Britain’s hands are soaking in the blood of black slaves.
As much as past Prime Ministers and cabinet politicians have apologised for the U.K.'s role in slavery, to wash its hands of this blood, it will never be enough. The blood of black slaves dripping from the U.K.'s fingers is as thick and permanent as ink. No apology can simply cleanse Britain’s hands.
The recent death of George Floyd in America has also shaken the British establishment, unearthing the role Britain has played in the facilitation and expansion of the black slave trade. The British establishment loves to proclaim how it abolished the slave trade in 1807. However, what they like to conveniently remain silent about is how many of Britain's most prominent establishments were built on the backs of black slave ownership.
According to the University College London’s project into the legacy of black slave ownership, around 20% of Britain’s wealthy families have had a role in the slave trade. Shockingly, the British government was still subsiding some of these families with repayments due to the loss of earnings they would have endured when the black slave trade was abolished. The government only finished their repayments in 2015.
Nearly all the biggest banks in the U.K. had eaten a piece of the black slave trade pie. Many of the banks the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) acquired to become as huge as it is today had given considerable loans to plantation owners. Its past predecessors had owned slaves. Barclays (a bank I've been with all my life) has had directors in its past who acquired slaves and later received slave compensation. Both Lloyds and HSBC also have a legacy that is tied closely to the slave trade.
As you can see, the British cannot try to pretend its only role in the slave trade was abolishing it. They also helped expand it. Now the bill is due for their sins. As Jay Z once rapped in ‘Izzo’“We can talk, but money talks, so talk mo’ bulks.”
So enough with the apologies. It’s time Britain paid for using many unpaid black bodies to build its empire. This brings us to the topic of reparations.
Could reparations actually work?
Reparations is not a new concept. Those who support reparations believe that descendants of slaves should be given compensation in the form of monetary payments. Essentially, countries like the U.K. and U.S. would be paying the wages these slaves would have received to their descendants instead. Think of it as a sort of 'payment in lieu' but on a grand scale.
On paper and in principle, I am in favour of reparations. However, the more I think about it from a logical and logistical perspective, I don’t quite see how it would work.
Those black slaves who are owed payments for the free labour they carried out for their white masters are now dead. This complicates things because now it is difficult to determine which black person, in the present day, should receive reparations. Not every black person is a descendant of slaves because the entire population of Africa was not forced into slavery. From the research I've carried out into my own heritage, I am sure none of my ancestors were enslaved (Yoruba people are too stubborn). Therefore, I wouldn't qualify. It would be a complicated and time-consuming process trying to determine if every black person who applies for reparations is linked to a black slave.
Another problem is calculating how much should be paid and for how long. Let us say, for argument's sake, that I am in fact a descendant from a slave, how much sum would I receive and based on what? What my slave ancestor earned in the 1800s would not be the same for the same type of work today. Would we need to take inflation into consideration? These are critical economic questions, and it would take years to draft legislation that would adequately address them.
Investment into black lives in Britain is what we need
Unfortunately, it is too late for reparations to be a viable option, in my opinion. As amazing as reparations sound, it should have been paid to slaves as soon as slavery was officially abolished. Of course, it was not because even though black people were made free, they were not about to be given equal treatment to white people. That was never on the table and, 200 years later, it is still not on the table.
Instead of reparations, I want both the U.K. and U.S. governments to contribute a yearly sum of money into black communities. U.K. Organisations committed to improving the lives of black boys and girls should be funded by the British government. Companies should be given grants so they can employ black staff. Businesses should be incentivised to have more black men and black women in director-level positions. For example, these businesses are given bonus payments from the government as a reward for achieving a set target of having black directors.
If the U.K. is sincerely apologetic for its terrible history of exploiting black slaves, then it will consider some of these suggestions. As they say, talk is cheap, and apologies are empty. It is only actions that matter. If Britain really wants to redeem itself of its sin, it needs to pay the price to its black communities. With black men twice as likely to die from COVID-19 than white people in the U.K., the U.K. is not paying up.
