When I first saw the trailer for Bridgerton, the next Netflix-funded production from the streaming service's growing library of original content, I was intrigued. I had been a mild fan of Downtown Abbey, and I generally love a quality period drama. Besides, we hadn’t seen a decent period piece in ages. But what made Bridgerton stand out wasn’t just its genre, but it featured black people.
A lot of black people. In prominent positions in British high society.
I had never seen a black male lead, albeit a light-skinned one, in a period drama set in Regency-era England. You had a black queen dressed in an elegant Regency-era costume, sitting on a golden chair and dispensing instructions to her white servants. Just what kind of period drama was this! Even if it was going to be total rubbish, I had to check it out to see how they would handle and even explain all these black faces in an aristocratic setting, in a period where Britain had its hands all over the slave trade.
In my opinion, anyway, having watched the first six episodes of Bridgerton, I can report that it's not an epic fail. It has high production values with its dazzling costumes and detailed and vibrant settings. The dialogue is witty, and the performances are excellent across the board. But what about its black characters? How are they treated?
It's the treatment of its black characters that makes Bridgerton both refreshing and very confusing at the same time.
To address racism or not to address racism?
By the time I got to episode 3 of Bridgerton, I had accepted that the show was based in some alternative reality, sort of like Spiderman: Into the Spider-verse where you had different spidermen and spider women from a different universe. In my mind, Bridgerton took place in another universe where black people and white people co-existed in Regency London, and everyone just accepted it as normal. How else could you explain the presence of dark-skinned people in a ballroom party, not servants but high ranking members of society, or a black woman in one of the highest positions of the land during a period where England was very much involved in the slave trade.
I was on board with this, but then at some point, the show started to acknowledge race. Or at least slightly jab at the issue. There is a scene where Lady Danbury, played by Adjoa Andoh, tells a young Simon Basset, the black romantic lead, that he must be excellent because people like him and her cannot merely hide or blend into the background. This dialogue seemed to imply that they had to be exceptional because of their race.
Another time where race is called out, and it's very blatant, comes midway through the series when Lady Danbury tells Simon Basset that “We were two separate societies divided by colour until a king fell in love with one of us. Love, Your Grace, conquers all."
These attempts to address race took me out of the story and the world the creators have crafted in Bridgerton. If you're going to address race, don't do it half-heartedly and without commitment. I understand that Bridgerton exists as light-hearted escapism, which it accomplishes, but then trying to sprinkle in more serious anecdotes about race don't mesh well with the show's overall tone.
During these instances where race is highlighted, it feels as though the creators thought they needed to mention the issue in a production filled with black people. But by doing this, the whole point of colour-blind casting, which the producers of the show have gone on record to say was why they cast black actors, rings false. If it were genuinely colour-blind casting, the producers would never have brought up race in the first place during any part of the storyline.
Black people as window dressing
The more I watch Bridgerton, the more I am entertained. There is no point where I am bored with its story of romance, matching-making, high-society antics and scandal of course. But the more I see the black extras in the background; it dawns on me that this is what most of the black people in this drama are – background characters.
Apart from about four, most of the black characters in Bridgerton don't have substantial speaking roles. You can't call them characters even but extras. These black people in high British society seem to exist as window dressing – their purpose is to make Bridgerton's visual aesthetic different from the other period dramas that have come before it. As a result of this, however, the casting of black actors then feels very perfunctory and opportunistic, since diversity is all the rage these days.
That being said…
Even though I have issues with Bridgerton’s handling of race, I am still binge-watching it because it is endlessly entertaining and mostly well-acted and well-written. And it's excellent, and even refreshing to see black faces featured in an expensive production, dressed in Regency-era clothing and looking very dapper. Even if the producers just wanted to populate the setting with black people, bringing some melanin to proceedings and winning brownie points for diversity, at least those black extras look fantastic while strutting around in exquisite castles and lush garden parties.
Men, in general, don’t write romance books. If you narrow that down even further, black men, in general, don't write romance books. Now that isn't to say, any brother in the UK isn't drafting the next Pride and Prejudice, or a modern adaptation of Romeo and Juliet set in Peckham.
Apart from Shakespeare and Nicholas Sparks, the populist romance genre is the preserve of middle-class, white women – not that there is anything wrong with that, just an observation.
Bearing all the above in mind, you can imagine the looks on my friend’s and family’s faces when I told them my first novel would be a romance novel. “You? You’re going to write a romance?" was what a few people told me, looking bemused as if I told them I wanted to join Nigel Farage's political party.
While everyone was surprised that I was writing a romance book as my first novel, I wasn't surprised. I've always been fond of the romance genre. This fascination probably started when I was in my early teens and would religiously watch Boy Meets World. There is no shame in admitting I loved the romance between the two central characters in that show, Cory and Topanga (played by Danielle Fishel one of my 90s crushes).
When I started writing my debut novel, A Prophet Who Loved Her, a romance, I did some reflection. What made me, a man, read and enjoy romance books so much that I wanted to write one as my debut?
The psychology of falling in love
I'll admit up front that this is a generalisation but, from speaking to women and reading reviews of popular romance books, I get the impression that romance fiction is so popular because women readers love reading about two people's journey falling in love. The romance genre's appeal is the 'will-they-want-they' formulaic story of two people being kept apart by something or their denial to fall in love with each other. The story must end with a nice, happy ending eventually.
The formulaic romance genre does not appeal to me, however.
I love a good romance when it does a deep dive into the psychology of two people falling in love. To put it another way, I am not captivated just by the journey of people falling in love – but why they fell in love with each other in the first place. But also, the challenges that come after getting together.
Recently, I watched two films which describe the types of romance I tend to like. One is Blue Valentine, starring Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams, and the other is Marriage Story, starring Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver. If you get time during this miserable lockdown and want an emotionally-moving story, I recommend watching these two movies. Both films deeply explore why two individual people would fall in love and what causes two people to fall out of love with each other and the pain that comes with that.
I call these type of love stories romance realism. They deeply explore the psychology of love and attraction and the powerful moments of connection that bring people together. But they also examine the harrowing experiences of heartbreak and divorce.
