I am a black father to a mixed-race daughter (my ex-partner is a white Italian woman). So, I know in the future, my daughter will face a challenge or maybe even a crisis of identity. Neither her father nor mother would have ever experienced this type of predicament before. As she reaches a certain age, she might naturally begin to ask herself:
Is she British Nigerian or Italian? Can she call herself a black woman? Can she ever claim to represent or stand for black women?
Personally, parents who shield their children from the darkness and complexities of the world are doing them a disservice. I won't be that type of father. At some point, I will need to help my daughter navigate this difficult period as a mixed-race girl. Challenging as it will be, I must show some understanding of the identity crisis she might struggle with.
So this post serves two purposes. Firstly, to analyse the question "Are you black or are you mixed-race" purely from my perspective and opinion. If I cause offence in any way, it was unintentional on my part. Secondly, this is my first attempt of addressing this issue as I might with daughter once she's realised that the pigmentation of one's skin is attached so much external meaning created by the world.
Is a mixed-raced person a black person?
It's such a loaded and sensitive question that, sometimes, I feel I should not even attempt to confront it. But now that I have a mixed-race daughter, I must face this question as I don’t have any choice.
In my opinion, we can examine this from two perspectives. Firstly, from a purely scientific standpoint, a mixed-raced person is not a black person. Biologically, you couldn’t make a logical argument that a mixed-raced person is the same as a black person who has two African or Caribbean parents.
The one-drop rule, whereby someone who has a black parent, or any kind of black heritage is automatically classified as black, is entirely absurd to me. An invention from the US (no surprise there), the one-drop rule was created and applied mainly in Southern America. Its primary purpose was to place children born to mixed relationships, and marriages into the lower socio-economic class. And I don't need to tell you what colour of people were considered to be of a lower class. While the one-drop rule is not recognised in law, it's still upheld by many people, both black and white. In 2011, Halle Berry infamously evoked the one-drop rule during a custody battle for her daughter. Halle Berry herself is mixed-race but identifies as a black woman.
The second perspective looks at the concept of blackness from a cultural and social context rather than from a purely biological rationale.
Now, this is where it gets interesting.
We can't argue with biology. If you were born to two black parents, you're black, regardless if you hate black culture or not. However, if you were born to just one black parent but your whole life evolves around black culture and working within the black community, then does that make you completely black by default? Can you reasonably stand up and say "Yes, I am a black woman" or "Yes, I am a black man" because all your friends are black, you consume black music, black films, black food, and sleep with black people exclusively? Do you have the right to play a black woman in a movie about a historically, biologically black woman or man, if you're mixed race?
What does it mean to black?
To answer those questions, I need to ask myself "What does it mean to be black?” How do we measure one’s blackness?
Of course, if you were born to two black parents, then the answer is clear. But as a mixed-race person, it all depends on the context. My daughter has the right to identify as a black woman, in that she is more connected to that part of her. After all, she is half black. Still, she must recognise that it could be culturally insensitive of her if she claimed that she is completely a black woman. Nor can she pretend she represents the lives of the average black woman.
Simply put, she does not. She represents the life of a mixed-raced woman. It's not the same. While my daughter can stand with black women and fight with them, she will not experience the full challenges of women who look completely black. Biologically, my daughter is not qualified to say she is a fully black woman and she should respect that fact.
I love Drake and I am a massive fan of his music. He has done so much for black culture, in both the US and UK, that we owe him so much. But even though he identifies as black, Drake would struggle to claim he was the face of black men. Even Obama cannot claim to be the epitome of the black man as he is half white and not completely black. Black culture will of course claim these great men as it should, but we must acknowledge that these men are half-white which makes them different from the black man who was born to two black parents.
From my own experience growing up in London, where there is a sizable mixed-race population (looking at you South London), and just my own observations, many mixed-race people with black heritage strongly identify with black culture. While the reasons for this are multifaceted, ultimately black culture is dominant and mainstream in London, so it's easier to be part of it. And black culture is just effortlessly cool, let’s keep it real.
Above all, love yourself as an individual first
Should the day come, in a few years, where my daughter asks me "Dad, am I black?" or if I see her struggle with this aspect of her life, I will say to my daughter:
“You are you.”
Nobody should be defined by or confined to the colour of their skin. Ultimately, we are individuals, and it's the various aspects of our personality which shape us, mould us and give us form. Of course, biologically speaking, my daughter is not a black girl. Still, if she chooses to identify with her blackness and have more solidarity with black people then more power to her. Conversely, she may decide to have more of a connection with her white, Italian side. It doesn't matter.
The question, then, needs to be re-framed. Rather than asking if someone is mixed-race or black, maybe we should be asking: "Do you know yourself and do you love yourself?"
I criticise my people because I love my people.
