What is it about the concepts of anger and aggression that they have such a close association with black people? Growing up, I was aware of the stereotypes of the aggressive black man and the angry black woman. As much as I have tried to ignore negative stereotypes around black people, sometimes I've had to grudgingly accept that there is a lot of truth in this stereotype.
Black people can be angry and aggressive, more notably than other ethnicity I find.
Anger and aggression are seen as dominant male characteristics
One particular trait I have noticed over my 30 years on this currently coronavirus-ridden planet, is that anger and aggression are often viewed quite positively by black communities in the UK but not by other communities. In other ethnic communities, from my observations, a man who is angry and aggressive is one who is not in control.Others in that ethnic group view him as behaving like a child.
But this aggression and anger is seen as normal and even desired among black people in the UK. Black British shows like "BkChat" is a prime example of one of the popular black British cultural artefacts which only reinforces this aggression and anger that black British people, particularly those under 40, always exude. I do not think I have ever watched a single episode of "BckChat" that has not been an hour of young black British people shouting at each other from across a room. It is always more of a heated shouting match than an intellectual debate (but no less entertaining i'll admit).
At school, it was the black boys who were always angry and aggressive that were popular and respected. Even when I am in London, which is not a friendly city anyway, I still always feel this sense of barely oppressed unfriendliness and aggression from many black boys and girls. I will admit I am not getting as many bad looks (i.e. screwfaces for those of you who grew up in London) as I used to as a teenager. However, there is always this aggressive energy that surrounds some black people in London. It is as if we are walking around pissed off all the time.
Women, particularly black women, really do like their black men to be aggressive. Many brothers have told me how black women have said to them that they like an assertive man who can put them in their place. Now I am not implying that this thinking is limited to only black women, but I would argue this mindset is most common among black females.
Even in today's feminist world, many black women are still attracted to the man who is aggressive and dominant. I have seen today's modern black women deliberately provoke their black boyfriend so that he could show them that he is assertive and is capable of "putting her in her place like a real man." (Actual words I have heard spoken).
Being a calm or quiet black man is viewed as weakness by the black British community and downright alien by any other ethnic group. In the past, I have been told, on more than one occasion, that I was "pretty chill for a black boy from London." It is rare to see black British boys, who are from the city, to have a relaxed and calm demeanour. It is not surprising that the nation fell in love with Ovie Soko from last year's Love Island – here was a black boy from Britain who was generally cool, calm and collected (although he spent most of his formative years in USA and i'll return to this point at the end of this blog post).
Is it oppression or cultural influences?
Why are traits like anger and aggression seen as such positive attributes by the black British community but that is not the case so much in the States? I did not grow up in America, but I have spoken to a few African Americans who visit the UK, and they are always way more relaxed than their black British counterparts. What gives?
Black Americans are a lot more oppressed and experience significantly more racial abuse than black British people, but they seem more cheerful. So why are black British people, particularly our young men and sometimes females, angrier and more aggressive even though we do not get shot at by the police like our African American brothers and sisters?
In my opinion, it is less to do with oppression (are black British people oppressed in the UK? Perhaps but not as forcibly or violently as African Americans) and more to do with our cultural influences from our African and Caribbean parents. It is also the fact that black people are a much smaller community in the UK than the US (Black British people only make up 3% of the UK population compared to African Americans who make up 12.7% of the US population.).
I do not have the data to support this but I am willing to bet good money that a large population of the black British community comes from African backgrounds, and I am sure we probably outnumber black British people from Caribbean backgrounds. Definitely in African culture and, to a lesser extent, Caribbean culture, anger and aggression are common traits among the men. African fathers, for the most part, do not engage in pleading or negotiation with their children or their spouse. African men are direct, aggressive if need be and will raise their voices. Not all African men are like this, but it is mostly the case, speaking from my own experience.
A lot of young black men in Britain, mostly below the age of 40, have looked at their African father's aggressive and assertive behaviour and then have taken on those characteristics as a way of navigating their masculinity in the world. The same goes for black British boys with a Caribbean background as well. However, and I am speaking anecdotally, I tend to find that black British boys who have Caribbean parents have a calmer and more relaxed disposition than black British boys with African heritage.
Many black British women, although not all, who were raised by an African father who was aggressive and forthright, then grow up with the view that a strong black man is supposed to possess these characteristics. As a result, they expect a man to behave under that view. They will, from what I have observed, test their man, usually by some form of provocation. The reason for this behaviour is to make sure that the black man they are involved with displays the aggressive and dominant characteristics she has associated with being a capable and dependable black.
We need to expand what it means to be a strong black man in the UK
African Americans are not influenced by African or Caribbean culture as much as black people in Britain are. As a result, their identity is shaped by America more than anything else, resulting in a broader palette of black men. If you consume American media, you do often see a variety of black male personalities. Not all of them are aggressive or angry. Some are sleek, some are funny, some are nerdy, and some are flamboyant. None are seen as less black or weak because they are not always angry or aggressive.
Over here in the UK, we do need to begin educating young black men and young black girls that anger and aggression are not necessarily the only traits that define a strong black man. You can be geeky or very quiet and still be a capable black man who can accomplish a lot in his life. Black men do not necessarily have to shout, fight and stomp their way through life to be heard and respected or to be black and strong.