The difference between romance and romance realism
Even though I wish I had, I did not coin the term "romantic realism." Literary critics have been using the word since the early 19th century. My idea of romance realism is similar with novelist and philosopher Ayn Rand’s definition. In her book “The Romantic Manifesto”, she described it as:
"The method of romantic realism is to make life more beautiful and interesting than it actually is, yet give it all the reality, and even a more convincing reality than that of our everyday existence.”
The purpose of fiction is to be a form of escapism from our reality, and populist novels exist to entertain us with drama, characterisation and plot. A pure romance novel aims to arouse a cathartic feeling about a beautiful couple who surmount external odds to come together and have their happily ever after. Keeping them apart is always something external – an evil stepfather, warring families, different locations, etc.
With romantic realism, however, it's not only external factors that keep two people apart, but internal ones too and these are often the focus of romantic realism fiction. It’s the character’s internal weaknesses, fears, and misbeliefs that sabotage their relationships or ruin their marriage. Romantic realism can still have a happy ending, but often it’s an ambiguous ending or a ‘happy-for-now’ ending. But a pure happily-ever-after ending is usually reserved for the romance genre and not the romance realism subgenre.
Why I prefer romance realism
As someone who has had two quite intense and dramatic long-term relationships, I would say I know a thing or two about the highest highs and the lowest lows in relationships. It's not only external factors that are the sole reason for volatility in relationships but also our complex personalities.
The most realistic and most exciting stories about romance explore the psychology of lovers. Whenever I am writing about two people falling in love, I like to examine both people’s idea of love and how they place this expectation of love onto their partner to fulfil.
Sometimes, someone can meet their partner's expectation or fall short due to their own shortcomings or the other partner's unrealistic standards. Pure romance novels tend to explore the first stages of love, where they are finding each other and overcoming obstacles to be together finally, but what about afterwards? Romance realism delves into how people's personalities test the foundation of marriages and relationships after they’ve hooked up.
Novelists are psychologists, delving into their characters' mindset while building a plot and story that tests their protagonists. In the same way, the best romance novels are not just about the beauty of falling in love; they examine the psychology of two people falling in love and why they would also fall out of love.
The best romances don’t end after the happily-ever-after. As a writer, that’s when it’s the most interesting.
Would I deny my black son if he were gay? If you were to ask me this question when I was 18, then I would have said yes without flinching. “My son can’t be no batty boy” would have been my exact words.
If you were to ask me that question as a 31-year-old man, you’d get quite a different answer from me. I would shrug my shoulders and tell you: “That’s his sexual preference. I will love him all the same.”
But where did this seismic shift in my mentality come from? You couldn’t simply put it down to my age. There are many black men who I grew up with that were very homophobic when we were teenagers that haven’t lost any of that in adulthood. So what was it then?
Well before I spend the rest of this article explaining why my views on homosexuality changed, two disclaimers first. I know I’ll have a few critics, so I want to address their concerns right off the bat.
Firstly, the purpose of this article is not to advocate for black men to become gay. Nobody “becomes gay” anyway. Instead, this article is an exploration of black masculinity and why homophobia is not only ridiculous but also not an affront to black masculinity.
Secondly, I am not a homosexual man. I am straight, but I have written this article to address why I would not dismiss my child, hypothetically speaking, if he were gay.
Growing up in a hypermasculine world gave me a homophobic mindset
I grew up in East London or the "ends" as it is colloquially known. My environment was very hypermasculine. Raised by a very conservative and traditional Yoruba man, my first experience of masculinity was one of strictness and dominance. Please don't mistake me, my father was and still is an exemplary father, but he was not one for hugs and kisses or openly expressing your feelings. He was a provider and a protector.
At school, many of the black boys (and to be fair, boys in general) were also very hypermasculine. This hypermasculinity manifested itself in several ways. For example, bragging about how many girl’s numbers you had on your phone and how many girls had you had slept with (everyone would double their body count), how many people you’d beaten up and how good you were at football and how aggressive you were.
What it meant to be a black man, growing up, was all through the lens of being a straight man. It was why I was very homophobic by the time I was in my late teens. During this period of my life, the very idea of another man kissing another man was a perversion of masculinity. It corrupted the concept of what masculinity was in my head, and so I thought being gay was a disgusting and despicable act.
Also, the early 2000s was not as openly accepting of the gay community as it is today. Anyone who suspected of being gay would face backlash, more so if you were black. If someone in the ends thought you were a "batty boy", a derogatory term for a gay man, you would be at risk of violence.
Meeting gay people while I was at university
The first time my dislike towards gay people was challenged was when I first attended university. Fittingly enough, my first actual interaction with a gayl person happened when I left East London to attend university in Brighton – considered to be Britain’s gay capital. At the time of completing my degree application, I was not aware of Brighton's reputation, but by the time it was brought to my attention, I was already in my first semester.
It was while living in halls that I became friends with a boy who was gay. To be completely candid, I was uncomfortable around him initially. In my ignorant, small mind, I had unfounded suspicions that he might fancy me or kiss me in the student lounge. God, I was an idiot. However, once I had gotten to know him, he was, in fact, a cool guy. We both liked watching WWE, reading novels and enjoying cheesy 90s action films.
And he never tried to kiss me.
By the time I had completed my English degree, I had spent three years in Brighton and interacted with many gay people, men and women. There was nothing different about gay love and straight love other than how they enjoyed physical intimacy. I had even watched two gay couples fall in love, get together and then break up – just like any heterosexual couple. My strong antipathy towards gay people, hardened over my heart like ice, had now melted away.
Science over emotion and religion
However, the reason why I would never deny my son (or my daughter) if they were gay is not only because of my university experience. It’s also down to science. Much of the argument against homosexuality, particularly within the black community but not exclusive to it, is that homosexuality is unnatural.
But it isn’t unnatural at all.
Firstly, what we must remember is that humans (homo-sapiens if you want to get all technical about it) are mammals (a fancy word for animals). I've heard many people, not just black people, tell me that other animals don't engage in gay behaviour, but that is entirely inaccurate. Homosexuality has been observed in dogs, elephants, baboons, and even lions, to name just a few. Now yes, an argument could be made that you can't compare the sexual behaviours of non-sentient mammals to that of humans who are self-aware. But considering humans have just evolved from animals and the fact that homosexuality is seen in other animals, even if they lack sentience, is proof that homosexuality is as natural as homosexuality.
