“Fam you said you’d be here at 7.30pm but it’s 9pm now?”
“Allow me, bro. I am moving on black people time.”
If I paid myself £20 every time I had this conversation with my friends, then I would probably have enough money to afford a mortgage in Chelsea.
In the black community, especially among black men, the belief that we are always late is almost treated as a universal truth. Black people always being late for work, for parties even for their own wedding is just expected because of ‘black people time’ (BPT)
Even I used to laugh about this and treat it as a joke.
Until one day something happened.
Then I realised BPT is a dangerous stereotype that is designed to stop the progress of the black community.
The insidious agenda behind the idea of ‘black people time’
It was around my mid-20s and still in the very early days of my marketing career.
Innocent-eyed and with an ‘I-ain’t-that-bothered’ attitude to work at the time, I remember consistently arriving in the office ten minutes late.
To my surprise, my colleagues, who were mostly white and middle-class, didn’t reprimand for my tardiness. Quite the opposite. They would make jokes like “Leke is late again” or “Leke, forgot to set that alarm clock again.” And me, like the mug I was at the time, would laugh with them, thinking that my co-workers didn’t mind that I was late.
In hindsight, what I realised was that they subconsciously expected me to be late based on my skin colour and instead of me to prove them wrong, I proved them right. In my naivety and foolishness, I thought I was bonding with the team when really all I was doing was confirming their preconceptions of black men as unreliable and tardy. This would have negative repercussions for me as I was overlooked for promotion on several occasions.
What we, the black community, need to understand is that some of these jokes about black people, which might appear harmless or dismissed as ‘bants’, are actually designed to paint black people in a negative light and can actually foster bias in non-black people to not give us a position because of the perceptions of us as “lazy” and “unreliable” which are reinforced by these so-called BPT jokes.
The racist origin of the term
Recently, I’ve been very curious about where the notion of BPT originated from? How did this come to characterise and popularise black people so much? Who started this propaganda?
After doing some reading around the subject I discovered that the phrase had been used as early as 1912 where it was called “coloured people time.” It was a derogatory term deriding black people as lazy.
Yet here we are in 2020, popularising the phrase and using it within the black community lightheartedly.
Now this wouldn’t be a problem if we weren’t taking it seriously.
The problem is we are taking it seriously and living by it.
Why we must not internalise black stereotypes
I’ve lost count of the number of times I have gone to black-organised events where the event has started late or, sometimes, not even started at all. Honestly, I went to Afronation last year and I was astounded, yes astounded, by how flawless the whole event was. Things happened on time!
Within the black British community, there is always this expectation that events will not go as planned and will be disorganised. As much as it pains me to admit it, for the most part, it’s true. When events don’t start on time or are disorganised, we throw our hands in the air and proclaim “black people time” and “so typical of black people” and then proceed to keep it moving as if this is just the reality of black people.
This is a significant problem that goes beyond the issue of BPT. For some reason, many of us in the black community have seen the negative characteristics that have been purposefully placed on us and then, rather than reject these proclamations against our character that are not rooted in anything scientific, we have internalised them. I am guilty of it myself.
Sometimes, it’s difficult not to internalise these negative portrayals of black people. Jokes such as BPT are reinforced by our cultural artefacts via movies, comedians and music. All these subliminal messages eventually seep into our subconscious until we begin to accept it as reality without even realising.
By accepting that ‘black people operate on their own time”, we are now holding ourselves back to progress as a people because we are allowing ourselves to think that being late or disorganised is fine – it’s just a black thing.
"...rather than reject these proclamations against our character that are not rooted in anything scientific, we have internalised them."
But by doing this, we are now collectively seen as untrustworthy and lazy, halting our progress as a people. Some of us, who do not adhere to the foolishness of BPT, now have to work even harder to fight against this negative stereotype placed on us which has also been reinforced by many of us.
So the next time you find yourself running late because of BPT really ask yourself: why you think it’s ok to be late to meetings, gatherings, parties etc? How do you think that makes you look? There is already so much working against black people's progression, does it make sense for my own development to never be on time for anything?
It’s not too late. You still have time to change (pun intended).
The biggest killer of young black men in London isn’t knife crime. It’s the absence of a positive existence.
A few days ago I read a statistic that saddened me but didn’t really surprise me.
According to Scotland Yard, almost three quarters of under 25-year olds killed in London homicides last year were from the Afro-Caribbean community.