Better start opening that purse, Boris.
This post is the third part in my five-part series of blogs educating white people and all non-black races about the injustices, prejudices and conspiracies designed to oppress and encourage discrimination against black people. You can read the first two lessons here (1,2).
In this lesson, I am going to explain the often debated and very heated concept of white privilege. I am going to look at what it is, how it manifests and if anything can be done about it.
With the preamble over, let's start the third lesson.
White privilege – Once you understand it, you start seeing it a lot
For a long time, I ignored the conversation around white privilege. I did not want to be one of those black people who blame all their misfortunes on the advantages of white people and the disadvantages of their skin colour. Some within the black community do play the race card to deflect from their shortcomings, and I did not want to have that mindset.
But my perspective changed in 2015.
I remember watching the news about the Charleston church shooting in that year. A 26-year old, white male named Dylan Roff had entered an African-American church in South Carolina. He then massacred nine black church members in cold blood. The brutality of the act angered me in such a way that for two days, I was not the nicest person to have a conversation with.
It's what happened to Dylan Roff immediately after his killing spree that made me realise that I needed to take white privilege seriously. After he had been apprehended following a short manhunt, the police had given Dylan Roff a Burger King meal when he complained that he was hungry. It was then that I understood what white privilege was.
Imagine if a black male walked into a church with a predominantly white congregation and slaughtered nine white people with a machine gun. Do you think he would be given a Burger King meal afterwards? If you're struggling for an answer then let me help you: he would have probably been killed by the police immediately after they caught him.
How white privilege affects the black community in the UK
As I've said many times, the UK is a far more tolerant and sophisticated society than the US. The British judicial system is impartial, and those who commit a crime receive the most appropriate punishment, irrespective of their ethnic background. Of course, it is not always the case, but it's more often the case than it is not.
But white privilege does exist in the UK, and I am going to give two examples of it; one mainstream and one personal.
Let's start with the mainstream example. Last year, Blue Story, a film about young black men involved inner-city gang warfare, was released in cinemas across the UK. Unfortunately, a small group of teenagers incited small-scale fights during the film’s screening in Birmingham.
Following this incident, cinema chains across the UK temporarily stopped screening the film. Some of the mainstream media started attacking the violent nature of the film and how it encourages bad behaviour among young people. Now during this period, The Irishman, Martin Scorsese's violent film about a murderous hitman who worked for a white crime syndicate was also playing in cinemas. Also, on British television, we had Peaky Blinders, a TV series about a violent, white youth gang terrorising Birmingham’s street shortly after the First World War.
Both The Irishman and Peaky Blinders are far more violent than Blue Story. Still, both received critical praise from media outlets. There were no calls to ban The Irishman from cinemas or cancel Peaky Blinders from British television screens because of their depiction of violence. Conversely, Blue Story was criticised for its supposedly excessive brutality (it's not as bloody as Peaky Blinders, trust me) and its depiction of gang culture by several media outlets.
Content about white people committing crime and violence is seen as just entertainment. But any content about black people committing the same acts is encouraging bad behaviour in our society. That is one manifestation of white privilege within mainstream culture.
Now let me give you a more personal and very recent example. Boris Johnson had announced, during his now-infamous daily updates on the COVID-19 national quarantine, that British citizens could exercise once a day. Following the Prime Minister's words, I left my house in the afternoon. I took a stroll to Cassiobury Park in Watford, which is about a 40-min walk from where I live.
Watford's town centre was teeming with people. Three police officers in the middle of the town watched as dozens of people, all white and Asian as I remember, walked through the high street. As soon as these police officers saw me, the only black person on the high street at this time, they confronted me.
Not one to antagonise police officers, I remained calm and exercised patience, as they began questioning where I was going and what my reasoning was for venturing outside. After I had calmly answered their stupid questions, they left me alone to continue my afternoon.
