If the last two years have taught us anything, it's that the white man's unchecked dominance over everyone in the western world is winding down. Donald Trump was probably the last white man in power in the West who could get away with unabashedly shaming women and be underhandedly racist.
Women must be protected.
It's a simple statement that carries the heavyweight of truth. And yet, over the past few days, both women and men have had to be reminded about just how easy it is to forget this truth and even take it for granted.
The tragic death of Sarah Everard, a 33-year-old marketing executing living in South London, has brought into sharp focus the perpetual dangers that women have to live with for simply existing. It's a weariness that, as a man, I can't fully comprehend. Of course, men aren't exactly immune to threats from the outside world either - men are still more likely to be victims of violence and assault. However, the difference is that sexual assault towards women is more prevalent than it is for men. In 2017, the Office of National Statistics (ONS) estimated that 3.4 million women had been victims of sexual assault throughout their lives. For men, it was 650,000. Worse still, recent figures from the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) showed that, between 2019-2020, the number of rape convictions had fallen to a record low. Most disturbing is that 97% of women aged between 16-24. have been sexually assaulted, with 96% not reporting the incident, feeling it would be redundant.
Just by reading those states, as a man, even I get a slight sense of how the shadow of violence and sexual assault looms large over women's lives. If I were a woman, and I knew my claims of rape were likely to lead to nowhere, I too would be very conscious of my surroundings, especially if men are around me on a dimly-lit street. It’s a shame that it’s taken the death of a bright, young woman with a future ahead of her to start having this conversation.
But being someone who questions everything, it’s kind of my raison d'être as a cultural critic; I do find myself asking: would the death of a black woman in Britain have triggered a conversation about violence against women?
Are black women seen as ‘black’ first before anything
In 2017, I read, with deep sadness, about Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman's horrific deaths, 46 and 27 respectively, who had been stabbed to death at a park in Wembley on the former's birthday. This incident took a more sinister turn when it came to light that two officers, whose identity remains undisclosed, had taken inappropriate videos of the deceased women at the crime scene and shared them with some close colleagues.
While there was some furore over the indecency in which Bibaa Henry's and Nicole Smallman’s murder was investigated by the police, a lot of the conversation focused on the fact that both sisters had black heritage and were subjected to humiliation by the police, therefore tying it back to the institutional racism inherent in the Met. But why is no one talking about the fact that an 18-year-old teenage boy has been arrested as the alleged killer? Why did these two black women's deaths not ignite a conversation about male violence but had to instead become a conversation about racist attitudes within the police?
I sometimes get the impression, especially in Britain and western society at large, that when it comes to the violence that women face from men, it is the incidents of these crimes being committed against middle-class white women that really matters. When black women are victims of male aggression, it only ever makes the headlines and gets people all riled up if there is an obvious racial element.
Over in America, the death of Breonna Taylor last year March gained international attention. Breonna was killed by white police officers who fired shots into her apartment when searching for her boyfriend on drug-dealing allegations. But had those police officers been black, then would they have been such anger? I am inclined to say they wouldn't have been because the racial element wouldn't exist. It's almost as if a black woman losing her life only warrants attention and conversation if it is at the hands of a white man.
We must never forget the humanity of black women
According to the Crime Survey for England and Wales, from April 2019 to March 2020, 4.6% of black women in the UK reported domestic abuse. This is almost half compared to White British women, where it's 8%. An obvious reason for this wide gap is most likely due to the significantly larger sample size for white British women. Writing anecdotally here, a possible reason there is such a smaller sample size of black women might be down to cultural elements such as black women’s reluctance to speak about domestic abuse compared to their white counterparts.
On the issue of culture, there is a narrative in the western mainstream that black women are strong, tough and fierce at all times. Black women like Beyonce and Serena Williams are viewed as the beacons of black female Herculean strength. But it can all get too much. I have spoken to many black women who have told me that society's expectation for them to be always thick-skinned and fierce robs them of their humanity and even their feminity. Black women can be just as vulnerable as any other race of women.
Overall, the point I am making is that black women must be included in any conversation about male violence and not sidelined in favour of the voices of middle-class white women. A black woman could have been Sarah Everard as well. Violence against black women matters, even if it's not linked to racism. In fact, especially if it’s not linked to racism.
Black women need to be protected. Not because their black. Not because of racism.
But because their women, first and foremost.
Black Britons and the vaccine: Government distrust, the comfort of religion and the post-truth age of social media
Outside of racism and the prospect of Carnival going ahead this year, what has united a vast majority of the black British community? And no, I am not talking about being fed up with this whole lockdown.
It's the strong distrust against taking the COVID-19 vaccines.
Whether old or young, second generation or third generation, African or Caribbean, there is a universal truth among black Britons right now: Don’t trust the vaccine. It’s even official now. Stats from the UK Household Longitudinal Study showed that 72% of black people in the UK were unlikely to take the jab.
The fact that such a high percentage of black people in the UK are so against the virus does not surprise me. Some of my friends, who are educated and mostly well-balanced black men and black women, have straight up told me they would have to be tied down and drugged off their faces for anyone to inject the vaccine into them. Most of my family aren't keen either - my Mum is outright against it (more on her later).
Many black social media influencers have basically voiced their doubts about the vaccine. Some have made humorous videos showing exaggerated side-effects of taking the vaccine, such as half of your face sliding down or slurred speech. Although it's content for entertainment, it fuels fears among the black British community that the vaccine could seriously affect your ability to do anything, from walking to having sex. This is despite the reassurances from qualified medical professionals that there will be no other ramifications apart from protection from the virus.
