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
It is not remiss to say that Megan Markle has been the most divisive and most radical addition to join the British Royal Family ranks since the late Princess Diana (may she rest in pace).
Since getting married to Prince Harry back in 2018(is it me, or does that feel like it was much longer), Megan Markle, Duchess of Sussex, has caused quite a stir among the Royal family, British media and the broader British culture. It is fair to say that she has not been treated kindly by the Brits.
At first, there were many high hopes. There was an initial outpouring of love and excitement when Prince Harry officially announced he would be marrying Megan Markle, a divorced American actress from California who starred in Suits. However, it soon turned sour. After that memorable fire and brimstone, full-on African-Sunday-service wedding reception, the British media soon had their claws out. We had a news outlet stating Megan's DNA was 'exotic'. A BBC presenter tweeted an image comparing her and Harry's then-unborn son to a chimpanzee (thankfully, that idiot journalist got the sack) and even suggestions that Megan Markle eating avocado is somehow linked to human rights abuses and drought." Ok then. *rolls eyes in confusion.*
Then came the rift with the Royal Family. We first got an inclination of this family feud when the Queen banned Megan from wearing the royal jewels worn by Princess Diana. Allegedly, this was a response to Megan's demanding behaviour ahead of her wedding. Things came to a head when the Duke and Dutchness of Sussex announced they wanted to be 'financially independent’ and carve their business entity/empire outside of the Royal Family while still benefiting from the brand association. The fact that the Sussexes did not consult the Queen before making this decision only added gallons of petrol to the fire.
Was it just racism?
After months of uncertainty, the Sussexes have now officially announced that they will no longer be working members of the Royal Family, effectively severing ties with the Royals. With an upcoming stint on Oprah Winfrey’s talk show, their brand building in America now underway, now is a good time to reflect on Megan's treatment by the British press.
Many of those in the Black British community believe Megan was a victim of blatant racism from both the British media and the Royal family. And that’s it. But I do not think it's that simple.
Prominent Americans and the Royal Family have never mixed well
I am an avid student of history. You want to know why? Because history reveals seeds that were planted long ago and grew into the current situations happening in the present. Nothing is by accident.
The history books show us that whenever an American, especially a famous one, becomes entangled with a Royal Family member, it is almost always a messy affair. For example, Edward VIII, the shortest-serving king of the United Kingdom, caused a constitutional crisis when he proposed to Wallis Simpson, an American socialite, in 1936. This caused a great deal of headache for the Royal Family because Miss Simpson was twice divorced, which put Edward VIII at odds with the church, eventually forcing his hand to abdicate the throne altogether so he could marry his love.
There have been other times when Americans forming close relationships, romantic or otherwise, with British royals has brought scandal to the Royal Family. Kiki Preston, another American socialite, was a drug-addicted, free spirit who befriended Prince George, Duke of Kent, the fourth son of King George V and Mary of Teck. Preston encouraged Prince George to embark on a hedonistic and scandalous lifestyle of sex and drugs. It is even alleged they both had a son out of wedlock.
Prince Andrew had a short-lived affair with Koo Stark, an American actress, much like Megan Markle, who starred in a very raunchy film. Prince Andrew's close friendship with the disgraced and deceased American investor Jeffery Epstein has been well covered. Another American investor, John Bryan, effectively ended the already rocky marriage between Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson when the former was caught sucking on the former's toes in 1992. What a scandal!
As you can see, there has been a precedent of prominent Americans having relations with British Royals that almost always ends in scandal. The fact that Megan Markle was a divorcee before falling in love with Prince Harry would raise eyebrows among the Royal family, least of all someone as conservative as the Queen.
American's showy behaviour is also very much at odds with the dignified reservation that the Royal Family aims to perpetuate to the public (even if we all know they're not as prim and proper as they make out to be). It's not surprising that the Queen has been unhappy with Megan Markle since the former actress refuses to bow to conformity and follow protocol.
The Queen's disapproval of Megan Markle significantly influenced the negative tabloid reporting around her.
The British paparazzi have always been nasty. Megan is not the first to experience it.
While I do not deny that there is undoubtedly some racial element involved with how the British press has reported on Megan, it is not the only factor. Again, good old history shows us that the British media always love a juicy Royal scandal. The British paparazzi is one of the most reviled and brutal in Europe. The tabloid's obsession with celebrities contributed to the tragic death of Princess Diana.