These police officers racially profiled me because I was a young black man. That afternoon, I saw young white men walk past them, but they did not confront them. It was me, the black man, that they had to stop for questioning. When you're white, the police are rarely suspicious of you. When you're black, for many police officers, you're suspect purely on the basis that you're a young, black male. I do not have the white privilege to protect me from their assumptions.
Can we do anything about white privilege?
White privilege gives white people an advantage over other ethnic groups, particularly black people. Being white enables white people to have access to certain benefits, to excel much quicker in their chosen fields and be protected from specific criticisms and punishments. Black people do not have these same benefits.
But here's the caveat, this is not necessarily the collective fault of all white people. History has made it this way.
The British Empire was the largest in the history of mankind. At one point it had control of over 23% of the world's population. The English had successfully conquered the world. Even though they are no long the uber power they once were, the English still dominate the world. Britain's colonisation efforts destabilised a lot of African and Caribbean countries. Therefore black people, many of whom were part of the British's Common Wealth territories, had to scatter around the world for a better quality of life. So now, many black people find themselves as a minority in many Western countries, especially in the UK.
The fact is there is a much larger white population in the UK than there is a black population. By that admission alone, white people will always have more representation and more advantage over the black community as we are rather small by comparison. We are called an ethnic minority for a reason.
However, what is essential is that the white population, particularly those in positions of power, recognise their advantage and influence, and then use this to create more opportunities for ethnic minorities. Asking the white establishment in the UK to give up their advantage is never going to happen and why would they give it up. But, they can provide a fair chance for others to be able to climb the social ladder and make the UK more of a meritocracy rather than one based on nepotism.
We can't expect the powers that be in western society to eradicate white privilege. Still, they can ensure that it does not stop ethnic minorities from fulfilling their potential.
But most importantly, those with white privilege must use it to ensure that everyone is treated fairly and justly, regardless of their skin colour.
Next lesson: Why saying ‘All Lives Matter’ is incredibly racist
Disclaimer: I have made some edits to this post as I realised I got an important date wrong.
This post is the second part in my series of blogs educating white people and all non-black races about the injustices, prejudices and conspiracies designed to oppress and encourage discrimination against black people. You can read the first lesson here.
The second lesson is about why white people and anyone who is not black for that matter cannot use the 'N-word'. To avoid putting those reading this article into a moral problem, I am not going to spell out the complete word but instead, refer to it as the 'N-word'.
So let’s begin the second lesson.
If you can say the ‘N-word', then why can’t we?
I must have been around the age of 24 when a young white male called me the N-Word to my face for the second time in my life.
It was late 2014. The Black Lives Matter movement was still in its infancy, having only been formed a year ago following the police killing of African-American teenager Treyvon Martin in 2012. It was a time when black racial injustice was still occurring, but it did not make headline news a lot. Bear in mind that social media was not yet the global beast it is today. The establishment could still control the message.
During this time, I was working at a marketing agency based in the heart of Soho. I worked closely with this white male colleague who was around the same age as me. Surprise, surprise he was from America. Now, this colleague, let's call him Dickhead, was not close to me. Still, we went out for lunch occasionally to discuss football and girls as young men in their early 20s often do.
One day, after work, myself, Dickhead and a few other colleagues were staying at the office late one evening. We had been having a serious drinking session and playing a very dodgy game called ‘Cards Against Humanity’ (look it up) in one of the meeting rooms. For some reason, and I can't remember why, but we had started discussing race.
During this group conversation, Dickhead decided to stand up and tell everyone in the meeting room “But why can’t white people say the N-word?” Even as he said this, Dickhead glanced at me. Then he fully turned to me and said “If I call you the N-word, why should it piss you off? Black people say it to other black people. It doesn't mean the same thing anymore. So why can't everyone say it?"