When I decided to write this blog, I had to repeat the above phrase to myself. On the many occasions I’ve debated with my fellow brothers about the current state of the millennial black man in the UK, I have been called an ‘Uncle Tom.’ For those of you who have no clue as to what I am on about, an ‘Uncle Tom' is a derogatory term. It means a black man who shows no allegiance to the black community because he is against them or views them negatively.
It has hurt me when I’ve been called an ‘Uncle Tom’ by other black men because of my honest views. But to suggest I hate my own culture is deeply disrespectful but also just untrue. I am black and proud of it– not that I needed to justify myself.
However, just because I love my black people doesn't mean I won't criticise the negative behaviours that are common in our demographic.
Now, these points do not apply to every black male under 35 living in the UK. Instead, these are negative characteristics that permeate within black masculinity which holds many of us back, and we don't realise it.
So let’s get straight to it.
1. Too stubborn and egotistical
Being stubborn and having a big ego is shared across all races of men. However, sometimes I feel these characteristics are dialled up a notch among a lot of young black men. I sometimes suffer from this negative behaviour as well.
Many black men are not open to direct criticism unless it’s from someone they know and respect, even then they might feel attacked. Due to many factors such as our strict upbringings and/or our negative experiences at school, many black men are quite fragile. Behind the bravado, they lack genuine self-confidence in themselves. To conceal this, young black boys put on this "you can't tell me shit" attitude even when really need to listen to what someone is telling them. Especially when it's a matter of life and death.
Taking advice from another person is not a sign of weakness. Someone reaching out to help you is not a sign of weakness. Some black men need to be more open to change for their own sake rather than stubbornly ignoring all advice because of
2. The need to stunt all the time
Let’s keep it real. Many black men love to stunt. Any opportunity to show off our wealth and status, you better believe we gonna take it. We are gonna glow, so everyone recognises our swag. I remember when I passed my probation at work and so to celebrate I bought a £300 Hugo Boss watch which I flashed everywhere I went. There was no need for me to buy a watch that expensive but a brother gotta stunt sometimes. As you can see, I am not excusing myself from this.
Black culture, in the UK and the US but also in many parts of Africa, is materialistic. Money is the universal language of black people. Why? I suspect it's because many black boys did not have much growing up. So when many of us start making a lot of money, through whatever means, we spend it lavishly and often stupidly. Sometimes, some of us, and this applies to me, grow up middle-class but still throw away money because we feel that's what 'cool' black boys do. They get tables and pop bottles.
Look, there is nothing with wrong with showing off sometimes (myself and a good friend of mine coined the term ‘shinning’ to describe this) but I do feel young black men take it too far. Black men will burn absurd amounts of money on champagne, leasing cars, and buying a Gucci belt even when they don’t have it like that, but they must appear like they do. It is this behaviour that I feel is very detrimental to us, the need to look like we've 'made it' when we clearly have not.
I have seen with my own two eyes and heard of black men do whatever it takes just to obtain material wealth. 419, AC scams, pyramid schemes…. the list goes on. Making money is good but making money just to blow it all on a table every weekend or to get a Porsche on finance is ridiculously short-sighted.
Bringing me to my next point.
3. The rush to be successful so early
Many black men are ambitious. Especially black men with an African background. We strive for success like it's the meaning of life. But this drive for success does not give us a lot of patience.
I have spoken to many black men who want to be on six figures by 30. But I always scratch my head when I hear this. Why do you want to earn that much by 30? What even makes you think you deserve to take home that much at such a young age?
Look, it’s fantastic if you can earn six figures by 30 and I’ve known a few black men who have managed to achieve this. But this should not be a benchmark. Most people don’t earn that much by 30 because they don’t have the experience to command such a salary. Personally, I would instead earn a six-figure salary at 40, when I have two decades of substantial work experience. It's better than blagging my way to that salary at 30. And this doesn't make me unambitious, it makes me pragmatic.
There is no rush. As the saying goes, it’s a marathon, not a race.
4. No respect for hierarchy or organisation
We cannot all be the captain. We cannot all have the spotlight.
Sometimes, I do feel that many black men hate being below another black man. It goes back to my previous point about our stubborn and egotistical nature. Personally, I have no problem following orders from another black man if he knows what he’s doing.
But for many black men, it is difficult to follow instructions. I've seen it countless times. Black boys will argue and sometimes even fight over who gets to make the final decision. If you get a room full of six black men under 35 in a room to start a business, I guarantee almost four of them will get into a verbal or even physical fight. And this will be over who is going to be the CEO of the business.
We cannot all be the CEO. Someone will have to play a lesser role, and it's no shame on that person. Hierarchy exists to bring order to groups so that they can function effectively to execute a collective mission. But every ship needs a captain, and sometimes black men need to throw away their ego and pride and defer authority to the most capable black man in the group.
The black community across the world, including Africa, would flourish better if we learnt to be better organised when we come together rather than treating structure and discipline as unimportant. This disorganisation is so rampant among black men; it's a cliché, but it's a sad one that is limiting our potential.