Now it is easy to simply dismiss black people's reluctance to take the vaccine as a another example of us being cynical for the sake of it. Even if you're from the community, to do that is to ignore the complex and intertwining reasons why black people are such adamant anti-vaxxers.
Distrust of a government who have historically not had their interests at heart
Most black people don't trust the government. This is universal. To be fair, we black people have not had the best relationships with those in power in the western world. In Britain, when the first West Indians stepped off the HMT Empire Windrush onto British soil in 1948, they weren't exactly embraced. Instead, they and their children would be subjected to two solid decades of racial abuse, discrimination and police brutality that was encouraged by the government. And if it wasn't pushed by the British government, then whatever mistreatment that befell the burgeoning black British community was largely ignored by it.
The West Indians who came to Britain and the Africans who migrated afterwards in the 80s have not forgotten. Britain's appalling treatment of its new African and Caribbean population has left a bad taste and a deep, raw distrust in white-dominated government. This anti-government stance has been passed down to the next generation of black Britons born into this country.
Worse still, we have a Conservative government in power. Given that Thatcher's Conservative government resided in parliament during the 80s, when black Britons really had an awful time, the black British population's cynicism toward the British government is even higher. This is further compounded by some of the questionable remarks the current PM has made about black people in the past, and well… you can sort of see why many black Britons aren't really buying into the government's endorsement of the vaccines. I honestly think the Labour party, which historically secures black votes, would have a marginally better chance of convincing black people to take the vaccine.
But even Labour would struggle to convince black Britons to trust the vaccine for another reason.
Big pharma have a history of abusing black bodies*
Pfizer, the American multinational pharmaceutical company, is manufacturing the main vaccine currently be rolled out across the country.
But Pfizer has a dark past of endangering black lives to test new drugs. Almost 25 years ago now, Pfizer carried out drug trials on children living in the northern city of Kano, Nigeria. Tragically, 11 children died and dozens more suffered irreversible disabilities. What's worse, the trial was carried out underhandedly and was effectively illegal.
Although Pfizer did eventually give massive payouts to the family as compensation - the damage had been done. Not only would these families never see their children again but Pfizer's reputation had been seriously damaged, perhaps permanently.
So it's not surprising then that many black Britons aren't exactly queuing up enthusiastically to take vaccine, given the history behind those who have manufactured it. Young black people, because of social media, are well informed and know about the Kano incident.
But this brings me to my next point.
Influencers and celebrities have more sway than actual experts
Among young black people today, celebrities and social media influencers have significant sway on their opinions. A friend of mine told me he wasn't taking the vaccine and when I asked him why he sent me a video of a social media comedian explaining why the vaccine is potentially dodgy. It wasn't a video from a qualified expert but a comedian whose job is to make people laugh, not to provide educational content on vaccinations.
The government's problem, and this isn't exclusive to black millennials but the younger generation at large, is that young people don't really give a toss about the objective truth anymore. Experts can be ignored. To play devil’s advocate, government experts have made some assurances in the past about when we would be out of lockdown only to backtrack on their word. So there is a credibility issue about the truth behind the words of these medical experts.
Also, social media is a whole lot of noise. Everyone has an opinion. The person with the most engaged followers has the power to change millions of views with their own uninformed opinions about the vaccine. The government has quite a task on its hand cutting through the social media jungle and engaging these social media influencers to communicate the correct information to their legions of followers. But there may be some reluctance among the black influencers to peddle the government's message. We have seen black stars like Ashley Walters use his Instagram channel to encourage his fans to take the vaccine. But this is few and far between.
The strong hold of religion
Religion is like gravity for many black Britons, especially the baby boomer generation. My mother is a fervent Christian, and she has told me that she would outright refuse to take the vaccine when it is offered to her. In her eyes, the vaccine has not been sanctioned by God.
Often, in African and Caribbean households, science takes a backseat to religion. It will be challenging to convince a steadfast Christian like my mother that she should take the vaccine. This is where the government will need to work closely with community and church leaders to educate people with strong religious beliefs about the vaccine's benefits. But even that might not be enough. Religious black people are notoriously stubborn – I speak from first-hand experience.
Widespread fake news and misinformation
Fake news has probably been the most defining aspects of western society in the last five years. The proliferation of messaging apps, like WhatsApp, has only exacerbated this. Not a day goes by when my mother hasn't sent me some ridiculous 'news report' on WhatsApp. I once got a video from someone on WhatsApp suggesting Barack Obama was a lizard in disguise.
The older black generation, who did not grow up with social media or even this level of complex technology, is easily tricked by fake news. Technology has also enabled fake news to look legit, and only the discerning eyes of someone well-versed in the norms of social news can spot when a news report is just a load of fabricated nonsense.
Initially, there had been a lot of misinformation about the coronavirus. Now we are seeing this repeated with the vaccine. I remember, when this whole pandemic began, my black friends were sending me videos about how the pandemic was part of some clandestine distraction so the government could install 5G. Remember when we had people destroying 5G towers? It's a perfect example of what happens when social media and fake news come together to form a dangerously convincing narrative that can galvanise a lot of people to do the wrong thing.
Give it time
Giving all the twists and turns of this pandemic - the broken promises and the backtracking - black people simply aren't in the right frame of mind to trust this government's endorsement of the vaccine.
However, give it a year or two, and if there have been no cases of any significant side effects from taking the vaccine, then black people will more likely be open to taking the vaccine. But right now, the black British community stand mostly united against it.
And that's on God.
*This section was added after the original article was published