Another argument against homosexuality, which I once held, was that the sole purpose of sex is for procreation. However, considering how the millennial generations, and the many generations before, have engaged in sexual acts purely for pleasure, going so far as to use contraception to eliminate the "sole purpose" of sex, renders that argument moot.
By the time I had left university, I was no longer religious, as I felt it limited the human experience and naturally made be a prejudiced person. While I still do draw on the Bible occasionally and my empathy and feelings to examine anything, I also look at cold, logical and impartial science. And from a purely scientific point of view, I can no longer see homosexuality as an unnatural act. Human sexuality is complex and scientific studies have shown that the binary idea of sexuality, male attracted to female and vice versa, is only one expression of the broad spectrum of human sexuality.
Black masculinity does need to evolve
Being from the black community, I can say that, from my observation, there are still negative attitudes towards homosexuality. Blatant homophobic attacks have lessened, but this is mainly in the black diaspora, which has been influenced by western society’s embracement of the LGBT community. However, homosexuality is still punishable in some Caribbean and African countries. It can land you in prison or worse.
Black masculinity is still very much tethered to this idea of hypermasculinity –physical superiority, sexual prowess and intense competition. Homosexuality is viewed as the antithesis of all that. However, there are some black men, who you might consider traditionally masculine, that are gay. The 2016 film Moonlight dramatises the experiences of a black male gangster who is muscular, tall, violent - and gay. Some of the most brutal men in history, who many would categorise as embodying typically hypermasculine traits, were gay such as Ronnie Kray, of the Kray Twins. In prison, there are many examples of violent men engaging in homosexuality. Even if our mainstream society satirises it, it still happens.
The strict idea of male blackness is limited, and this is perpetuated by black mainstream culture – in rap music, our fashion and our films. Over the years, I admit that black masculinity, in the West, has become broader. Still, I do feel there needs to be more of an acceptance of homosexuality as being compatible with black masculinity. Of course, this will take much time as religious ideologies are still influential in black communities – both in the diaspora and back at home in Africa and the Caribbean islands.
Would I purposefully encourage my black son to be gay? Of course not. Never would I influence any child's behaviour to prove an ideological point – an issue I have with many liberals, but that argument is beyond the scope of this article. But I would be supportive of my hypothetical gay son and love him all the same because being gay is not a choice – it’s who you are. And he would still be a man in my eyes, in every sense of the word.
“Youths are the life blood of any nation.”
― Ifeanyi Enoch Onuoha
When we think of a nation’s future and possibilities, we always look to its next generation of leaders. The next 50 years of the world's current democracies will not be directed by those currently in power but by the generation below them. Future advancements in technology, medicine, and the arts will come from the millennials.
For Nigeria, it's the millennial generation that many hope will finally lift Nigeria out of the darkness of poverty and into the light of prosperity.
But political protests such as the latest #endsars movement, and the terrible bloodshed that followed, has got me questioning if the job of saving Nigeria is too big for Nigeria’s youth to accomplish given Nigeria’s history and the mentality of Nigeria’s political body.
A nation governed by leaders who are at odds with its youth
Violence in Nigeria is not unique to Nigeria.
All democratic nations on this Earth went through a history of civil war before they became the functioning societies they are today. You could say it’s democracy going through puberty. Take America, for example. It is considered the greatest democracy on Earth – ignoring a particular blonde-haired president - and was once bitterly divided between the northern and southern states. It wasn’t until the end of the civil war in 1865 that it became a unified America. Even today, the George Floyd protests reminded us that America is not as unified and advanced as Hollywood movies would like us to think.
Nigeria, being a relatively new democracy compared to America, has gone through its periods of violence. Assassinations, coups, and bloody military rule dominate every chapter of Nigeria’s 60-year history as a democracy.
Yet Nigeria still doesn't feel like a democracy that has come out of its puberty phase. The powers that be who govern the country were all involved, in one way or another, in the previous violent and corrupt governments of Nigeria’s past - this is a significant problem for Nigeria's youthful population. Muhammadu Buhari, Nigeria’s president since 2015, was the ringleader in the military coup d’etat of 1983 where he became Head of State. He was also involved in the Biafran War as a soldier.
Men of war often dominate Nigeria's political class. These men come from a generation where Nigeria was a bitterly divided nation with long-established tribal and religious divisions. Due to globalisation and a more pronounced western influence, Nigeria's educated youth do not have this same appetite for tribal hostility and iron-fisted governance that those in power still clearly have in their heads. Also, young Nigerians are pursuing careers which are more creative but also they are more tech-savvy than the previous generations. They are also more open to giving women more opportunities in the workforce – again, a western influence.
But Nigeria's leaders are not swayed by any westernised thinking which puts them at odds with Nigeria's youth. The youth-led protest against Nigeria’s now-defunct Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) is not just a protest against a brutal government organisation but a repudiation of the government’s old-school ways of brutal governing.
In western democracies, its leaders will overhaul entire policies if the youth cry out in protest. Just look at the British Conservative government’s U-turn around free-school meals when 23-year old footballer Marcus Rashford publicly criticised the government’s policy. It could never happen in Nigeria. Cries from the youth are falling on deaf ears as Nigeria's leaders show blatant contempt for the youth and their westernised mindset.
A nation with too many identities and fractions
Dealing with a government ruled by heads of state who do not share its youth's vision for the nation is just one issue. In Nigeria, you have many who are educated. You also have many who are educated to poor standards or not even at all. And this is against a backdrop of tribal underrepresentation in government and religious conflicts which create a north and south divide.
Nigeria has one of the largest populations in the world. Yet a staggering 10.5 million children are out of education. Even if you are educated to a degree level, you face grim prospects. 2.9 million Nigerian graduates and post-graduates are unemployed and 13.9 million people aged between 15 and 34 years are unemployed.
Poor education and an economy unable to meet the demands for jobs are compounded even further by the religious divide still present in Nigeria, particularly between the south and north of Nigeria, and the dominance of mainly three tribes in Nigeria – the Yoruba, Igbo and Hausa-Fulani.
There are over 400 languages in Nigeria, but only these three tribes are represented in government and given a higher status than any of the other minor tribes. In the background, the north is still dominated by fundamentalist Muslims who oppose any western ideologies, feeding the growth of militant Muslims such as the Boko Haram that the Nigeria government has struggled to eradicate. I doubt Nigeria's youth would be able to sort out this myriad of problems.