Although Princess Diana's mental health was already precariously on edge with her marriage to Prince Charles disintegrating before the public, the relentless media onslaught made it worse. It has been well documented how journalists were incentivised with big pay-outs for getting exclusive snaps of the Princess of Wales. The media did praise Princess Diana of course as the people’s princess, a reception the Duchess of Sussex has not received, but they were also quick to highlight her several love affairs. As you can see, media intrusion and bad press is not exclusive to Megan Markle.
Megan’s individuality invited criticism, not her black heritage
The British press used Megan's biracial heritage to embarrass her, but I would argue that her conduct has brought this much negativity on her more than her race. Now, before you crucify me, I am in no way stating that Megan has done anything wrong in the way she has carried herself. I personally think she is a wonderfully progressive and independent woman who has brought much-needed rejuvenation and relevance to an outdated Royal Family.
But I also understand that it is because she is an ex-divorcee, an American and is also very independent that has caused her to be shunned by the Royal Family and be a victim of a smear campaign of negativity by the British press.
Ultimately, the unkind treatment of Megan Markle by the British monarchy and the media is simply a display of progressive attitudes clashing with conservative ones. It is a battle of ideas. Megan Markle married into a family that isn’t big on modernity or breaking with tradition. As much as I admire Meghan, I think it's better for her, Prince Harry and their children to live in America.
They’re both far too cool for the Royal Family anyway.
“Youths are the life blood of any nation.”
― Ifeanyi Enoch Onuoha
When we think of a nation’s future and possibilities, we always look to its next generation of leaders. The next 50 years of the world's current democracies will not be directed by those currently in power but by the generation below them. Future advancements in technology, medicine, and the arts will come from the millennials.
For Nigeria, it's the millennial generation that many hope will finally lift Nigeria out of the darkness of poverty and into the light of prosperity.
But political protests such as the latest #endsars movement, and the terrible bloodshed that followed, has got me questioning if the job of saving Nigeria is too big for Nigeria’s youth to accomplish given Nigeria’s history and the mentality of Nigeria’s political body.
A nation governed by leaders who are at odds with its youth
Violence in Nigeria is not unique to Nigeria.
All democratic nations on this Earth went through a history of civil war before they became the functioning societies they are today. You could say it’s democracy going through puberty. Take America, for example. It is considered the greatest democracy on Earth – ignoring a particular blonde-haired president - and was once bitterly divided between the northern and southern states. It wasn’t until the end of the civil war in 1865 that it became a unified America. Even today, the George Floyd protests reminded us that America is not as unified and advanced as Hollywood movies would like us to think.
Nigeria, being a relatively new democracy compared to America, has gone through its periods of violence. Assassinations, coups, and bloody military rule dominate every chapter of Nigeria’s 60-year history as a democracy.
Yet Nigeria still doesn't feel like a democracy that has come out of its puberty phase. The powers that be who govern the country were all involved, in one way or another, in the previous violent and corrupt governments of Nigeria’s past - this is a significant problem for Nigeria's youthful population. Muhammadu Buhari, Nigeria’s president since 2015, was the ringleader in the military coup d’etat of 1983 where he became Head of State. He was also involved in the Biafran War as a soldier.
Men of war often dominate Nigeria's political class. These men come from a generation where Nigeria was a bitterly divided nation with long-established tribal and religious divisions. Due to globalisation and a more pronounced western influence, Nigeria's educated youth do not have this same appetite for tribal hostility and iron-fisted governance that those in power still clearly have in their heads. Also, young Nigerians are pursuing careers which are more creative but also they are more tech-savvy than the previous generations. They are also more open to giving women more opportunities in the workforce – again, a western influence.
But Nigeria's leaders are not swayed by any westernised thinking which puts them at odds with Nigeria's youth. The youth-led protest against Nigeria’s now-defunct Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) is not just a protest against a brutal government organisation but a repudiation of the government’s old-school ways of brutal governing.
In western democracies, its leaders will overhaul entire policies if the youth cry out in protest. Just look at the British Conservative government’s U-turn around free-school meals when 23-year old footballer Marcus Rashford publicly criticised the government’s policy. It could never happen in Nigeria. Cries from the youth are falling on deaf ears as Nigeria's leaders show blatant contempt for the youth and their westernised mindset.