Today is Mother's Day, and so I just had to write a blog post celebrating all of the strong mothers out there who are raising black boys.
To all the mothers, both black and white, single or married, I know it’s no easy feat raising young black boys.
Let's be completely honest; raising a young black boy is a lot more complicated than raising a child from any other ethnicity.
Young black men need their mother’s love
We still live in a world where black men, for the most part, are still stigmatised, marginalised and hated. While living as a young black man in the UK is not as problematic as it is in other parts of the world (looking at you US and the rest of the world really), it's far from perfect. We still face the same negative stereotypes and discrimination as our brothers in other parts of the world, it’s just not as severe and a lot more covert.
It is for this reason that young black men desperately need the love of their mothers in a world that is mostly unkind to them. Growing up in London, I experienced racism (London wasn't always as tolerant as it is now mainly in the late 90s), but my mother's nurturing love for me and young brother made us stronger. She fed us, read to us and was there for us in our darkest hours.
My mother was and still is a light in my world, and I am sure a lot of other young black men across the globe feel this way. Our mothers are the first type of love we experience in a world that would prefer if we were mostly locked up.
Young black men learn how to respect women from their mother
I respect women completely in every capacity, and that isn't just me waxing lyrical.
I am a feminist.
Throughout my career in PR & Marketing, I have worked with many fantastic women who have taught me so much. These are great women who have guided me and have been very patient with me as I fount my feet in my career.
Even though myself and my daughter’s mother split up, I still respect her immensely. She is a fantastic mother and a good human being.
While I was younger, I watched my mother boss the house. While my father was busy working his ass off, my mother made sure all her children were fed, clean and living in a home that was warm and cosy. I remember, when I still lived with my parents, I would watch my mother spend hours in the kitchen a day before Christmas, preparing a Nigerian feast for the whole family and she still does that till this day.
I respect women because I saw the power of womanhood and motherhood. From witnessing this, I understood what a crucial and irreplaceable role woman play in the family structure but also within the greater world at large.
"...young black men desperately need the love of their mothers in a world that is mostly unkind to them."
Just being able to carry a child in their womb for nine months means women deserve our respect for that feat alone. I saw my daughter being born, and it was so incredible that it gave me an even greater appreciation for the wonder that is the female body.
Young black men will be better parents by learning from their mother
Don't get me wrong; my father was and still is a great father. As a traditional Nigerian man, he was steadfast in his role as provider and trust me, he provided.
But my mother was the one who nurtured myself and my siblings. She showed us the meaning of unconditional love for your kids and the importance of being emotionally present in your child's life.
As a parent, I look at the way my mother raised me and do my best to replicate that with my daughter. Therefore I try to be as patient as I can be (not an easy feat with a hyperactive three-year-old) but also do my best to understand and respect my child's emotions.
As a father from the millennial generation, I do feel that emotional intelligence will play a more significant role in our fatherly responsibilities than it did the past. But we can adapt to this by watching how mothers interact with their child as women are, for the most part, more nurturing than us men.
Let us never forget the strength of mothers
Mother's Day is about celebrating all the amazing mothers across the world from all walks of life, from all backgrounds and all communities.
But let's shout out to all the woman who are owning motherhood, especially those raising black sons.
In a world where black men are often falling in a void of darkness, our mothers have always been the light we needed to guide us out of it.
“You’re a father, aren’t you?”
When I was asked this question, I was momentarily confused. No word for a lie, for a moment I forgot I was indeed a Dad. It took me a few moments to snap back into reality and respond, almost coyly, that I was a father to a lovely daughter.
After this encounter, I oddly felt weird and began to question myself. How could I forget I was a father? Why don't I immediately self-identify as a father, the same way a mother might?
Am I a bad father?
The dichotomy of being a young, millennial father
My daughter was born when I was around 26 years old. Mind you; it was not a planned birth. As is often the case with these types of pregnancies, myself and my former partner hadn't taken any precautions to avoid the possibility of her falling pregnant (to be young and dangerously in love). Still, when she fell pregnant, we just decided to roll with it.
Given the above circumstances, becoming a father didn’t exactly make me more ‘mature.
Instead, it split me in two.
I suddenly had two separate lives.
On the one hand, I was this 26-year-old young man living in London, who liked to party every weekend while also being incredibly ambitious. If I wasn’t out in Shoreditch, dancing to the early hours of the morning, then I was at home reading novels or writing one.
Once my daughter was born, suddenly I had to become a responsible father. It was no longer about what I wanted but what my child needed. As a man, I had to take it upon myself to make sure my child was well fed, well clothed and, most importantly, well-loved.
There is no shame in admitting that I failed, quite spectacularly, to balance the two lives: the two parts of my character. And I didn't want to sacrifice one for the other.
I didn't want to lose one half of me.
What does it mean to be a good father?
After my daughter’s mother and I split up, I spent a lot of months agonising whether I had failed as a father already? Was I a failure because I had failed to "step up?" Had I ruined my daughter's life by allowing myself and her mother to end things between us? Was I responsible for my daughter now growing up in what was essentially a split family?
Over time, as I eased into this whole co-parenting scenario, I began to realise that the definition of what it means to be a good father is a lot more complicated than merely being one who provides and sacrifices for the sake of raising a child.