Corruption is a Nigerian state of mind
Corruption has become synonymous with Nigeria. Putting aside the 419 jokes, everyone universally acknowledges that Nigeria has a serious problem with corruption. In 2018, Transparency International ranked Nigeria 148 in a list of 180 countries considered corrupt.
The duplicity in Nigeria is not just a disease that lives in the minds of those that govern Nigeria but is part of the nation’s mentality. Fraud, extortion, coercion and abuse of power – these are practices carried out in every class, from the poor to the rich. Nigeria's young are trying to carve out legitimate businesses, but how can they be successful entrepreneurs in a land where contracts can be ignored, and regulations are only enforced if you have deep pockets. In Nigeria, the law can be bought.
It is this state of affairs that discourages many young Nigerians in the diaspora, myself included, from returning to our motherland to build businesses over there. While western democracies also deal with corruption to some extent, it pales in comparison to the rampant criminality that bleeds into every aspect of Nigerian society.
The long game
Nigeria's youth are caught in Nigeria's violent sea of deep-rooted problems and have a long time to wait until the sea has calmed. How will we know when that has happened? Only when the older generations of Nigerians have become too old to govern the country and the millennial generation can now take their positions in government.
But even when that happens, governing Nigeria will still be such a gargantuan task.
With a population of well over 190 million, almost six times larger than Ghana's population, Nigeria is almost like several countries forced to become one nation. All Nigerians can hope for is that, over the next few decades, the various tribal divisions and religious differences will become less important as the national identity of Nigeria becomes the dominant mental state of the population. You cannot govern 195 million people if they only identify themselves by their tribe and religion with their nationality as an afterthought.
The most important job of Nigeria's youth will be to unite all the tribal and religious factions under the Nigerian nationality, so everyone in Nigeria views themselves as Nigerians with every tribe feeling they have a real stake in the direction of the country. I would be lying if I said it would be easy, and perhaps only the passage of time will make it a reality.
Right now, Nigeria's youth can only wait. But that doesn’t mean waiting in silence. They must continue to protest and call out injustice, corruption and the brutality that blights the nation. Even if the job of saving Nigeria is not necessarily one in which they can carry out right now, it doesn’t mean they cannot start preparing themselves for it.
Michaels Coel’s ‘I May Destory you’ is one of the most exciting and ground-breaking black British television shows to grace our screens in recent years. Apart from being well scripted and superbly acted across the board, 'I May Destroy You' portrayed the lives of young black people outside the usual narrative of crime, violence, and road life. It is a refreshing representation of modern black British people that was long overdue.
A standout episode featured Arabella (the main character played Michael Coel) visiting her mother and younger brother on the former's birthday for a family dinner. Her father, who appears to have separated from her mother, visits the family. As the episode progresses, viewers are treated to tender scenes of Arabella coming to terms with her father's infidelity while loving him all the same. Although not the most present parent, Arabella's father still shows affection to his two children.
It was such a great moment to witness on British television. An African man living in Britain showing genuine love to his children – and he was not locked up or an ex-convict - just a Ghanaian father living an ordinary existence in the UK. I love to see it.
But then my mind started to wonder. Why don’t we see enough positive representations of black fathers on British television? What effect is this having on black British men, and how is this absence of mainstream visibility of positive black fathers endangering black masculinity in the UK?
Why are so many amazing black fathers in real life underrepresented on British television?
It would be remiss of me to completely pretend that the issue of single-parent households among the black community is non-existent. According to ONS (2020), 24.3% of black households were single-parent families, while 21.6% were married couples or civil partners. These might seem like low numbers, but if we compare them to other ethnic groups, we start to see a trend. In those same ONS figures, for white households, 32.9% of were made up of married couples or civil partners, and 10.2% were single families. For Asian homes, nearly 47.0% of Asian households were made up of married couples or civil partners.
By comparing the statistics of married couple and single-parent households across the white, black, and Asian ethnic groups, it's evident that single-parent families and unmarried couples are far more prevalent in the black British community. The reasons for this are complex and multi-faceted and not the focus of this piece.
However, if only 24.3% of black households are single parents then, logically speaking, it can be summarised that 75.7% of black households in Britain are not from single families. That's an overwhelming majority of black homes in Britain with a mum and dad both present.
But if you watch British television about black families, you wouldn't think it.
Over in America, shows like This Is Us, Black-ish and Black AF are great television shows which showcase black men as full-time, successful fathers diligently looking after their families (in a humorous way of course for entertainment). In the UK, if you think about it deeply, there is an absence of any British television series which focuses on or at least shows a prominent black male character as a positive father figure who is consistent in his children's lives.
Whenever black fathers appear on British television, they are usually written as someone who has abandoned their parental duties and strives to make amends. Richard Blackwood's highly publicised character in Eastenders, Vincent Hubbard, just ended up being a gangster who was unable to keep to one woman or provide for his daughter. Despite how much praised I heaped on I May Destroy You earlier, even Arabella's father's storyline shows him committing adultery while being an inconsistent figure in his children's lives.
Outside of television, I see so many examples of black fathers who are present in their children's lives and doing a fantastic job as fathers. Some of my closet black male friends are truly inspiring fathers. My father has been in my life since the day I was born and is still a massively influential figure in my life. Although I am co-parenting with my ex-partner, I am consistently in my daughter's life, financially and emotionally.
But why aren't these kinds of black fathers rarely portrayed on British television?
Honesty, in my opinion, the reason is that there is still a narrative in modern Britain to demonise black men, particularly young black men. Showing black fathers as responsible is not something that fits with the negative stereotype the white British elites, who control the major networks and media corporations, want to spin around black men. British mainstream media love to bang on about the lack of black fathers in black children's lives as a significant factor in knife crime as if there is some correlation. But these news reports always ignore that 75.7% of black households in Britain have two parents at home. Funny, how that is never headline news in the British media.
Is it British television's responsibility to showcase more positive representations of black fathers?
Some people might argue it's not British media's job to present positive black fathers on their shows, but I would beg to differ. I feel that British networks have a huge responsibility to showcase all realities of black British communities rather than always focusing on the negative aspects to drive narratives about black people, especially black men.
