmospherically, like Harlem. I even got mistaken for a bellhop at my hotel, which is as black an experience as you can get.
My interactions with the “real” London—the London I’d picture when I thought about London—were scant. But on the radio in every cab and Uber I rode in, on the cover of every newspaper I’d see, and in every pub I jaunted into, conversations about then-newborn Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor dominated the discourse. A popular BBC commentator had just been fired for comparing baby Archie to a chimpanzee, and this predictably sparked “debates” about the racist intent of the beloved media figure, the same way you’d “debate” that a bucket of warm piss is wet.
Of course, Meghan Markle knew what she was signing up for when marrying Prince Harry. This sort of ravenous and noxious attention is what killed her mother-in-law. But, as I learned when almost dying by ghost pepper potato chip last month, knowing something might possibly happen just ain’t the same as that same something fucking happening. This considered, I’m not surprised that Prince Harry pulled a Prince Akeem. I’m actually surprised it didn’t happen sooner.
Because, well, if I had blackness curated for me while I was there, Meghan’s British experience was the inverse. The negative. The full bucket of Salad Cream. The pomp, the circumstance, the colonization, the anachronistic customs, the antagonistic crust—you could argue (quite successfully!) that Buckingham Place is the single whitest place on Earth.
This probably means that she was required to eat...traditional British food and pretend to enjoy it. That’s mushy peas and pickled walnuts. That’s black pudding and laverbread. That’s something called “haggis” which I think is what the Pale Man from Pan’s Labyrinth brings to potlucks. That also means full British breakfasts, which require you to eat baked beans and eggs at the same damn time.
“Baked beans and eggs? Really?” I can imagine an exasperated Meghan asking Harry the morning after the wedding. “I thought that was a joke from the show Mr. Bean!”
“That doesn’t even make sense,” Harry replied, half-jokingly. “Mr. Bean was a fictional character, and if you weren’t sure about the food you could’ve just googled it and ....”
“I know how Google works, Harry. I just, I don’t know. Why are you people so angry at food?”
(Harry then starts singing “Eventually” by Tame Impala, because that’s what he does when Meghan gets upset.)
“But I know that I’ll be happier
And I know you will too
Said, I know that I’ll be happier
And I know you will too”
“Harry, please stop. This isn’t going to work this time.”
“And I know just what I’ve got to do
And it’s got to be soon
‘Cause I know that I’ll be happier
And I know you will too
“Okay, okay, okay. You win. I’ll eat the beans.”