A nation with too many identities and fractions
Dealing with a government ruled by heads of state who do not share its youth's vision for the nation is just one issue. In Nigeria, you have many who are educated. You also have many who are educated to poor standards or not even at all. And this is against a backdrop of tribal underrepresentation in government and religious conflicts which create a north and south divide.
Nigeria has one of the largest populations in the world. Yet a staggering 10.5 million children are out of education. Even if you are educated to a degree level, you face grim prospects. 2.9 million Nigerian graduates and post-graduates are unemployed and 13.9 million people aged between 15 and 34 years are unemployed.
Poor education and an economy unable to meet the demands for jobs are compounded even further by the religious divide still present in Nigeria, particularly between the south and north of Nigeria, and the dominance of mainly three tribes in Nigeria – the Yoruba, Igbo and Hausa-Fulani.
There are over 400 languages in Nigeria, but only these three tribes are represented in government and given a higher status than any of the other minor tribes. In the background, the north is still dominated by fundamentalist Muslims who oppose any western ideologies, feeding the growth of militant Muslims such as the Boko Haram that the Nigeria government has struggled to eradicate. I doubt Nigeria's youth would be able to sort out this myriad of problems.
Corruption is a Nigerian state of mind
Corruption has become synonymous with Nigeria. Putting aside the 419 jokes, everyone universally acknowledges that Nigeria has a serious problem with corruption. In 2018, Transparency International ranked Nigeria 148 in a list of 180 countries considered corrupt.
The duplicity in Nigeria is not just a disease that lives in the minds of those that govern Nigeria but is part of the nation’s mentality. Fraud, extortion, coercion and abuse of power – these are practices carried out in every class, from the poor to the rich. Nigeria's young are trying to carve out legitimate businesses, but how can they be successful entrepreneurs in a land where contracts can be ignored, and regulations are only enforced if you have deep pockets. In Nigeria, the law can be bought.
It is this state of affairs that discourages many young Nigerians in the diaspora, myself included, from returning to our motherland to build businesses over there. While western democracies also deal with corruption to some extent, it pales in comparison to the rampant criminality that bleeds into every aspect of Nigerian society.
The long game
Nigeria's youth are caught in Nigeria's violent sea of deep-rooted problems and have a long time to wait until the sea has calmed. How will we know when that has happened? Only when the older generations of Nigerians have become too old to govern the country and the millennial generation can now take their positions in government.
But even when that happens, governing Nigeria will still be such a gargantuan task.
With a population of well over 190 million, almost six times larger than Ghana's population, Nigeria is almost like several countries forced to become one nation. All Nigerians can hope for is that, over the next few decades, the various tribal divisions and religious differences will become less important as the national identity of Nigeria becomes the dominant mental state of the population. You cannot govern 195 million people if they only identify themselves by their tribe and religion with their nationality as an afterthought.
The most important job of Nigeria's youth will be to unite all the tribal and religious factions under the Nigerian nationality, so everyone in Nigeria views themselves as Nigerians with every tribe feeling they have a real stake in the direction of the country. I would be lying if I said it would be easy, and perhaps only the passage of time will make it a reality.
Right now, Nigeria's youth can only wait. But that doesn’t mean waiting in silence. They must continue to protest and call out injustice, corruption and the brutality that blights the nation. Even if the job of saving Nigeria is not necessarily one in which they can carry out right now, it doesn’t mean they cannot start preparing themselves for it.
Even when carnival is cancelled, it will still attract some controversy around it.
But this year, the controversy was not the usual. It wasn't around the numbers of people who got stabbed which, by the way, is always sensationalised by the media. Nor was it around all of the mess on the streets Notting Hill carnival leaves in its wake.
This year’s carnival (or non-carnival) attracted controversy because of Adele’s hair. Yep, to celebrate non-carnival, the pop star decided to tie her hair in Bantu knots, a hairstyle typically worn by black women to protect their afro hair.
And many voices within Britain's black community were in an uproar.
To some black observers, Adele had shown poor taste by ‘culturally appropriating’ a hairstyle that is traditionally worn by black women. Many of her critics pointed out that Adele would never wear that hairstyle on an album cover and has never worn that hairstyle in any other context outside of carnival. For many, this demonstrated that Adele is not really appreciating black culture but culturally appropriating a black hairstyle only when it is safe to do so.
Would Adele wear Bantu knots on her album cover? Probably not. Does that mean she is culturally appropriating black culture? Probably, but how harmful is it really and does it warrant this much aggravation from the black community?