One reason why we may be seeing a lack of positive black British fathers on our screens might be to do with the lack of black talent behind the camera. Ofcom’s annual figures on diversity in the UK-based TV industry show 13% of staff at five major organisations – the BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5-owner ViacomCBS and Sky – come from BAME backgrounds. While this is roughly in line with the UK’s working population of 12%, it is far below the levels of the black population in London. Ofcom’s figures also illustrated that BAME representation at senior levels in Britain’s major TV organisations was only at a dismal 9%.
Perhaps, we need more black British screenwriters at senior levels to greenlight more British television shows which have story lines featuring black men as positive male fathers. Black British fathers who are great parents exist in real life. Surely then, they should be represented on British television. After all, the purpose of TV is not to only entertain us with escapism but tell stories based in reality, and not just specific realities but all realities.
Even when carnival is cancelled, it will still attract some controversy around it.
But this year, the controversy was not the usual. It wasn't around the numbers of people who got stabbed which, by the way, is always sensationalised by the media. Nor was it around all of the mess on the streets Notting Hill carnival leaves in its wake.
This year’s carnival (or non-carnival) attracted controversy because of Adele’s hair. Yep, to celebrate non-carnival, the pop star decided to tie her hair in Bantu knots, a hairstyle typically worn by black women to protect their afro hair.
And many voices within Britain's black community were in an uproar.
To some black observers, Adele had shown poor taste by ‘culturally appropriating’ a hairstyle that is traditionally worn by black women. Many of her critics pointed out that Adele would never wear that hairstyle on an album cover and has never worn that hairstyle in any other context outside of carnival. For many, this demonstrated that Adele is not really appreciating black culture but culturally appropriating a black hairstyle only when it is safe to do so.
Would Adele wear Bantu knots on her album cover? Probably not. Does that mean she is culturally appropriating black culture? Probably, but how harmful is it really and does it warrant this much aggravation from the black community?
Cultural appropriation is not the same as cultural discrimination
I would never make an argument that cultural appropriation of black culture does not exist and that, in specific contexts, it's not an insult and exploitation of black heritage. Films which cast white actors to play African people (e.g. all those Egyptian epics from the 50s). That is negative cultural appropriation. Britain plundering Africa of its cultural artefacts and displaying them at museums without any permission from those who created those artefacts. That is negative cultural appropriation. White people who wear blackface at parties as some kind of grotesque joke. That is negative cultural appropriation.
But Adele wearing her hair in Bantu knots? Yes, it is undeniably cultural appropriation but is it the type that is dangerous or harmful to black culture and black heritage? Of course, it isn't. You'll need to come up with a convincing argument that it is without looking very, very silly.
Scrolling through the internet and reading some of the criticism, something became apparent to me. Many of those who are deeply upset with Adele's choice of hairstyle (and it is understandably coming from black women) are looking at cultural appropriation and cultural discrimination as if they are the same. It is for this reason that the black community's anger is misplaced.
Yes, it is true that if a woman were to wear Bantu knots to her corporate job, she would be met with raised eyebrows and probably an email from HR. There is no denying the stigma against black hairstyles in the workplace and within other institutions in western society. But that is a matter of discrimination which should not be conflated with cultural appropriation.
Every one of us culturally appropriates other cultures, including black people. Whenever a black person goes to a Chinese restaurant and uses chopsticks to eat food, we are culturally appropriating Chinese culture. Black people who read a lot of manga and go to cosplays dressed as their favourite anime character are culturally appropriating Japanese culture. All of these examples are done in the spirit of celebrating that culture. How do we celebrate it? By consuming it and sometimes adopting its customs.
Justified but misdirected rage
Adele, who, don’t forget, grew up in Tottenham, which has a sizeable black community, was celebrating the spirit of carnival with her chosen hairstyle. To think otherwise means you are projecting your unjustified and misplaced rage onto her because of the stigma around black hairstyles perpetuated by the white elites in western society. The fact that she wouldn’t wear it on an album cover is because her record execs, who control her image, decide what is and what isn't an appropriate look for a pop star. If you want to have this rage, you should direct it at them, not at Adele.
Furthermore, why does the black community pick and choose which forms of cultural appropriation is deserving of their wrath? The Indian community have been profiting from black hair and black hair products for a long time, but black people are curiously silent about this. Yet we have our pitchforks raised when a white woman decides to adopt a black hairstyle. I can't help but think that Adele being a white British person is the reason she is getting this much heat. If she looked more tanned, would black people have cared? The cynic in me says no.
Lastly, black people have a lot more urgent and essential matters where we need to be channelling our energy and rage. The killing and imprisonment of our black men, lack of job opportunities for young black men and lack of economic prosperity among the global black diaspora – these are matters that need our urgent attention. Remember, only very recently, a black man was shot in the back and paralysed in front of his children by white police officers.
Black people’s fight is not with Adele’s hair. It’s with the elites and the establishment. Can we please redirect our rage back to the real battle?
Africa is cool.
Rewind back two decades earlier, and I would not boldly write that sentence. As a British-born Nigerian, I would be telling porkies if I wrote that I was always proud to be Nigerian. In fact, during my childhood, I did not even know what it meant to be Yoruba – only that it was a Nigerian ethnic group my parents were part of. Back then, I considered myself to be British first, Nigeran second.
But now, I am proudly Nigerian (or more accurately, a British Nigerian). This reconciliation between my Britishness and my Nigerian heritage became easier when Afrobeats gradually became a mainstream music commodity. It's not that I was ashamed of my Yoruba culture, but I felt it was challenging to express it in the UK – a country where, for a long time, the African identity was ridiculed by both blacks and whites, but the Caribbean culture was accepted.
Around 2013, I noticed a shift in mainstream music tastes. Afrobeats/afroswing began to receive heavy radio play in the UK. Artists such as WizKid, British-born J Hus and many others were singing in Nigerian dialects, and their music videos were washed with an unfiltered African aesthetic. Finally, I felt like I could be loud with my heritage in Britain. Young white people started wearing traditional African lace, singing African songs, and I had white girls telling me they love jollof rice and pounded yam.
Afrobeats music had ushered in an unprecedented interest in African culture that fed into every aspect of western society. Millennial Africans within the diaspora finally felt that the western's perception of the African identity had moved on from the outdated colonist notion that we are savages and jungle people.