I am not making this up by the way. At the time, I did not confront Dickhead about this and just shrugged my shoulders and continued drinking. It was a period of my life where I wasn't very political, being more focused on making money and having a good time. But now, in hindsight, I realise I had experienced not only racism but a form of white privilege.
Ownership of the ‘N-word' and white privilege
The usage of the N-Word is still debated among the black community. A lot of black people, myself included, have reclaimed the word. We use it as either a friendly term to address another black person or in a sarcastic or snarky way depending on the context. Others in the black community feel the word carries too many negative connotations and dark history. For them, the N-word must never be spoken by any human being, black or white.
But the black community have the right to debate the use of the word. A white person or any other non-black person cannot say that word whenever they please. The use of the N-word is one thing black people have total ownership on. Can we at least have that?
When Dickhead was arguing that he has the right to use it because black people do, he was saying that from a place of white privilege. He felt, as a white male, that he is entitled to say whatever he wants, whenever he wants and to whoever he wants. After all, he's used to a world which allows him to live as he pleases without any judgement. Black people cannot relate.
I would be extremely offended if anyone who is not black called me the N-word. It's a racial slur and a hate crime.
However, merely uttering the N-word is not automatically offensive if you're white. It's the context in which the word is used. In 2018, Kendrick Lamar got into a heated exchange with a white female fan who uttered the ‘N’ word. He had asked her to sing the lyrics to ‘M.A.A.D City’ from his critically acclaimed album ‘Good Kid, M.A.A.D City.’
Personally, and this a controversial opinion among the black community, I felt Kendrick Lamar was wrong to scold the fan for using the N-word. If the word is part of a lyric of a song which he has written then is a non-black person supposed to censor themselves when the N-word pops up during the song? Or if a non-black person is reading a book aloud and the N-word appears, are they supposed to not say it?
It can become a bit too overbearing if black writers and rappers are demanding that non-black people never say the N-word but then frequently use it in their art.
Using the N-word to address a black person if you're white or any other race that is not black is wrong, and that is non-negotiable. However, saying the word if it's in the context of a lyric or in a book is acceptable. But this is my opinion on the matter. I do not speak for all black people.
Remember, not every black person feels the same way as I do. Black people are individuals. We are not a bunch of ants with a hive mentality.
Next lesson: White privilege and can white people do anything about it?
Although it's cringe that I am writing this, black people are having their '#metoo' moment. That is to say that the tragic and horrifying killing of George Floyd has given the Black Lives Matter movement an unprecedented global momentum in the same way the exposure and subsequent downfall of Harvey Weinstein did for the modern feminist movement.
White people, for once, are genuinely listening and responding. This moment feels different. Before all this, it felt like educated white people would only pay lip service to the injustice black people experienced without admitting their own unconscious bias, yet now they appear to be confronting the issue of racism, not only within their ranks but within themselves.
So to help white people understand the injustices, prejudices and conspiracies designed to hold black people back, I will be writing a series of blogs this week to educate white people on various untruths about black people.
So let the class begin. Lesson one: ‘Why Black on black crime is a myth’
The insidious meaning behind the myth of ‘Black on black crime’
Black-on-black crime is the biggest load of bullocks since someone thought the Earth was flat.
The very idea of black-on-black crime is nonsense. It does not exist.
The problem with using ‘black-on-black’ crime to describe or to group offences by black people towards other black people is that it implies that this sort of behaviour is unique to the black race. Pick up any tabloid newspaper, and it talks about the "black-on-black" stabbing pandemic that is tearing through London's streets. It's another way to make black people seem more barbaric than other races.
Think about it. When a white man murders another white man, and this happens a lot because black people do not commit all murders in the UK, the media do not call this white-on-white crime. If a Chinese man steals from another Chinese man and then kills him, the media do not label this Chinese-on-Chinese crime. It's not called a Chinese murder. It's simply called murder. End of.
The very term 'black-on-black' communicates that the crimes committed by black people are far more atrocious than the same crimes committed by any other race. If one black man stabs another black man and he dies, suddenly it’s an issue across the whole black community.
