Stephen lawrence day: A tragic incident that shifted police’s attitudes to the Black British community
For decades, the British police and the black British community never had a comfortable relationship. Actually, I am putting that lightly. They both despised each other equally. Black people in Britain, especially those from the Caribbean, did not trust the police, and the police didn't trust them.
As I explore in some detail in my first novel, A Prophet Who Loved Her, the British police, particularly in the 70s and 80s, made life very difficult for many black British people, especially young black people. All of the major riots during the 80s, the Brixton riots, the Broadwater Farm riots and the Handsworth Riots were all caused by police constantly harassing black people daily.
A major house fire in New Cross (an event I also examine in my novel) in 1981 where 13 black teenagers died in a suspect arson attack by white racists in the area was a significant turning point for the UK's burgeoning black community at that time. It was the first-time black people realised that not only did the British police harass them, but they didn't even care about their lives. If black kids die in a racist attack, then so be it. The police figuratively and literally shrugged their shoulders.
But the death of Stephen Lawrence in 1993 changed everything.
Suddenly, the police had to start listening.
And it had been a long time coming.
Black British people had become to be reckoned with
For those readers who might not know, Stephen Lawrence was a 19-year-old black man, born to Jamaican parents who immigrated to the UK in the 60s. On his way back to his home with his friend, Stephen was confronted by a group of young white men who brutally murdered him in an unprovoked attack. According to his friend who was with him at the time, Duwayne Brookes, the men had said “What, what nigger” before engulfing Stephen and killing him. It was a racially, motivated attack.
I was quite young, maybe no older than 13, when I was taught about Stephen Lawrence's death in London. In the time we are in now, the idea of a white man killing a black man in a racial attack on London's streets is almost unbelievable.
Believe me; it was not always that way.
I recall, when I was around the age of 11, a few years after Stephen Lawrence's death, my younger brother and cousin were chased by a group of white boys in Canning Town. They had confronted us in the park and called us "niggers."
As we were outnumbered, myself, my brother and my cousin fled the park and ran as fast as our legs would allow back to my cousin's house while these young white boys were chasing us. Fortunately, we made it back to my auntie's home safely. Sometimes, I do wonder what would have happened if we had not. Would one of us have suffered the same fate as Stephen Lawrence? Thankfully, we never had to find out.
While the death of Stephen Lawrence did not eradicate racism in London or the UK, it transformed how police treated black people. Unlike the New Cross Fires in 1981, the British police could not just silence the family of Stephen Lawrence.
Of course, the Met did try to sabotage Stephen Lawrence’s friend and discredit his family, but their shameful tactics failed. The murder of Stephen Lawrence gained massive coverage in mainstream media. Such widespread media coverage would never have happened in the 80s and 70s. But what was unusual about the media coverage was that it was sympathetic. In the past, British tabloids would always shift the blame of any tragedy that had befallen black people back to black people, or they would ignore it entirely like they had the New Cross Fire tragedy 12 years earlier.
As we remember the anniversary of Stephen Lawrence’s death today let us acknowledge that his death finally forced the British police to be held accountable to the black British community. Suddenly, the death of a black man at the hands of racists deserved justice.
It had been a long time coming, but black lives finally mattered in the UK.
Coronavirus has shown us both the bravery of black doctors and nurses and the plight of ordinary black people
Coronavirus has brought the whole world to its knees.
Whether you are a third world country, a rich country, a democracy or a dictatorship – coronavirus didn’t excuse anyone. It didn’t discriminate. Many people (125, 196 as of the publication of this article) have died from the virus. The victims have all come from different ethnicities and backgrounds.
As the UK fights this pandemic, the real heroes of society have emerged for us to see. And, surprise, surprise, the heroes were not those smartly dressed politicians and bureaucrats in Westminster who suck up to Boris Johnson to keep their overpaid jobs.
No, the real heroes are the medical practitioners, from doctors to nurses, who have risked their lives to take care of the sick and the dying. These brave people, men and women, young and old, have gone above and beyond to treat those infected by COVID-19 - risking their own health, coming out of retirement and separating from their families.
And many of these brave people on the hospital front lines are black.
Black people are the lungs of the NHS
Like the transport sector, the public health sector, basically the NHS, has always been dependent on staff who are from ethnic minority backgrounds. Despite what the recent campaign to whitewash NHS might have you believe, many of the nurses, doctors and surgeons in our NHS hospitals are in fact of African or Caribbean origin. Of course, I am not downplaying the importance of Asian and white medical staff, and Asians do make up a sizeable majority of the NHS headcount, more so than black people.
But 72, 321 black people are part of the NHS (6% of the NHS workforce), and we must honour every single one of these people. When the dust settles, and we return to normality, I hope the people of this country do not forget that the NHS is not just full of white faces but black and Asian faces too and way more of the latter. After all this, those who were in favour of Brexit must ask themselves:
“How much more damage would the coronavirus have done to our loved ones if not the ethnic minorities who served the NHS diligently during this extraordinarily difficult times.”
Black people are still disproportionately living in more impoverished conditions in the UK than other groups
Latest research from an organisation which monitors intensive care patients has revealed that of the 2000 people who fell ill to the virus within its data set, 35% were from a black, Asian or ethnic background. Specifically, 268 of the cases within that data set were people from a black background.
The fact many black people in the UK are disproportionately falling ill to this disease illustrates the sad reality. In essence, most black people are still living in rougher conditions than other races in the UK because many are still working-class and poor.
Like our Asian counterparts, black people live in multi-generational and often cramped households with many family members living together. Also, this pandemic has battered the British economy, and many of the sectors where black people earn their bread to maintain their livelihoods have been completely shut down albeit temporarily.