In America, the globalisation of Afrobeats music has had an even more profound effect on African Americans.
A bridge back to the motherland
African Americans have a tenuous relationship with Africa. Based purely on my own observations over the years, African Americans tend to fall into two camps.
In one camp, you have the African Americans who openly acknowledge their roots to Africa by wearing dashikis and necklaces in the shape of Africa. Although it's a superficial acknowledgement of where their enslaved ancestors came from, at least they are still demonstrating an understanding of their heritage.
Now in the other camp, you have African Americans who identify little with Africa or barely even recognise the continent as their motherland. Despite the glaringly obvious, these group of African Americans simply do not feel Africa is their heritage. America is their home, their land, their culture, not some dark continent where their ancestors were forcibly taken from and shipped to work as slaves on plantations.
There is a reason why the very term "African American" is used widely among black people in the US and why "Black British" is not a popular term among the black community in the UK. African Americans were disconnected from Africa in a way us black people in Europe are not. For many of us black people in the UK, our parents came to the island by choice, so they still had ties to Africa. In America, African American's and their parents and their grandparents and their grandparents only remember America as their home.
The worldwide success of Afrobeats has finally provided a shiny bridge for all African Americans to connect back to their homeland, and America's biggest stars are crossing that bridge.
It started with Black Panther. The Marvel blockbuster cast America’s biggest black actors, from Chadwick Bosman to Michael B Jordan and with a soundtrack produced by Kendrick Lamar which featured songs from many African music artists. Grossing $700.1 million in the United States and Canada, Black Panther's enormous success was an affirmation by African Americans. They were finally ready to embrace the motherland even if it's given to them in a shiny and nice package.
Following Black Panther, African culture began to permeate through African American entertainment. Beyonce, the black queen of African Americans, recently directed a musical filmed called 'Black is King.' The film, inspired by Lion King, features a host of African talents such as WizKid, Yemi Alade, Tiwa Savage and Moonchild Sanelly, to name a few.
With the world’s biggest music star now using African talent as a vehicle to drive her latest artistic endeavours, Afrobeats music has globalised and, subsequently, commoditised the richness of African culture.
But at what cost?
Is the commercialisation of African culture exploitative?
Rap mogul and Ciroc advocate Sean ‘Diddy’ Combs recently executive produced Burna Boy’s latest album ‘Twice as Tall.’ For many, it was an unexpected pairing. Diddy was brought in when the album was almost finished to provide ‘fresh ears.’
Yet the cynic in me believes there is a lot more to it than that.
Diddy’s involvement in Burna Boy’s album was a calculated business move. With the spotlight on Afrobeats and African culture, Diddy simply saw an opportunity to grab himself a piece of that African pie. And what better way to do that than being an executive producer on Afrobeats' hottest artist right now? Up until now, Diddy never demonstrated any interest in African music.
What slightly concerns me is that many businessmen and brands will follow Diddy's strategy and begin jumping on the African bandwagon dripping with sauce. Sadly, they are only there to greedily consume the sauce and then leave when the bandwagon has been emptied. There is no genuine interest to really deepen and grow Africa's music. Only to make a quick buck.
Many have said that ‘Twice as Tall’ is not nearly as good as Burna Boy's previous albums and I am inclined to agree. It's not a bad album by any standard, but it does feel over-produced and over-commercialised. That Chris Martin feature was just…no.
Afrobeats and the broader African culture is at an exciting crossroads. Many established brands are taking it seriously. In July, BBC announced it was officially launching its own chart dedicated to the genre. John Boyega has partnered with Netflix to produce a slate of African movies. While these announcements are fantastic for Africa and the African diaspora, one aspect must not change:
The content must remain authentic and in control of the creators.
Time and time again, history has shown us that as soon as big corporations get involved in a movement, they immediately dilute it. Make it more mainstream or radio-friendly. That mustn't happen to the Afrobeats genre, or it will perish. History is filled with corpses of dead movements and burgeoning sounds that were murdered by greedy capitalism.
Africa has always been cool. It's fantastic that the rest of the world finally recognises that. But as Afrobeats and the broader African culture shifts into the mainstream to become a significant player in western civilisation, I pray to my African ancestors that the African authenticity, that sauce, is not watered down.
After all, Africa is cool because it's African. Nothing else.
Many have tried, but you cannot silence the voice of black culture. It’s just too stubborn.
Not even the coronavirus pandemic could manage it.
During the early days of the lockdown, while we had virtual raves on the House Party app and we all agreed that Carole Baskin did kill her husband, a black online radio station began to capture our ears. Its name: No Signal.
It started with the now infamous NS10V10 show. The idea of one Jojo Sonubi, these radio sound clashes pitted African and Jamaican music artists against each other using songs from their musician's library. First was Burna Boy VS Popcaan, and then Vybz Kartel VS Wizkid and these sound clashes sent a wave across Britain's black youth culture. Reactions from the likes of John Boyega flooded black twitter. Burna Boy was live streaming his response from the comfort of his living room. At its peak, these musical clashes on No Signal's website managed to attract 89K listeners before the entire site crashed.
Sure enough, No Signal went from being an online radio station broadcasted from someone's bedroom to a fully-fledged radio station run by black people and for black people.
The success of No Signal is a reminder that radio has always played a hugely important role in spreading black music and black culture to the masses in Britain.
And it all began with pirate radio.
Pirate radio and the resilience of creative black youth
It must have been in the early 2000s. I was 15 years old and addicted to the sound of grime music. Back then, grime was not mainstream so the established and commercially focused black radio stations like Kiss FM and Choice FM did not play it. The only way you could listen to a grime MCs latest tracks or clashes was tuning into pirate radio stations. During this period, the most famous pirate radio station for grime music was Deja vu. It gave voices to the likes of Dizzee Rascal, Ghetts and Kano – all household names now. I have fond memories listening to Deja vu after school with my cousin and his friends in a park in Stratford.
Deja vu and the many black pirate radio stations that preceded it represented the counterculture – a middle finger to the radio-friendly, mainstream culture. It was all about having an edge and being truly authentic to the street sounds of black music.