In the age we are in, the role of a man in western society has changed drastically. There has been a steady increase in the rise of stay-at-home-dads, and more millennial men are demanding more extended paternity leave.
Also, in a society where younger, millennial women are earning more than us millennial guys anyway, that traditional provider role once expected of men is no longer so crucial. Co-parenting is on the rise, with women mostly being the ones initiating it, and so us younger men have had to reinvent the role we play as fathers.
To that end, in my opinion, being a great father is about having an active presence in your child’s life. To be emotionally present and not just financially responsible.
I still party most weekends and I still use most of my spare time to read and write. However, I ensure I spend quality time with my daughter by playing with her, reading to her and holding her close. Above all else, she must feel that her father loves her, so when it’s my time with her, she has my undivided attention.
Once I started behaving this way, I realised that I wasn’t a bad father just because my method of being a father is not in the traditional or African sense. Love is at the core of parenting, and that is what I provide.
So to any young fathers in my position who feel as though they have failed because they aren’t with their child’s mother anymore and are now co-parenting, you haven’t failed. So long as you love your child emotionally and you give what you can financially as a manifestation of that love, then you're a great father.
Being a good parent does not mean sacrificing everything for your child.
It means an abundance of love for your child. And for yourself.
If you’re big grime music fan like I am, then the start of 2020 gave us a wonderful gift.
An epic grime clash.
It featured two of the arguably biggest grime artists in the whole culture – Stormzy and Wiley and it will go down in history. This grime “beef” had it all. The older statesman (Wiley) going against the new young blood (Stormzy). It brought out the best in Stormzy with the disgustingly disrespectful but endlessly entertaining diss track “Still Disappointed” and showcased that Wiley was still a force to be reckoned with.
Overall, it was good publicity for both artists. Great content for fans. And put the spotlight on grime culture again.
Then we had to go and ruin it.
Earlier yesterday, Stormzy, perhaps swelling with too much ego from defeating Wiley or from some ill-advised strategy from his management, decided to unnecessarily reignite his beef with Wiley on Twitter by challenging the latter to a face-to-face live clash on Rinse FM. Unsurprisingly, what followed was a war of words between Wiley and Stormzy across Twitter and Instagram, belittling each other and accusing each other of various types of “disrespects”.
So now what started out as two grime pioneers, from two different generations, engaging in a classic and genuinely entertaining grime clash, has now descended into a childish and embarrassing feud between two black men, one who is quite a bit older than the other.
And it makes the whole culture look foolish to outsiders.
Black people represent their culture when we are the only black faces in the room
Being black is difficult. I don’t deny this or pretend it’s not the case. Unlike other ethnic groups, our singular actions can have ramifications on the rest of our community, especially if we are in a position of power or if we are the only black person in the room. It’s just the reality of the black experience.
Considering the above, I am disappointed in both Stormzy and Wiley, but more so in the former. Wiley has always been antagonistic, loud and impulsive from the very early days of the grime scene. But I expected more from Stormzy, especially since he is in a far more prominent position than Wiley and wields greater power and influence.
We already have black boys killing each other on London’s streets. Now our biggest black British entertainers are feuding with other on social media. The narrative of black-on-black violence and anger towards each other not only continues but is reinforced by prominent figures in our community.
We need to do better not just for ourselves, but our community
It’s not fair that individual black people must carry the responsibility of their community on their shoulders, but the history of western civilisation has made it this way. There is so much already working against us in western society that we simply can’t be as irresponsible as other people from other ethnics.
Throughout much of my career, I’ve often been the only black person in the whole room full of middle-class, educated white people.
I am very conscious of this. Not in a negative way but I acknowledge that most of the people I am working with haven’t had this kind of proximity to a black person before since they aren’t so many black people outside of London.
Moreover, I am aware of the negative stereotypes of black men that exist in the British public consciousness. Therefore, I do my best not to play into these stereotypes, so they don’t hinder my progression but also the progression of other black men after me.
Whether we like it or not, black people are lumped together. If I behave badly at my workplace, where I am one of the only black people in the whole office, I know I will make it more difficult for another black boy to get employed because my own actions have been unfairly placed on him.
It’s not fair but it’s how our western society functions to hold black people back.
Black men and women in power represent all of us. It’s a responsibility automatically placed on them so they must be aware of how their behaviour affects the wider culture and their community.
The Wiley and Stormzy feud may appear to be nothing but an entertaining vocal scrap between two black musicians but, on a deeper level, we must think about how this is making our culture and community look to the outside world.
Are black British boys destined to fight with each other all the time? Is this really what we want our culture and black masculinity to be about? Endless and meaningless wars with each other?
I knew the exact moment when I had outgrown baby girls.
Some time ago, I used to speak to one girl I had met at an event and we quickly connected as friends. She would call me often and we would talk, mostly about her life to be honest.
But one day, during one of our late-night phone conversations, it suddenly dawned on me that the only subject this girl was ever interested in discussing was boys. Every conservation would be about how some new boy in her life was either:
a) playing with her feelings
b) not acting the way she wanted him to act
c) a combination of the above points
Once I realised this, I reduced the amount of time I spoke to her and, after a while, I simply told her I was too busy to have these discussions only about her boy troubles.
Once I had verbalised this, we stopped speaking.