Black-on-black crime is utilised by the powers that be to distract attention from the injustices and unfairness that black people experience. Racist white people use it whenever they begin to feel uncomfortable when they realise black people are systematically held back by society. To avoid the uneasiness of the truth, white people will say "yeah but black people stab other black people" as if this justifies the inequality black people face.
I must admit that, not so long ago, I was hoodwinked by this nonsense. As someone who consumes mainstream media a lot, it was easy for this consistent myth of black-on-black crime to make its way into my head and masquerade as the truth. I used to think that black men killing other black men was just a problem within the black community. Imagine that. That’s the power of the media.
So to conclude today’s lesson, Black-on-black crime is a myth. It does not exist. There is only human-on-human crime.
Next lesson: Why white people can't use the 'N' word...
Another black man assassinated on the streets of America.
Another black man’s spilt blood fuels the anger raging within African Americans like a wildfire.
From this rage, a riot emerges. Buildings burn. Placards are raised. Shops are looted. People attack. The police attack back.
As we watch several parts of America burn to the ground following the death, no sorry, the murder of George Floyd, we are once again reminded of what happens when black people have had enough of the brutality they are subjected to by racist police officers. They swore to protect lives but treat black lives as not worth protecting but destroying.
Rioting is not just a physical manifestation of hurt, angry and disenfranchised black people but a catharsis – a release of decades of oppression by those who have more power than them and abuse it to inflict suffering upon African Americans.
Thankfully, Britain is a much more tolerant country than its cousin across the Atlantic. I am proud to be Black British, and I do love being part of British society.
That being said, Britain is no black utopia. Sadly, nowhere really is. Not even Africa.
As much as the British try to bury it, history shows us that the English have not always been tolerant or even accepting of its black population. It is easy for us millennial black Britons to forget the struggle the previous generation went through when the first set of black immigrants from Jamaica arrived in the U.K. on the HMT Empire Windrush.
We've had black riots in the U.K. over several decades. As the British black community shows its solidarity with it African American counterparts, we should also look back on the black riots that have happened in the U.K. and reflect on how far Britain has come, and how long America still has to go.
1958 Notting Hill race riots
The Notting Hill race riots were the first type of riots specifically targeted towards Britain's then-burgeoning black community. Working-class white boys who wanted to keep Britain white carried out a series of attacks against West Indian families living in Notting Hill.
The riot erupted when a white Swedish woman named Majbritt Morrison, who was dating a Jamaican man in the area, was assaulted by a couple of white youths. Later that night, a mob of white people, around 400, began attacking West Indian houses for over a week until the police finally decided to intervene and arrest the perpetrators.
1977 Battle of Lewisham
Although Lewisham has a visible and thriving black community today, 43 years ago, it was an entirely different story. In the 70s, New Cross and the surrounding areas in South London was a hotbed for the National Front, a British political group who were mainly against multiculturalism, and neo-Nazis.
On Saturday 13th August on 1977, hundreds of National Front members marched through Lewisham. A counter-protest group, a mixture of anti-racist and anti-fascist groups and local black residents, confronted the National Front. Soon these factions were fighting amongst each other, and the police were brought to calm the clashes but only made the situation worse as they began attacking those demonstrating against the National Front.
1981 English Riots (Brixton, Chapeltown, Toxteth, Moss Side and Handsworth)
As I explore in my first novel, A Prophet Who Loved Her, the 80s was a challenging and alienating period for black Britons at the time. The introduction of the Sus laws, which gave police the power to stop, search and potentially arrest anyone they felt had committed a crime, was disproportionately targeted towards black youth.
The introduction and the subsequent abuse of the Sus laws by the police was the catalyst for several riots across the U.K. during this period. High unemployment and boredom among the black youth at the time were also contributing factors. The first wave of riots began in Brixton in April. A series of riots then happened in Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, and Birmingham, but to a much lesser extent).
