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