To me, it was no love lost and I didn’t regret it either.
But I was dealing with a baby girl when I can only be investing that much time into grown-ass women from this point forward.
Your time is precious and limited
Whether you’re a man or a woman, your time is precious, and it becomes ever more precious the older you get. You get to a point in your life where you simply can’t afford to waste time with certain types of people any longer.
This particular blog post can easily be applied to women, in terms of not wasting their time with baby boys but, for the purposes of this blog, I am going to examine the ways a man can tell that he’s dealing with a baby girl instead of a grown-ass woman. Also, this post is examining the platonic friendships a man has with a woman rather than a romantic or sexual one.
As a man, of course it’s fine to have women who are simply your friends and nothing more. However, I do think that as a man it’s more beneficial for you to develop friendships with women who have an adult mentality (i.e. grown-ass women) as opposed to a childish one (i.e. baby girls).
1) She only ever talks about man troubles in her life
If a woman only talks about the trivial problems she’s having with men, then she’s a baby girl and she’s wasting your time.
Look, there’s nothing wrong if you have a female friend and you occasionally give her advice about how to deal with men – who else better to ask than a man about why a man behaves the way he does.
But here’s the caveat.
If that’s what she talks about 90% of the time then, as a man, you’re devaluing yourself and she probably doesn’t even respect you. Never get into a position with a woman whereby all you are is a sounding board for her struggles with men. What exactly are you gaining from that kind of relationship? Surely you have better things to do with your time as a man than listen to your female friend rant about the evils of men for hours on end.
For the love of God, please tell me you do…
A grown-ass woman has more to talk about than just men all the time. She has opinions and ideas about a wide range of subjects. Most of the time you speak to her, it’s either you learn something new or you even question your own beliefs because of her intelligent viewpoints.
2) She questions why you’re busy and gets annoyed when you are
If your female friend calls you or asks you to meet her and you tell her you’re busy doing something, assess her response. If she gets annoyed at you then yes, you’re dealing with a baby girl.
A grown-ass woman will understand that you’re busy working on your hustle. How can she understand? Well, because she’s working hard on her own grind as well.
A baby girl doesn’t have any objective in her life besides getting herself into drama and seeking attention - both aren’t mutually exclusive either.
Which brings me to my next point…
3) Her life is constant chaos
I remember when I was in my very early twenties and I had a summer fling with a young girl around my age. Let me tell you, her life was constantly chaotic. Till this day, I have never met a girl with a life so bonkers it would make Lady Gaga look plain. This baby girl would always be broke, always be a mess, always lose her phone every week and always find herself drowning in drama with her family and boys.
At the time, she was a lot of fun but now, as a 30-year old man, I look back and I know I couldn’t waste my time with that kind of girl now.
Don’t get me wrong. I love girls who like to party sometimes and drink – I do those things myself and have a few female friends I go partying with.
But a grown-ass woman knows how to party and drink in moderation and she has some semblance of structure and order in her life.
"A grown-ass woman will understand that you’re busy working on your hustle. How can she understand? Well, because she’s working hard on her own grind as well."
A baby girl is just a walking tornado and while it can be fun initially to be swept up in her whirlwind of madness, as you get older as a man, trust me, her chaotic lifestyle will begin to stress you and drain you of your energy and patience.
4) She blames all her issues on men or other people
If I am speaking to a woman about her life and during our conversation, she blames all her mistakes on other people (usually men) then I know I am dealing with a baby girl.
A grown-ass woman has the self-awareness and humility to admit that she has made mistakes of her own making. Not only that, a grown-ass woman OWNS her shortcomings and takes responsibility for every silly and destructive decision she’s made that were genuinely down to her poor judgement at the time.
On the other hand, a baby girl will point fingers and rarely acknowledge the role she’s played in the nonsense situation she may find herself in. And if you try and tell her otherwise, she’ll be offended and most likely stop speaking to you.
5) She can admit when she’s wrong and apologise
One of the major hallmarks of a grown-ass woman is her ability to admit that she was in the wrong (if she genuinely was of course) and, to top it all off, apologise!
You’re dealing with a baby girl if she refuses to apologise when it’s her fault for whatever reason. And even if she does acknowledge she was wrong, it’s often in a dismissive manner and she won’t utter an actual apology. Girls have just as much pride as men, but a grown-ass woman can put her pride aside.
Like I mentioned earlier, most of these points can be applied the other way – how to distinguish a grown-ass man from a baby boy. But to the guys, as you get older and establish more platonic relationships with women, ensure that you’re only dealing with grown-ass women in your life.
Baby girls are only fun when you’re still a baby boy yourself.
Trust me. I know.
In late January this year, Dr Shola Mos-Shogbamimu, a well-respected black female lawyer and woman’s right activist got into a verbal spat with white British actor Laurence Fox, on BBC Question Time last week.
You can read more about their heated exchange here but essentially Mr Fox accused Dr Mos-Shogbamimu of racism because she had referred to him as a white-privileged male due to his comfortable upbringing and the fact he is a white male. Dr Mos-Shogbamimu responded by continuing to argue that Mr Fox life is much easier than hers because he has white skin and he is a man.
Now, I completely agree with Dr Shola Mos-Shogbamimu.