Cultural appropriation is not the same as cultural discrimination
I would never make an argument that cultural appropriation of black culture does not exist and that, in specific contexts, it's not an insult and exploitation of black heritage. Films which cast white actors to play African people (e.g. all those Egyptian epics from the 50s). That is negative cultural appropriation. Britain plundering Africa of its cultural artefacts and displaying them at museums without any permission from those who created those artefacts. That is negative cultural appropriation. White people who wear blackface at parties as some kind of grotesque joke. That is negative cultural appropriation.
But Adele wearing her hair in Bantu knots? Yes, it is undeniably cultural appropriation but is it the type that is dangerous or harmful to black culture and black heritage? Of course, it isn't. You'll need to come up with a convincing argument that it is without looking very, very silly.
Scrolling through the internet and reading some of the criticism, something became apparent to me. Many of those who are deeply upset with Adele's choice of hairstyle (and it is understandably coming from black women) are looking at cultural appropriation and cultural discrimination as if they are the same. It is for this reason that the black community's anger is misplaced.
Yes, it is true that if a woman were to wear Bantu knots to her corporate job, she would be met with raised eyebrows and probably an email from HR. There is no denying the stigma against black hairstyles in the workplace and within other institutions in western society. But that is a matter of discrimination which should not be conflated with cultural appropriation.
Every one of us culturally appropriates other cultures, including black people. Whenever a black person goes to a Chinese restaurant and uses chopsticks to eat food, we are culturally appropriating Chinese culture. Black people who read a lot of manga and go to cosplays dressed as their favourite anime character are culturally appropriating Japanese culture. All of these examples are done in the spirit of celebrating that culture. How do we celebrate it? By consuming it and sometimes adopting its customs.
Justified but misdirected rage
Adele, who, don’t forget, grew up in Tottenham, which has a sizeable black community, was celebrating the spirit of carnival with her chosen hairstyle. To think otherwise means you are projecting your unjustified and misplaced rage onto her because of the stigma around black hairstyles perpetuated by the white elites in western society. The fact that she wouldn’t wear it on an album cover is because her record execs, who control her image, decide what is and what isn't an appropriate look for a pop star. If you want to have this rage, you should direct it at them, not at Adele.
Furthermore, why does the black community pick and choose which forms of cultural appropriation is deserving of their wrath? The Indian community have been profiting from black hair and black hair products for a long time, but black people are curiously silent about this. Yet we have our pitchforks raised when a white woman decides to adopt a black hairstyle. I can't help but think that Adele being a white British person is the reason she is getting this much heat. If she looked more tanned, would black people have cared? The cynic in me says no.
Lastly, black people have a lot more urgent and essential matters where we need to be channelling our energy and rage. The killing and imprisonment of our black men, lack of job opportunities for young black men and lack of economic prosperity among the global black diaspora – these are matters that need our urgent attention. Remember, only very recently, a black man was shot in the back and paralysed in front of his children by white police officers.
Black people’s fight is not with Adele’s hair. It’s with the elites and the establishment. Can we please redirect our rage back to the real battle?
Africa is cool.
Rewind back two decades earlier, and I would not boldly write that sentence. As a British-born Nigerian, I would be telling porkies if I wrote that I was always proud to be Nigerian. In fact, during my childhood, I did not even know what it meant to be Yoruba – only that it was a Nigerian ethnic group my parents were part of. Back then, I considered myself to be British first, Nigeran second.
But now, I am proudly Nigerian (or more accurately, a British Nigerian). This reconciliation between my Britishness and my Nigerian heritage became easier when Afrobeats gradually became a mainstream music commodity. It's not that I was ashamed of my Yoruba culture, but I felt it was challenging to express it in the UK – a country where, for a long time, the African identity was ridiculed by both blacks and whites, but the Caribbean culture was accepted.
Around 2013, I noticed a shift in mainstream music tastes. Afrobeats/afroswing began to receive heavy radio play in the UK. Artists such as WizKid, British-born J Hus and many others were singing in Nigerian dialects, and their music videos were washed with an unfiltered African aesthetic. Finally, I felt like I could be loud with my heritage in Britain. Young white people started wearing traditional African lace, singing African songs, and I had white girls telling me they love jollof rice and pounded yam.