Even if the government is paying 80% of their salaries, this will not be enough for some black families who were barely getting by on their full salary. Older black people, those over the age of 60, do not have comfortable middle-class jobs or wages. Therefore a pandemic like this will be crushing for them. I have seen this personally.
The harsh realities that black people face is nothing new. Of course, none of these problems is exclusive to black or Asian people in the UK as there are working class, poor white people who are experiencing a similar experience.
Having said that, we must remember that, in the UK, many black people, perhaps too many, do not have the luxuries of the middle class and the wealthy in which the majority are white. Millions of black people in Britain survive by their wit's end. Now I am not necessarily blaming anyone for this. The reasons why this is the reality for the UK's black population are complex and beyond the scope of this article.
Once this coronavirus pandemic is over (and it will end, even if it seems like it's dragging on like a horror movie that has gone on for way too long), I know things will just go back to normal. People will simply return to their constantly stimulated and always distracted lives.
Yet a part of me hopes that more people will at least now have more of an appreciation of the crucial contributions black medical staff made during this period, even as their loved ones suffered and endured in silence.
To be black. To be British. To be a man.
If you first came to London and read a British newspaper, then you might think that most millennial black men from the UK were basically a 'roadman.' In Britain, a 'roadman' is sort of the equivalent of the African American 'gangsta' but not really on the same threat level in all honesty. However, many millennial black men in the UK are not 'roadman' at all.
As someone who was born and bred in London, I have hung out with a variety of different types of black men that populate Britain. Black culture is born in London, and then it spreads to other major British cities like Birmingham and Manchester. So if you want to understand Black British men then look no further than London.
Of course, every black man is an individual, like any other human, but we can also be broadly categorised into a type in terms of how we present and view ourselves to the world. So, I am writing the first article which exists (to the best of my knowledge) which explains the different types of black British men in the UK.
Feel free to agree or disagree.
1. The modern Black British black man
This is the type of black guy who is usually born in the UK to parents who came to Britain in the late 70s and the 80s. They can be poor, middle-class or wealthy. These types of black guys are very in touch with their Britishness while also acknowledging their African or Caribbean roots. These are the guys who watch EastEnders but also know their afrobeat artists or can speak Jamaican patois. They often speak with a London accent (or the accent of the city they come from) and have a mixture of friends from all races. They can be at a pub during lunchtime eating bangers and mash but also be eating jollof rice at their mum's house for supper. They are part of the African or Caribbean diaspora, and they are proud of it. Their vocabulary often consists of words such as “fam”, “wagwan”, “innit” “mazza” “dickhead” “wasteman” “mandem” and a few others.
Examples: Anthony Joshua, Stormzy, John Boyega,
2. The ‘Roadman’
Probably the most well-known group of black British men, the roadman is usually born in the UK and can be described as the corrupt version of the "The modern Black British man" but not always. There are cases where he is, in fact, a ‘British African’ but now finds himself living the criminal lifestyle that encompasses the roadman's existence. The roadman is basically a criminal who either sells drugs (i.e. trapping), robs people or places and/or spends most of his days roaming the streets with his boys. They often produce questionable drill music or hang around aimlessly in their estate. Some of these guys do go on to have successful music careers where they rap about their trap life. Often black boys in their late teens to mid twenties, the ‘roadman’ is not a new phenomenon as they existed as early as the 2000s. However, with the popularity of drill music and social media, the roadman has, unfortunately, become a more prominent representation of millennial black British boys.
Examples: Headie One, Nines, AJ Tracey
3. The coconut
Although sometimes used in a very derogatory way by others within the black community, a coconut (sometimes referred to as a bounty) is essentially a black boy who acts 'white.' That is to say that these types of black boys talk in a very refined or posh way that many would classify as sounding ‘white’. He may or may not listen to black music, eat African or Caribbean food or even have many black friends. Still, he usually does not overtly emphasise his roots. His hobbies include activities that you would find are popular with British white people and ditto for his music taste. However, this doesn’t make him less black (in my opinion). The coconut is not as hated among the black community as he might have been in the past. Nowadays, he is more accepted as another type of black guy as opposed to a black guy who isn't proud of his heritage.
Examples: Ncuti Gatwa (technically he is Scottish but still he is example of what some may classify as a coconut), Nathan Stewart-Jarrett
4. The eccentric and unconventional black British man
The eccentric and unconventional black British man is different from the coconut in that he is very much aware of his roots and displays that. Unlike 'The modern black British man' or 'The roadman', his personality is very loud, very humorous or very weird. However, his unusual behaviour comes out in a way that is acceptable to the mainstream without gaining the disapproval or indifference from black people that a 'coconut' might have. These types of black British men are often entertainers, but they can also be people with ordinary lives. They are very similar to ‘The modern black British man’ but just a lot louder and whackier in their personalities.
Examples: Mo The Comedian, Michael Dappah, Big Narstie
5. British Africans
British Africans are not a new type of Black British men, but they have become a lot more vocal and visible over the past decade. This is primarily due to the popularity of afrobeats music, which has made African culture a lot more mainstream in Britain. Sometimes born in the UK and sometimes born in Africa, but then immigrated to the UK, British Africans share some similarities with 'The modern Black British man.' But the critical difference is that they emphasise and practice their African culture much more strongly than the former. These are black men who speak their mother tongue with their friends and families even if they were born in the UK. They frequently travel to Africa and wear clothing from their African country of origin. While they may occasionally acknowledge their Britishness (usually in a way to mock British culture) and are comfortable around different races, they are much comfortable carrying on the traditions and behaviours of their motherland.
Examples: Burna Boy, J Hus
So which one do you think best describes you as a black British man? None of them or a mixture? Have I got it completely wrong? And ladies, which type from the list do you tend to date? Feel free to leave your comments below.
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).