White privilege is very much weaved into the collective consciousness of western society, enabling white people, in some, not all cases, to get away with actions that a black person would be severely reprimanded for had they committed the same act. It is true that a white person, middle or working class, cannot begin to fathom what it means to live the black experience, where we must watch the way we talk, speak or act in fear of being judged or labelled due to the persistent negative stereotypes about black people.
But here’s the caveat.
Ultimately, white privilege doesn’t matter. And I am a black man writing this.
The black community are the only race who complains about white privilege
The black community is the only group of people who shout about white privilege as if we are the only race it affects. Asian people are also affected by white privilege. In fact, people who have white skin but are European, for example from Poland, are also, sometimes, treated as an “other” by white British people.
As unfair as it is, white privilege will exist for a long time simply because the history of western civilisation has made it this way. Yes, it is somewhat unjust that white people, especially white men from middle to upper class backgrounds, get to enjoy this advantage, even if some of them don’t want to acknowledge it. But that is just the reality in which we live in and the cards that black people, as a collective, have been unfortunately dealt.
It simply is what it is.
Having said that, it’s great that people like Dr Shola Mos-Shogbamimu have brought attention to white privilege so black people understand they are often at a disadvantage from birth and white British people at least recognise the advantage they have because of how they look. However, this paradigm is not going to change anytime soon so to continuously complain or shout about it will ultimately not lead to any progress.
There are lot more issues within the black community that we need to be addressing if we want to see real change for black British people.
We have too many internal problems within the black community
The only way black British people will circumvent white privilege is for us to be collectively better as a people. And yet, when I look around, we often failing at this incredibly.
For the most part, and this is just my own anecdotal observations, black British people don’t invest their money back into their own community to generate wealth for everyone the same way Jews or Asians do. We do not support or champion each other, especially our young men, who would rather compete with each other and boast of fancy cars and of girls they’ve slept with.
It’s all well and good preaching the evils of white privilege but the black community honestly needs to be looking inwardly at our own problems. To me, when the black community puts too much focus on white privilege, it's like a sprinter complaining about a competing sprinter that has been giving a head start in the race, yet the sprinter that is complaining isn't even in a good condition to run the race anyway.
Young black boys are dying on the streets on an almost weekly basis. More than half of young people in jail are from a black and minority ethnic background. Our cultural artefacts, from black music to black films, perpetuate and reinforce all the negative stereotypes associated with the black experience.
Simply put, there are too many internal issues within the black community, particularly among our young men, that we really shouldn’t be wasting our energy shouting about white privilege.
" To me, when the black community puts too much focus on white privilege, it's like a sprinter complaining about a competing sprinter that has been giving a head start in the race, yet the sprinter that is complaining isn't even in a good condition to run the race anyway. "
Instead, we should be addressing the issue of our “black culture” and what values we are passing down to the next generation of young black British people. The only way we, as a community, will get ahead is not by condemning white privilege but by cultivating and encouraging the right attitudes and values among our people, despite what other people may think of us.
Since the end of slavery, our right to do better and be better as people is a privilege that has always belonged to black people.
And white privilege cannot take away our freedom to improve.
So let’s be better, instead of bitter.
“Fam you said you’d be here at 7.30pm but it’s 9pm now?”
“Allow me, bro. I am moving on black people time.”
If I paid myself £20 every time I had this conversation with my friends, then I would probably have enough money to afford a mortgage in Chelsea.
In the black community, especially among black men, the belief that we are always late is almost treated as a universal truth. Black people always being late for work, for parties even for their own wedding is just expected because of ‘black people time’ (BPT)
Even I used to laugh about this and treat it as a joke.
Until one day something happened.
Then I realised BPT is a dangerous stereotype that is designed to stop the progress of the black community.
The insidious agenda behind the idea of ‘black people time’
It was around my mid-20s and still in the very early days of my marketing career.
Innocent-eyed and with an ‘I-ain’t-that-bothered’ attitude to work at the time, I remember consistently arriving in the office ten minutes late.
To my surprise, my colleagues, who were mostly white and middle-class, didn’t reprimand for my tardiness. Quite the opposite. They would make jokes like “Leke is late again” or “Leke, forgot to set that alarm clock again.” And me, like the mug I was at the time, would laugh with them, thinking that my co-workers didn’t mind that I was late.
In hindsight, what I realised was that they subconsciously expected me to be late based on my skin colour and instead of me to prove them wrong, I proved them right. In my naivety and foolishness, I thought I was bonding with the team when really all I was doing was confirming their preconceptions of black men as unreliable and tardy. This would have negative repercussions for me as I was overlooked for promotion on several occasions.
What we, the black community, need to understand is that some of these jokes about black people, which might appear harmless or dismissed as ‘bants’, are actually designed to paint black people in a negative light and can actually foster bias in non-black people to not give us a position because of the perceptions of us as “lazy” and “unreliable” which are reinforced by these so-called BPT jokes.
The racist origin of the term
Recently, I’ve been very curious about where the notion of BPT originated from? How did this come to characterise and popularise black people so much? Who started this propaganda?
After doing some reading around the subject I discovered that the phrase had been used as early as 1912 where it was called “coloured people time.” It was a derogatory term deriding black people as lazy.
Yet here we are in 2020, popularising the phrase and using it within the black community lightheartedly.