90’s prolific British rapper Rodney P’s YouTube documentary ‘The Last Pirates’ brilliantly takes us through the rise, fall and commercialisation of Britain's pirate radio stations which illegally dominated the airwaves throughout the 80s and 90s. By transmitting their signals from tower blocks and high-rise estates across London and other British cities, black pirate radio stations played popular black music at the time, mainly soul and rap, to the growing multicultural population sprouting across the UK's major cities.
As is always the case with anything that is black and garners significant attention, black pirate radio stations were continuously shut down by government enforcers. But, as we say now, we move. And the DJs during that era did that. Literally. They stayed one step ahead of regulators by finding new ways to hide their broadcasting signals or changing the location of their transmitters to avoid detection.
But this cat-and-mouse chase between black pirate stations and government regulators could not continue. Soon, many of these pirate radio stations such as KISS FM were finally granted a license and allowed to operate as official radio stations. However, Trevor Nelson, who was a DJ during KISS FM's pirate days, explains in the documentary that as soon as these black-owned radio stations became commercial, they lost their original flavour and voice. Gradually, these once authentic and boundary-pushing black radio stations began to bow to commercial and stakeholder pressures.
A new era of independent black creative enterprises without the suits
Unlike the era of the 80s and 90s, we now live in a time where black entrepreneurs don't need gatekeepers. We don't need huge corporatIons or white men in suits to control what we create. Black creatives can create content and distribute it to millions with a click of a button.
No Signal represents this new era of black-owned creative enterprises that can remain authentic, attract a vast audience and without the endorsement or backing of big money. We see this play out with the proliferation of black podcasts and black chat shows like '3 Shots Of Tequila,' 'BckChat' and the 'ZeZe Millz show' to name a few.
As we have seen with the recent racial protests, black suffering and black voices cannot be silenced. The same goes for our sound and our culture.
So don’t try and fight it. Just tune in.
Man like Hushpuppi in jail, you nah.
For those of you who have no clue as to what I am on about, let me swiftly bring you up to speed. Hushpuppi, real name Raman Abbas, is a wealthy 37-year-old Nigerian multi-millionaire who has made a career from seriously stunting his lavish lifestyle and wealth on Instagram. The pictures come with corny captions about 'trusting the process.'
For real, check out this brother’s Instagram. Hushpuppi stunting is so outlandish; he makes Floyd Mayweather’s Instagram look like it belongs to a peasant. Gucci top, sports cars, private jets, and expensive watches – Hushpuppi’s Instagram account has it all (noticeably his Instagram has no photos of beautiful women around him, odd considering how much wealth he has. Goes to show money can't buy you game).
Recently, Hushpuppi was arrested in Dubai along with another associate. The FBI have accused the Nigerian of money laundering (no surprise then). He is to go to court later this year in America to fight for his innocence, but it's not looking great for Mr Hushpuppi. He should probably sell some of those diamond-crusted watches to raise enough for bail.
With over 2.5 million followers, many young black people around the world are fans of Hushpuppi. Some of my black male friends from my social circle look to him as inspiration to achieve the lifestyle he has carefully crafted on Instagram. Many black women see Hushpuppi’s account and want a man with that kind of resources to provide them with that lavish style.
Personally, I am not a fan of Hushpuppi. Why? Because he represents the toxic relationship many young black people have with money.
Let me explain.
Growing up black and poor means everyone must know you’re now black and RICH!!
I’ll never forget, almost a decade ago now, when I finally got my first graduate job. I was a young marketing executive on a basic salary of 22k. But to me, it was like I was earning a six-figure salary. Guess what was the first item I purchased when I received my first paycheque? A £300 Armani watch (which I’ve since lost).
Deep it properly. I was a black graduate on a 22k basic, and I went to purchase a £300 Armani watch. Looking back at it now as a 30-year-old, it’s insane that I did that. But when I was 21, I felt the strong need to let everyone know that I had “made it out of the ends.” I was playing with the big boys now (on 22k, I wasn’t get paid that much more than a full-time cashier at ASDA, but a graduate job had me thinking I was just one step down from CEO).
I did not grow up as poor compared to other black people around me in East London. Both my parents worked decent jobs. However, I did not live the type of middle-class lifestyle that is common among many white Britons. I did not go skiing at any point, growing up, and my parents did not have a holiday villa in Marbella.
Like nearly every black person in East London, I grew up surrounded mainly by poverty. My road was not lined with Mercedes and BMWs. It was mostly run-down Ford Fiestas. As a teenager, I had a weekly allowance of around £10 for the whole week, and many of my black friends had far less to spend.
For many young black people in London, growing up in such harsh conditions gave us a sort of complex which fed into a desperate need for us to get money. While some of us went down the route of selling drugs or committing fraud, others strived for academic success.
Young black people wanted to reach a position financially where they could buy all the beautiful, disposable things like expensive watches and the latest trainers that our parents were unable to provide for us because they were too busy putting a roof over our heads. When I was very young, there was hardly any middle-class black families in Britain. There still aren't many today.
But the point is poverty is the common thread among many black Londoners. But that's only part of the story. It takes a much darker turn.
Hip hop and R’N’B culture - The Black Fantasy
What's the most significant black mainstream culture? Hip Hop and R'N'B, of course. Apart from the semi-naked women, the dance-heavy beats and the smart wordplay, Hip Hop and R'N'B culture is all about the flash and lavish lifestyle. Fast cars, dollar notes raining from the ceiling while black men with diamond-crusted teeth strutting around with massive chains around their necks.
And impressionable young black people soaked this shit up. I remember when I was 15, I dreamed that one day I would be surrounded by sexy women and riding in a Cadillac like Jay Z. But as I got older, the more I realised that the over the top displays of wealth in all these hip hop and rap videos is manufactured entertainment. It wasn't real.
But for many young black men, those Rick Ross videos were not entertainment. It was real to them. And many black boys felt they needed to aspire to that. From around the mid-80s to the present day, millions of young black men have strived for the fairy-tale lifestyle portrayed in these hip-hop videos. Our obsession with German cars like BMW, our need to buy expensive bottles of champagne in clubs, gold chains around our necks and the latest designer clothing – it all stems from this black fantasy that hip hop culture created.
Unfortunately, it’s a dark fantasy that has led to many black people developing a toxic relationship with money.