5. Competing all the time
Arguably the most crucial and common trait which affects so many black men is constant competition with one another.
Competition, in and of itself, is not necessarily bad. In fact, healthy competition among driven black men is to be encouraged as it pushes us to do better and strive further.
But the problem is competition among black men is not healthy.
I have had bitter arguments with my friends just because we turned something into a competition. How many girls we've slept with, who has the best swag or who got the most numbers on a night out. Sometimes this is just banter, but there have been instances where it's been clear jealously brought on by this desire to compete with each other.
Black men have died because of this nonsense competition we have with each other. All these postcode wars and ‘opps' all manifest from young men competing for territory they don't even own. Black men have lost their lives because another brother was jealous of his success.
As I stated earlier, perhaps it’s because so many of us black men grew up poor, that we have this scarcity mentality. We feel that if one of us is successful, then none of will be able to emulate that success. Instead of encouraging one another, we always compete with one another. Sometimes, it's to the point where this competition can become toxic and even deadly.
To any brother who has read this post, I hope you have done so with an open mind. I am not on a mission to attack black men; I am an African man myself. But, as black men, we must be able to analyse what we are doing wrong as individuals but also collectively within our broader culture.
Sometimes, we gotta show each other that tough love. And that starts with complete honesty about how we behave.
“Black women are the toughest women on this planet. Do not believe me? Just try dating one.”
Before the coronavirus came along and decided to take a big poo on our social lives, I remember speaking to a friend about our dating experiences. During our conversation, he said that quote to me, and I howled with laughter. I have heard so many black men tell me that the sisters do not give it up quickly when it comes to an emotional connection and sex.
Even though I have predominately dated outside of my race (much to my own surprise when I think about it, but that's not a discussion for this blog post), I have also had experiences with black women. While I have enjoyed these experiences, I have noticed that when a sister is dealing with a brother, there is a lot more expectation. Even if it is just meant to be casual 'situationship'. She will demand to know where she stands with you from the onset.
Does this mean black women from London are more difficult to date? I believe it is a lot more complicated than that.
Tough women living tough lives
Obviously, I am not a black woman, but even I can see, as a keen observer of culture and modern life, that black women lead tough lives. In some cases, their lives are more challenging than black men's.
Firstly, black women must deal with the fact that they are woman, so that is a lot of judgement from the world. This happens internally within the black community and externally, in the outside world. Secondly, they have black skin which brings with it a lot of negative connotations that they must also cope with in different contexts such as in the workplace and at home.
Looking at it from my own black male perspective, black women in London are less likely to quickly open themselves up to a man sexually and emotionally because they are more attuned to the bullshit of the world than women from other races. Many black women in London come from families where growing up was not rosy and sunny. Times were hard. As a result of this experience, black women from the capital are a lot more street smart and aware of a man's bullshit. To ensure you're the real deal or you're going to take them seriously, they are less likely to jump into bed with you until you've proven yourself as a man in whatever way that is for her.
Particularly in the UK, many millennial black women grew up with very headstrong fathers. For reasons that are too big and too off-topic for this article, black men, especially Africans, who came to the UK from the late 60s and started families, faced monumental challenges which made them very strict men. Also, many African cultures are predominantly patriarchal, so young black women grew up with fathers who made it clear they ran the household.
One characteristic I have noticed with black women who grew up in London and come from a poor background is that they expect their men to be very tough and very masculine. The reason some black men might have such a difficult time dating the sisters is that they really do test how much of a man you are and what you bring to the table. You can sweet-talk them all you want, but if you cannot deliver, they will let you know about it. They are not wowed by your melanin skin like women of other ethnicity might be.
I tend to find that black girls who grew up in a fairly middle-class household with a father who was not very strict, tend to be open to men who are a lot softer or just talk a good game and can show them a fun time. But most black women in the UK, especially London, did not grow up middle-class. They require a man who can help lift them out of the poverty they have grown up in.
Religion plays a big role in their lives
Although this applies more to black women from an African background, religion, particularly Christianity, is hugely important to black women from London. Especially as they reach their mid to late twenties. I have seen many African black women who used to be a little wild in their teenage years become devout Christians almost overnight.
This devotion to Christianity paints every aspect of their lives, especially when it comes to dating. If you are a man just looking for some quick fun, then you should look elsewhere. Such behaviour will simply not fly with black women in London who are deeply religious, which many of them are. Not only must you be a man of the faith, but you must also be one who is responsible in every aspect of his life.
Decide if the juice is the worth the squeeze
I always tell some of my friends that when you are dating a black woman from London, you must decide if the juice is worth the squeeze. That is to say, are you, as a man, willing to really step up and put in the effort and be a man, in the traditional sense, at all times? That is what it will take to date a black woman from London. If a black woman chooses to waste her time with the wrong man, it is more devastating to her for all the reasons stated in this article.
So if you're dating a black woman from London, just remember one thing: "The blacker the berry, the sweeter the juice and the tougher the skin."