Afrobeats music had ushered in an unprecedented interest in African culture that fed into every aspect of western society. Millennial Africans within the diaspora finally felt that the western's perception of the African identity had moved on from the outdated colonist notion that we are savages and jungle people.
In America, the globalisation of Afrobeats music has had an even more profound effect on African Americans.
A bridge back to the motherland
African Americans have a tenuous relationship with Africa. Based purely on my own observations over the years, African Americans tend to fall into two camps.
In one camp, you have the African Americans who openly acknowledge their roots to Africa by wearing dashikis and necklaces in the shape of Africa. Although it's a superficial acknowledgement of where their enslaved ancestors came from, at least they are still demonstrating an understanding of their heritage.
Now in the other camp, you have African Americans who identify little with Africa or barely even recognise the continent as their motherland. Despite the glaringly obvious, these group of African Americans simply do not feel Africa is their heritage. America is their home, their land, their culture, not some dark continent where their ancestors were forcibly taken from and shipped to work as slaves on plantations.
There is a reason why the very term "African American" is used widely among black people in the US and why "Black British" is not a popular term among the black community in the UK. African Americans were disconnected from Africa in a way us black people in Europe are not. For many of us black people in the UK, our parents came to the island by choice, so they still had ties to Africa. In America, African American's and their parents and their grandparents and their grandparents only remember America as their home.
The worldwide success of Afrobeats has finally provided a shiny bridge for all African Americans to connect back to their homeland, and America's biggest stars are crossing that bridge.
It started with Black Panther. The Marvel blockbuster cast America’s biggest black actors, from Chadwick Bosman to Michael B Jordan and with a soundtrack produced by Kendrick Lamar which featured songs from many African music artists. Grossing $700.1 million in the United States and Canada, Black Panther's enormous success was an affirmation by African Americans. They were finally ready to embrace the motherland even if it's given to them in a shiny and nice package.
Following Black Panther, African culture began to permeate through African American entertainment. Beyonce, the black queen of African Americans, recently directed a musical filmed called 'Black is King.' The film, inspired by Lion King, features a host of African talents such as WizKid, Yemi Alade, Tiwa Savage and Moonchild Sanelly, to name a few.
With the world’s biggest music star now using African talent as a vehicle to drive her latest artistic endeavours, Afrobeats music has globalised and, subsequently, commoditised the richness of African culture.
But at what cost?
Is the commercialisation of African culture exploitative?
Rap mogul and Ciroc advocate Sean ‘Diddy’ Combs recently executive produced Burna Boy’s latest album ‘Twice as Tall.’ For many, it was an unexpected pairing. Diddy was brought in when the album was almost finished to provide ‘fresh ears.’
Yet the cynic in me believes there is a lot more to it than that.
Diddy’s involvement in Burna Boy’s album was a calculated business move. With the spotlight on Afrobeats and African culture, Diddy simply saw an opportunity to grab himself a piece of that African pie. And what better way to do that than being an executive producer on Afrobeats' hottest artist right now? Up until now, Diddy never demonstrated any interest in African music.
What slightly concerns me is that many businessmen and brands will follow Diddy's strategy and begin jumping on the African bandwagon dripping with sauce. Sadly, they are only there to greedily consume the sauce and then leave when the bandwagon has been emptied. There is no genuine interest to really deepen and grow Africa's music. Only to make a quick buck.
Many have said that ‘Twice as Tall’ is not nearly as good as Burna Boy's previous albums and I am inclined to agree. It's not a bad album by any standard, but it does feel over-produced and over-commercialised. That Chris Martin feature was just…no.
Afrobeats and the broader African culture is at an exciting crossroads. Many established brands are taking it seriously. In July, BBC announced it was officially launching its own chart dedicated to the genre. John Boyega has partnered with Netflix to produce a slate of African movies. While these announcements are fantastic for Africa and the African diaspora, one aspect must not change:
The content must remain authentic and in control of the creators.
Time and time again, history has shown us that as soon as big corporations get involved in a movement, they immediately dilute it. Make it more mainstream or radio-friendly. That mustn't happen to the Afrobeats genre, or it will perish. History is filled with corpses of dead movements and burgeoning sounds that were murdered by greedy capitalism.
Africa has always been cool. It's fantastic that the rest of the world finally recognises that. But as Afrobeats and the broader African culture shifts into the mainstream to become a significant player in western civilisation, I pray to my African ancestors that the African authenticity, that sauce, is not watered down.
