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.