Sir Stephen, Deputy Commissioner for Scotland yard had this to say:
“Of 149 homicide victims in 2019, 54 of them were under 25. Of those 54, 39 were from the Afro-Caribbean community, which is 72 per cent.”
Now some of us in the black community will read that statistic and instead of us to be concerned about this, we’ll either ignore it entirely or absurdly believe that Scotland Yard has fabricated the data because the establishment has an ‘agenda against black people’ which is an absolutely idiotic notion by the way.
The fact is young black men are disproportionately killing one another on the streets of London. You don’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to figure it out. On an almost weekly basis now there is another tragic news story of another young black boy, often well under the age of 30, who has died from violence. Later, we find out that the perpetrators shared the same skin colour as their victim.
Yet knife crime isn’t the biggest killer of young black men in London.
Do you know what is?
The lack of a positive existence.
Everyone in our lives (and those absent from our lives), everything we see and everything we experience moulds us, like clay, into the person we are going to become, whether we realise it or not.
For many, not all, black boys growing up in London, they are living in and shaped by a negative environment both internally and externally. The statistics only reinforce this.
Let’s look at the negative internal factors first. It’s been widely reported and proven that many black households are single-parent ones. In fact black households have the highest proportion of lone parents at 13%. Single black mothers often raise their sons without a father present in the home and if he is somewhat in the picture, the father himself is rarely effective as he himself is a lost and irresponsible man, disheartened and angry about the lack of opportunities in the UK. It’s a generational curse that sadly hasn’t been broken – lost black men giving birth to sons who are statistically likely to grow up to be just as lost as their fathers.
My life would have been very different, and not in a good way, if my father had not been in my life. He was and still is a hardworking and responsible man till this day. As any African young man can relate, my father sometimes beat me, shouted at me and punished me severely to the point where I disliked him occasionally.
However, my father’s harsh discipline was necessary. By being strict, especially when I was displaying signs of bad behaviour that many boys begin to exhibit during our formative years, my father taught me to respect authority and the importance of hard work. Many of the black boys who kill other boys, black or otherwise, lack both the mentality of working hard and the importance of respecting authority simply because they’ve had no father figure to show them the way.
Boys will always seek out a father figure. If their father isn’t around who do you think they are going to turn to? Often, it’s going to be the older men in their council flat or at school who are living a negative experience to make money. Being young and impressionable, these young boys will model their masculinity on the behaviour of older, criminalised black men. Again, it’s generational cycle.
Now this isn’t to say that mothers cannot raise black boys by themselves. I have seen, even within my own family, black mothers step up and raise their sons very well. But, on the flip side, I have also witnessed, within my family, black mothers failing to raise their sons well and not because they were bad mothers, but because they simply lacked the faculties to teach a boy how to behave like a responsible man.
If we move on to the external factors, of which they are many and complex, therefore beyond the scope of this blog, we can also see the negative aspects of our wider society which often propels young black men into a life of crime, violence and drugs.
Firstly, our wider black culture encourages black boys to be violent, to misbehave and to disrespect authority. Music is the biggest conduit for spreading this negative message. As much as I listen to drill music and even like it, it does sadden me that drill music has become the most popular outlet for young black boys to express their ideas and lives.
Popular drill artists like Headie One talk exclusively and excessively about drugs, girls and their perceived enemies on the streets. Drill music does not communicate a hopeful message or even discourage the ‘trapping’ lifestyle; it merely glamorises it.
All of this is compounded further because the negative perception of young black men, already reinforced by black culture, is further reinforced by much of the mainstream culture in the UK. Newspapers like The Sun or Daily Mail, two of the most popular newspapers in Britain, negatively portray young black men as either bad and if they are not bad, then they are silly or irresponsible.
And these tabloid newspapers can boldly make these claims and even back them up because young black men, shaped by the negative experiences of their internal lives and encouraged externally to criminalise their lives through messages communicated through our black cultural artefacts such as music and films, give these newspapers a lot of ammunition. As much as I loved Rapman’s Blue Story, did it really do anything to change the perception of young black men in London or did it just reinforce the negative perception of us?
There is hope and change is slowly happening
Although this article sounds like it’s all doom and gloom for young black men in London, I must remember that violence and drug dealing is not the common existence for many black men in the capital.
I know many black men within my own social circle who are doing amazingly well both professionally and in their personal lives. I’ve seen black men earn six-figure salaries in good jobs, get married and raise wonderful families.
But the problem is that these positive representations of black men are outnumbered by the negative representations both externally and internally. Strong and responsible black men are simply not visible enough in our culture but, as I said, things are starting to change. Organisations like Dope Black Dads is doing a great job of changing the narrative around black fathers and has garnered great media coverage so far.