Now this wouldn’t be a problem if we weren’t taking it seriously.
The problem is we are taking it seriously and living by it.
Why we must not internalise black stereotypes
I’ve lost count of the number of times I have gone to black-organised events where the event has started late or, sometimes, not even started at all. Honestly, I went to Afronation last year and I was astounded, yes astounded, by how flawless the whole event was. Things happened on time!
Within the black British community, there is always this expectation that events will not go as planned and will be disorganised. As much as it pains me to admit it, for the most part, it’s true. When events don’t start on time or are disorganised, we throw our hands in the air and proclaim “black people time” and “so typical of black people” and then proceed to keep it moving as if this is just the reality of black people.
This is a significant problem that goes beyond the issue of BPT. For some reason, many of us in the black community have seen the negative characteristics that have been purposefully placed on us and then, rather than reject these proclamations against our character that are not rooted in anything scientific, we have internalised them. I am guilty of it myself.
Sometimes, it’s difficult not to internalise these negative portrayals of black people. Jokes such as BPT are reinforced by our cultural artefacts via movies, comedians and music. All these subliminal messages eventually seep into our subconscious until we begin to accept it as reality without even realising.
By accepting that ‘black people operate on their own time”, we are now holding ourselves back to progress as a people because we are allowing ourselves to think that being late or disorganised is fine – it’s just a black thing.
"...rather than reject these proclamations against our character that are not rooted in anything scientific, we have internalised them."
But by doing this, we are now collectively seen as untrustworthy and lazy, halting our progress as a people. Some of us, who do not adhere to the foolishness of BPT, now have to work even harder to fight against this negative stereotype placed on us which has also been reinforced by many of us.
So the next time you find yourself running late because of BPT really ask yourself: why you think it’s ok to be late to meetings, gatherings, parties etc? How do you think that makes you look? There is already so much working against black people's progression, does it make sense for my own development to never be on time for anything?
It’s not too late. You still have time to change (pun intended).
The biggest killer of young black men in London isn’t knife crime. It’s the absence of a positive existence.
A few days ago I read a statistic that saddened me but didn’t really surprise me.
According to Scotland Yard, almost three quarters of under 25-year olds killed in London homicides last year were from the Afro-Caribbean community.
Sir Stephen, Deputy Commissioner for Scotland yard had this to say:
“Of 149 homicide victims in 2019, 54 of them were under 25. Of those 54, 39 were from the Afro-Caribbean community, which is 72 per cent.”
Now some of us in the black community will read that statistic and instead of us to be concerned about this, we’ll either ignore it entirely or absurdly believe that Scotland Yard has fabricated the data because the establishment has an ‘agenda against black people’ which is an absolutely idiotic notion by the way.
The fact is young black men are disproportionately killing one another on the streets of London. You don’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to figure it out. On an almost weekly basis now there is another tragic news story of another young black boy, often well under the age of 30, who has died from violence. Later, we find out that the perpetrators shared the same skin colour as their victim.
Yet knife crime isn’t the biggest killer of young black men in London.
Do you know what is?
The lack of a positive existence.
Everyone in our lives (and those absent from our lives), everything we see and everything we experience moulds us, like clay, into the person we are going to become, whether we realise it or not.
For many, not all, black boys growing up in London, they are living in and shaped by a negative environment both internally and externally. The statistics only reinforce this.
Let’s look at the negative internal factors first. It’s been widely reported and proven that many black households are single-parent ones. In fact black households have the highest proportion of lone parents at 13%. Single black mothers often raise their sons without a father present in the home and if he is somewhat in the picture, the father himself is rarely effective as he himself is a lost and irresponsible man, disheartened and angry about the lack of opportunities in the UK. It’s a generational curse that sadly hasn’t been broken – lost black men giving birth to sons who are statistically likely to grow up to be just as lost as their fathers.
My life would have been very different, and not in a good way, if my father had not been in my life. He was and still is a hardworking and responsible man till this day. As any African young man can relate, my father sometimes beat me, shouted at me and punished me severely to the point where I disliked him occasionally.
However, my father’s harsh discipline was necessary. By being strict, especially when I was displaying signs of bad behaviour that many boys begin to exhibit during our formative years, my father taught me to respect authority and the importance of hard work. Many of the black boys who kill other boys, black or otherwise, lack both the mentality of working hard and the importance of respecting authority simply because they’ve had no father figure to show them the way.
Boys will always seek out a father figure. If their father isn’t around who do you think they are going to turn to? Often, it’s going to be the older men in their council flat or at school who are living a negative experience to make money. Being young and impressionable, these young boys will model their masculinity on the behaviour of older, criminalised black men. Again, it’s generational cycle.
Now this isn’t to say that mothers cannot raise black boys by themselves. I have seen, even within my own family, black mothers step up and raise their sons very well. But, on the flip side, I have also witnessed, within my family, black mothers failing to raise their sons well and not because they were bad mothers, but because they simply lacked the faculties to teach a boy how to behave like a responsible man.
If we move on to the external factors, of which they are many and complex, therefore beyond the scope of this blog, we can also see the negative aspects of our wider society which often propels young black men into a life of crime, violence and drugs.