1985 English Riots (Handsworth, Brixton, Broadwater Farm)
High unemployment rates among black Britons and the continued hostility between the police and the black community fed the fire of the riots that erupted across England during the Autumn of 1985.
Firstly, there was the riot in Birmingham which took place in Handsworth just like it had in 1981. Soon after that, Brixton experienced it second rioting when the police accidentally shot an old black woman named Cherry Groce during a botched arrest, an incident which plays a significant role in my novel.
With tension between the police and the black community at boiling point, the Broadwater Farm experienced its second riot due to another botched police raid which resulted in a black woman dying. The Broadwater Farm riot is notable in that it resulted in the brutal death of a police officer, PC Keith Blakelock.
1987 Chapeltown Riots
Following the violent arrest and assault of a young black man, around 70 youths began rioting in the Chapeltown area of Leeds. Again, high unemployment among the black youth and a fully realised and deep-rooted malice towards police were both significant, contributing factors.
1995 Brixton Riots
Ten years after its second riot, Brixton experienced its third one in 1995. Unsurprisingly, the uproar began following the death of a black armed robber who died while in police custody. What started as a peaceful protest outside Brixton police station quickly descended into a full-scale riot across the area.
For five hours, black and white youths turned Brixton into a warzone, just like it had become in the 80s. Missiles were thrown at police officers, cars were turned over, and buildings were vandalised. According to eyewitnesses at the time, the police behaved very aggressively towards the youth.
2011 England Riots
Anyone over the age of 20 who was living in London during this period would remember the 2011 England riots. I was 21 at the time and a recent graduate. Mark Duggan, a local man from Tottenham and a suspected gang member, was shot dead by the Metropolitan police when they stopped the minicab where he was a passenger.
News of his death quickly spread through London via Facebook, BBM (Blackberry Messenger for those of you who remember) and WhatsApp. I always refer to these riots as the 'social media' riots because social media apps played such a crucial role in the organisation of the rioting.
What angered people was that Mark Duggan had been killed when he possessed no handgun even though initial reports from the police said he had pulled out one on the police before being shot. For many of the older generation, Mark Duggan's death reignited the black community's scorn for the police.
Mark Duggan's death, as well as the high unemployment among the youth, were factors which, in my opinion, caused the 2011 England riots. I remember my BlackBerry going off constantly with people I knew asking me to participate in the looting in my local area. All I am going to say is I was young, but I was not dumb.
From the 6th-11th of August, various parts of England were subjected to these riots. First, it started in Tottenham and spread to other areas of London. Soon other cities such as Manchester and Liverpool, to name a few, had copycat riots which were organised by young people using social media and messaging apps.
Can the U.S. learn from the U.K.?
The 2011 England riots were the last in England with a racial element involving some form of police brutality against the black community. While I cannot say, hand to heart, that racism is well and truly gone from the U.K. (one word: Brexit), it's no longer as damaging as it used to be. Relations between the police and the black community is at least lukewarm, even if the mistrust still lingers quietly.
America is such a different animal compared to Britain that the improved police relations between the Metropolitan Police and the black community primarily comes down to British culture. The British did not want that level of smoke (literally and figuratively speaking) anymore. America, on the other hand, just seems to be escalating the violence as the latest reports on what's unfolding has shown the world.
In my opinion, the officer who killed George Floyd needs to be made an example of for this callous act. He needs to be punished with the full severity of the law, so police officers are deterred from killing another black man.
But on a deeper level, the police need to build bridges with the African American community, and this is no easy feat. Deep-rooted racism is too institutionalised within the American police and legal system. For the situation to improve, this racism needs to be eradicated like the cancer that it is to American society. More good police officers need to stand up to and call out those white police officers within their ranks who abuse the power and responsibility that the badge provides them.
If America does not deal with the racism that blights African Americans, then a riot will only be the start. England managed to avoid a race war. I am praying America will do the right thing before it finds itself in a full-scale one.