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.