While there is still much work to be done, I must take solace in the fact that black men are doing much better now in the UK than they were 40 years ago, even if it feels like we haven’t sometimes.
But change takes time and I remain positive. What other choice do I have? There’s enough negativity in the black community already.
London has a population of 8.9 million people. A variety of people and cultures. So much to do and so much to see.
And yet it can be one of the loneliest places to be especially as a young person.
It must have been in late 2011 when I first developed a serious case of loneliness. I was a fresh graduate and had returned to London after studying and living in Brighton for four years. When I returned to the city, a lot had changed.
The city felt unrecognisable with the influx of white middle class people (i.e. gentrification). Many of my friends had changed or stayed the same so we no longer had the connection we once shared. My girlfriend at the time was still living in Brighton. Since I don’t like long distance relationships, I broke up with her which only heightened my loneliness.
Soon, I oddly fount myself alone in a city that I had grown up in. It was a depressing period and I found myself doing a lot of silly things, partly because I was a young man but also because I was just so annoyed spending time with myself.
What loneliness means
Loneliness is described as “sadness because one has no friends or company.” It’s a condition that has become an epidemic among young people across the UK.
Despite the immense popularity of social media and all the virtual friends who follow us on these digital networks, many of us still experience acute loneliness because we don’t share any real connections with many of these people who we follow on social media.
Most of the time we follow them because they either went to our school or live in our neighbourhood, but they aren’t our friends. You could pass them on the street, and you would completely ignore them because, in real life, there is no friendship between you and them.
Why we become lonely
A lot of young people, especially those under the age of 25, have this problem I’ve described above. They are so invested in social media that they haven’t really cultivated any real relationships in the physical world. After a while, when they go outside, they realise they don’t really have any genuine friendship groups within their proximity.
Other times, loneliness can occur when you move to a new environment. Last year, I made friends with many people from all over the world who came to London. All of them have described how easy it is to become lonely in the capital. Most people in London are very guarded and stick to their own people.
London is a vast maze with pockets of different communities that are closed off to new people. It’s a city for individuals not collectives so it can be difficult to forge relationships when people living in London are so individualistic.
You can also experience loneliness when you return to a place you’re familiar with after so many years of living elsewhere. But you’ve lost touch with what’s happening as everyone has moved on without you or you’ve moved on while everyone has stayed the same. Suddenly, you no longer feel like you belong to the community you grew up in.
Being by yourself is important for your self-growth
An important lesson I learnt last year is that being alone is necessary for a period of your life.
Western society is addicted to romantic relationships. Our most popular TV shows are centred around relationships – looking at you Love Island. Our society’s fixation with relationships means that so many people are desperate to hook up with someone because the very idea of being alone or single is weird – as if it’s inhuman.
Having this mentality often means that to avoid being alone, we end up getting into relationships that aren’t good for us – both romantic and platonic. We don’t realise this until the damage has been done. Even though I did love my ex partner to some extent, in hindsight, I got with her during my period of acute loneliness. I was in no position to really be in a relationship, but I entered one anyway and now I am dealing with the consequences of that.
Harry Potter actor Emma Watson recently got some flack because she said she was “self-partnered” but what she was saying resonated with me completely. She understood that, for a segment of your life, it is better to be alone so you can focus entirely on you. It is not anyone’s responsibility to make you into a better person. That’s on you.
Once you know yourself and improve yourself, you will choose better friends and better romantic partners
If more younger people embraced being single and alone, then I think a lot of us would end up in healthier and long-lasting relationships.
Instead of looking at single life with dread, we should see it as an opportunity to improve every aspect of our lives. We can learn a new language. Save for that mortgage. Get that driver’s license. This is a time where you don’t have to think about anyone else but yourself. Use that to your advantage.
That isn’t to say that we shouldn’t have friends we talk to. It’s crucial to build genuine relationships with other humans. However, if you spend time doing activities by yourself then you will better understand who you are. Consequently, you will choose friends and romantic partners that are a better fit for you, and you will attract more quality people because you’ve taken time to work on yourself.
"It is not anyone’s responsibility to make you into a better person. That’s on you."
A big city like London can make you feel lonely but only if you let it.
Explore the city by yourself, go to the cinema by yourself or even take yourself to Winter Wonderland. It’s scary and weird at first but, if you embrace it, you might just find that doing things alone is not so bad. You might even begin to love yourself.