Firstly, our wider black culture encourages black boys to be violent, to misbehave and to disrespect authority. Music is the biggest conduit for spreading this negative message. As much as I listen to drill music and even like it, it does sadden me that drill music has become the most popular outlet for young black boys to express their ideas and lives.
Popular drill artists like Headie One talk exclusively and excessively about drugs, girls and their perceived enemies on the streets. Drill music does not communicate a hopeful message or even discourage the ‘trapping’ lifestyle; it merely glamorises it.
All of this is compounded further because the negative perception of young black men, already reinforced by black culture, is further reinforced by much of the mainstream culture in the UK. Newspapers like The Sun or Daily Mail, two of the most popular newspapers in Britain, negatively portray young black men as either bad and if they are not bad, then they are silly or irresponsible.
And these tabloid newspapers can boldly make these claims and even back them up because young black men, shaped by the negative experiences of their internal lives and encouraged externally to criminalise their lives through messages communicated through our black cultural artefacts such as music and films, give these newspapers a lot of ammunition. As much as I loved Rapman’s Blue Story, did it really do anything to change the perception of young black men in London or did it just reinforce the negative perception of us?
There is hope and change is slowly happening
Although this article sounds like it’s all doom and gloom for young black men in London, I must remember that violence and drug dealing is not the common existence for many black men in the capital.
I know many black men within my own social circle who are doing amazingly well both professionally and in their personal lives. I’ve seen black men earn six-figure salaries in good jobs, get married and raise wonderful families.
But the problem is that these positive representations of black men are outnumbered by the negative representations both externally and internally. Strong and responsible black men are simply not visible enough in our culture but, as I said, things are starting to change. Organisations like Dope Black Dads is doing a great job of changing the narrative around black fathers and has garnered great media coverage so far.
While there is still much work to be done, I must take solace in the fact that black men are doing much better now in the UK than they were 40 years ago, even if it feels like we haven’t sometimes.
But change takes time and I remain positive. What other choice do I have? There’s enough negativity in the black community already.
London has a population of 8.9 million people. A variety of people and cultures. So much to do and so much to see.
And yet it can be one of the loneliest places to be especially as a young person.
It must have been in late 2011 when I first developed a serious case of loneliness. I was a fresh graduate and had returned to London after studying and living in Brighton for four years. When I returned to the city, a lot had changed.
The city felt unrecognisable with the influx of white middle class people (i.e. gentrification). Many of my friends had changed or stayed the same so we no longer had the connection we once shared. My girlfriend at the time was still living in Brighton. Since I don’t like long distance relationships, I broke up with her which only heightened my loneliness.
Soon, I oddly fount myself alone in a city that I had grown up in. It was a depressing period and I found myself doing a lot of silly things, partly because I was a young man but also because I was just so annoyed spending time with myself.
What loneliness means
Loneliness is described as “sadness because one has no friends or company.” It’s a condition that has become an epidemic among young people across the UK.
Despite the immense popularity of social media and all the virtual friends who follow us on these digital networks, many of us still experience acute loneliness because we don’t share any real connections with many of these people who we follow on social media.
Most of the time we follow them because they either went to our school or live in our neighbourhood, but they aren’t our friends. You could pass them on the street, and you would completely ignore them because, in real life, there is no friendship between you and them.
Why we become lonely
A lot of young people, especially those under the age of 25, have this problem I’ve described above. They are so invested in social media that they haven’t really cultivated any real relationships in the physical world. After a while, when they go outside, they realise they don’t really have any genuine friendship groups within their proximity.
Other times, loneliness can occur when you move to a new environment. Last year, I made friends with many people from all over the world who came to London. All of them have described how easy it is to become lonely in the capital. Most people in London are very guarded and stick to their own people.
London is a vast maze with pockets of different communities that are closed off to new people. It’s a city for individuals not collectives so it can be difficult to forge relationships when people living in London are so individualistic.
You can also experience loneliness when you return to a place you’re familiar with after so many years of living elsewhere. But you’ve lost touch with what’s happening as everyone has moved on without you or you’ve moved on while everyone has stayed the same. Suddenly, you no longer feel like you belong to the community you grew up in.
Being by yourself is important for your self-growth
An important lesson I learnt last year is that being alone is necessary for a period of your life.
Western society is addicted to romantic relationships. Our most popular TV shows are centred around relationships – looking at you Love Island. Our society’s fixation with relationships means that so many people are desperate to hook up with someone because the very idea of being alone or single is weird – as if it’s inhuman.
Having this mentality often means that to avoid being alone, we end up getting into relationships that aren’t good for us – both romantic and platonic. We don’t realise this until the damage has been done. Even though I did love my ex partner to some extent, in hindsight, I got with her during my period of acute loneliness. I was in no position to really be in a relationship, but I entered one anyway and now I am dealing with the consequences of that.
Harry Potter actor Emma Watson recently got some flack because she said she was “self-partnered” but what she was saying resonated with me completely. She understood that, for a segment of your life, it is better to be alone so you can focus entirely on you. It is not anyone’s responsibility to make you into a better person. That’s on you.
Once you know yourself and improve yourself, you will choose better friends and better romantic partners
If more younger people embraced being single and alone, then I think a lot of us would end up in healthier and long-lasting relationships.
Instead of looking at single life with dread, we should see it as an opportunity to improve every aspect of our lives. We can learn a new language. Save for that mortgage. Get that driver’s license. This is a time where you don’t have to think about anyone else but yourself. Use that to your advantage.