The culture and mentality of greed is a disease that mainly affects young black people’s mindsets
I have seen some black people I know get into spiralling levels of debt trying to maintain a flashy lifestyle beyond their salary. Honestly, I have heard of stories of black men suffering severe mental health trying to strive for the type of life they see in hip hop videos even though their only 25.
This mindset of lavish living has also negatively impacted black relationships. We’ve reached a point where many black girls living in London wouldn’t even give a black man the time of day if he isn’t driving a BMW or Mercedes or who couldn’t take her to expensive restaurants regularly. With some black women placing unrealistic expectations on black men, I have seen black men do whatever it takes to show our sisters that they are "balling" when they are not. It has lead to many black men, some I know personally, to make foolish financial decisions or commit fraud or crime with disastrous consequences for their future.
The truth is many black boys “trapping” right now are not doing it to help their mother pay her rent and clear her debts. They want fast money to buy Dior, Gucci, and Armani.
There was a time when black people worked hard to obtain more money so they could feed their families and provide them with a better life. But for many young black people in this generation, getting massive amounts of wealth has become a toxic mission to live a fantasy of lavish living so they can show this to the world on Instagram. For many black men, they want to display on social media that “other niggers ain’t got it like me.”
Maybe the fall of Hushpuppi will be a wakeup call to some of us black men and even black women that we need to become less materialistic in our culture.
But I wouldn't bet any money on it. Even if I was balling like Hushpuppi.
Previously, I wrote a blog post about the 5 types of black British men in the U.K. under the age of 35, and it received a lot of attention. Both positive and negative. Either way, it started a conversation around the different identities of black British men in the U.K.
So, since I believe in equality, I have written an article examining the 5 types of black British women under the age of 35.
Disclaimers (in case someone says I must be cancelled now):
With all that out of the way, let’s get to it.
1. Hood black women (also known as ratchet girls)
The ratchet or hood black woman are admittedly not excellent terms to describe these types of black women in Britain. But I can’t really think of any other word. The ratchet or hood black woman is almost the equivalent of the roadman but not quite. She may date a roadman, do favours for them or simply have them in her social circle. Still, she isn't usually stabbing people or selling drugs, although they are exceptions.
While stereotypically associated with South London, although they can be found in any part of London, the ratchet or hood black woman love going to very hood clubs (often these parties have a very heavy Caribbean influence) and usually smoke weed. They can sometimes be overly aggressive with their I-don’t-take-any-shit attitude. They’re unapologetically sexual but also very tough and resourceful women since they often come from working-class backgrounds. Most of these types of black women wear very colourful weaves, long fingernails, tight outfits, and fluffy sliders from boohoo.com. They are bold, loud and proud.
Examples: Some of the black girls on bkchat London, Stefflon Don (her brand anyway)
2. Urban black women
The urban black woman is like a middle-class black woman. But what separates them is that the urban black woman is still very connected to black urban or hood culture. However, she is too academically accomplished and financially well-off to be considered a ratchet or hood black woman.
Urban black women are incredibly aspirational, so often excel in corporate jobs and have degrees. And these traits are the only similarities they share with middle-class black women.
Outside of their jobs, an urban black woman will predominately have black friends (even close friends who are hood girls or roadmen). She only really listens to black urban music (afrobeats, drill, R'n'B, etc.) and will often attend classier black parties. Although, sometimes you could find her at a hood party as well.
Despite earning an impressive salary in some cases or having an education that would technically make them middle-class, urban black women often have similar tastes to black hood women but they wouldn’t necessarily date a roadman although they exclusively date black men, but these black men have a certain calibre or status.
Urban black women are a lot more refined and classier in the way they talk and present themselves than black hood women.
Examples: ZeZe Millz, Maya Jama
3. Middle-class black women or black women with middle-class interests
Sometimes, the only way to distinguish the difference between an urban black woman and a middle-class black woman is to look at their interests outside of work. Both of them appear remarkably similar at first: aspirational, financially well-off and educated.
Whereas the urban black woman predominantly consumes typical black culture entertainment and most of her social circle are other black people, a middle-class black woman is more fluid in terms of her interests. This particular type of black women probably attends art museums, jazz cafes, listens to alternative music genres and has a diverse range of friends. From my experience, middle-class black women will often have many middle-class white friends.
In terms of their dating preferences, again speaking anecdotally, I tend to find middle-class black women often date outside their own race. Urban black women will exclusively date black men, but a middle-class black woman is a lot more open in her dating preferences.
Lastly, you most likely won't find a middle-class black woman at an urban or hood party although she may attend occasionally. They don't tend to be party girls, and if they do go out to shake a leg, it's often at bars playing a diverse range of music. Their fashion sense is a lot more reserved and elegant than that of a hood black woman and less overly sexual than what an urban black woman might wear.
Examples: Candice Carty-Williams (author of Queenie)
4. Super creative and liberal black women
The super creative and liberal black woman is like the middle-class black women in that her tastes aren’t exclusively black, and neither is her social circle.
But where she differs from the middle-class black woman is that she is exceptionally creative. Very rebellious, creative and liberal black women often engage in pursuits and hobbies that would be considered too extreme or ‘out there’ for the hood, urban and even middle-class black women.
Often these black women's fashion sense is very eccentric and influenced by other styles outside of black culture. These types of black women might really be into gaming, anime, or hobbies that are associated with different subcultures. Even their choice of occupation is often highly creative such as being actors, writers, or painters.
Examples: Michaela Coel
5. Highly religious black women
The highly religious black woman can be working class or middle class and can either be academically brilliant or not. Often a strict Christian, a highly religious black woman is God-fearing, and many of the decisions they make are guided by their religious beliefs.
They are quite conservative in nature, and so it's doubtful you will find them at a club or twerking at any party. Usually, these women often strive for a stable and traditional life. Their social group is based around people with similar values to themselves, so they do not always exclusively socialise with black people. However, many choose to have predominately black friends because they share a similar experience and understanding of Christianity.
Examples: Couldn’t think of any well-known examples but you’ll find many of these young black women at any predominately black church
Everyone is obviously an individual, and the above groups are just my own personal broad categories based on my 30 years of growing up in London around many black women. As I mentioned earlier, if you have an opinion, then feel free to leave your comments below and let’s engage in a conversation.