That isn’t to say that we shouldn’t have friends we talk to. It’s crucial to build genuine relationships with other humans. However, if you spend time doing activities by yourself then you will better understand who you are. Consequently, you will choose friends and romantic partners that are a better fit for you, and you will attract more quality people because you’ve taken time to work on yourself.
"It is not anyone’s responsibility to make you into a better person. That’s on you."
A big city like London can make you feel lonely but only if you let it.
Explore the city by yourself, go to the cinema by yourself or even take yourself to Winter Wonderland. It’s scary and weird at first but, if you embrace it, you might just find that doing things alone is not so bad. You might even begin to love yourself.
Right now, my two favourite black British rappers are Stormzy and Dave.
These two are head and shoulders above anyone else in the grime/British rap scene right now.
And this isn’t an opinion only shared by me.
Dave won rave reviews for his debut album ‘Psychodrama’ and the Streatham-raised rapper bagged the Mercury Prize this year as recognition.
Stormzy’s second album, ‘Heavy Is The Head’ has been flooded with positive reviews across the UK music industry, cementing him as the current king of grime for the foreseeable future.
So what makes Stormzy and Dave two of the best black British rappers right now?
Both of them have an effortless and distinct flow (a major critique of black British grime is all that all our inner-city accents sound the same), intelligent bars and witty wordplay. But these attributes are only part of their greatness.
Stormzy and Dave killing it right now in the culture and mainstream because they both share a significant characteristic:
To be a black man is to never show weakness. Never
If there is one belief that is consistent across African and Caribbean men, it is this: never show weakness and never admit defeat. Growing up, I witnessed this behaviour a lot from many black men around me, both young and older.
At school, black boys were usually (not always) the boys getting into fights for any disrespect, real or perceived. We would never apologise to teachers if we were rude. Many of us wouldn’t even confide in each other if things go south in our lives; we always had to put up the front that we are “killing it” when, behind closed doors, we are struggling to cope with reality.
It’s like black men have been conditioned to put a lid on their psychological problems. It’s no wonder so many boys ‘in the ends’ are angry all the time – many of us are walking time bombs.
This notion that the black man is always strong is perpetuated not only by our black culture but the mainstream culture as well.
From music to films, black men are portrayed as either very strong, very violent, very confident or very funny. Rarely, do we get a nuanced portrayal of the black British male struggling with the everyday problems of life (unrelated to gang life). Although we are starting to have these discussions around black male depression in the mainstream discourse.
Vulnerability allows black men to confront their demons
But why do black men need to be vulnerable? Why should we risk exposing ourselves in such a way that could potentially compromise us or be used against us?
Because being vulnerable allows us to confront our personal demons.
Let’s go back to Stormzy and Dave.
Stormzy’s latest album features a lot of tracks which reveal Stormzy’s state of mind following his huge success as a rapper and cultural icon in the British public. Most noticeably he talks about his struggles with mental health in the track “One second.” In the track “Lessons”, Stormzy bears his soul as he admits his wrongdoing by being unfaithful to Maya Jama, a woman who showed him the realest love according to his own admission.
In “Psychodrama”, Dave talks about his troubled upbringing and his own battles with mental health in tracks like “Purple Heart.” For Dave, it’s the relationship with his incarcerated brother, jailed for a brutal murder, which gives us an insight into Dave’s psyche, as he stays loyal to his older brother despite the horrendous crime he committed.
Both Stormy and Dave are opening their souls to the public. And while they are lining themselves up to be shot by the guns of judgement and scrutiny, they are also letting out their demons and confronting them.
"It’s like black men have been conditioned to put a lid on their psychological problems. It’s no wonder so many boys ‘in the ends’ are angry all the time – many of us are walking time bombs."
Obviously, I am not saying black men need to be sharing their inner struggles to the public. But it’s important for us to confide in our families and friends about the troubles we are facing in life, instead of just saying “Yeah, I am out here, fam” or “It is what it is, fam.”
When I went through the terrible breakup with my ex and witnessed the breakdown of my family, it was a difficult period that could have destroyed me. It nearly did. What saved me was that I was able to express all my negative thoughts, fears and worries to people who were close to me. I also solo travelled to be alone with myself so I could really confront my thoughts, process this terrible loss and ultimately move forward with my life.
Being vulnerable saved my life.
The world is tough, and black men need to be tough. But it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t admit our faults
As a black man, I know how it is. For us, the world is tough and unforgiving. Most of us in this country were not born to wealthy parents or even complete family homes. We must work twice as hard as anyone else. Black men need to be tough because the world is not always going to be kind or even fair to us.
However, that shouldn’t stop us from being honest with ourselves. Too many of us, young and old, often wear this fake mask that we are doing fine, driving our nice cars, wearing our designer clothes and popping bottles in the club. Yet behind all the bravado and showing off, we aren’t doing very well mentally. Many of us are even lonely.
More black British men need to follow Stormzy’s and Dave’s example and learn to be more vulnerable albeit with the right people. Society likes to characterise us young black men as overly sexual, overly aggressive and overly confident but, like every other human, we bleed; we feel and we fall.
True strength is being able to admit that we aren’t strong all the time.