After all, Africa is cool because it's African. Nothing else.
Many have tried, but you cannot silence the voice of black culture. It’s just too stubborn.
Not even the coronavirus pandemic could manage it.
During the early days of the lockdown, while we had virtual raves on the House Party app and we all agreed that Carole Baskin did kill her husband, a black online radio station began to capture our ears. Its name: No Signal.
It started with the now infamous NS10V10 show. The idea of one Jojo Sonubi, these radio sound clashes pitted African and Jamaican music artists against each other using songs from their musician's library. First was Burna Boy VS Popcaan, and then Vybz Kartel VS Wizkid and these sound clashes sent a wave across Britain's black youth culture. Reactions from the likes of John Boyega flooded black twitter. Burna Boy was live streaming his response from the comfort of his living room. At its peak, these musical clashes on No Signal's website managed to attract 89K listeners before the entire site crashed.
Sure enough, No Signal went from being an online radio station broadcasted from someone's bedroom to a fully-fledged radio station run by black people and for black people.
The success of No Signal is a reminder that radio has always played a hugely important role in spreading black music and black culture to the masses in Britain.
And it all began with pirate radio.
Pirate radio and the resilience of creative black youth
It must have been in the early 2000s. I was 15 years old and addicted to the sound of grime music. Back then, grime was not mainstream so the established and commercially focused black radio stations like Kiss FM and Choice FM did not play it. The only way you could listen to a grime MCs latest tracks or clashes was tuning into pirate radio stations. During this period, the most famous pirate radio station for grime music was Deja vu. It gave voices to the likes of Dizzee Rascal, Ghetts and Kano – all household names now. I have fond memories listening to Deja vu after school with my cousin and his friends in a park in Stratford.
Deja vu and the many black pirate radio stations that preceded it represented the counterculture – a middle finger to the radio-friendly, mainstream culture. It was all about having an edge and being truly authentic to the street sounds of black music.
90’s prolific British rapper Rodney P’s YouTube documentary ‘The Last Pirates’ brilliantly takes us through the rise, fall and commercialisation of Britain's pirate radio stations which illegally dominated the airwaves throughout the 80s and 90s. By transmitting their signals from tower blocks and high-rise estates across London and other British cities, black pirate radio stations played popular black music at the time, mainly soul and rap, to the growing multicultural population sprouting across the UK's major cities.
As is always the case with anything that is black and garners significant attention, black pirate radio stations were continuously shut down by government enforcers. But, as we say now, we move. And the DJs during that era did that. Literally. They stayed one step ahead of regulators by finding new ways to hide their broadcasting signals or changing the location of their transmitters to avoid detection.
But this cat-and-mouse chase between black pirate stations and government regulators could not continue. Soon, many of these pirate radio stations such as KISS FM were finally granted a license and allowed to operate as official radio stations. However, Trevor Nelson, who was a DJ during KISS FM's pirate days, explains in the documentary that as soon as these black-owned radio stations became commercial, they lost their original flavour and voice. Gradually, these once authentic and boundary-pushing black radio stations began to bow to commercial and stakeholder pressures.
A new era of independent black creative enterprises without the suits
Unlike the era of the 80s and 90s, we now live in a time where black entrepreneurs don't need gatekeepers. We don't need huge corporatIons or white men in suits to control what we create. Black creatives can create content and distribute it to millions with a click of a button.
No Signal represents this new era of black-owned creative enterprises that can remain authentic, attract a vast audience and without the endorsement or backing of big money. We see this play out with the proliferation of black podcasts and black chat shows like '3 Shots Of Tequila,' 'BckChat' and the 'ZeZe Millz show' to name a few.
As we have seen with the recent racial protests, black suffering and black voices cannot be silenced. The same goes for our sound and our culture.
So don’t try and fight it. Just tune in.
Man like Hushpuppi in jail, you nah.
For those of you who have no clue as to what I am on about, let me swiftly bring you up to speed. Hushpuppi, real name Raman Abbas, is a wealthy 37-year-old Nigerian multi-millionaire who has made a career from seriously stunting his lavish lifestyle and wealth on Instagram. The pictures come with corny captions about 'trusting the process.'
For real, check out this brother’s Instagram. Hushpuppi stunting is so outlandish; he makes Floyd Mayweather’s Instagram look like it belongs to a peasant. Gucci top, sports cars, private jets, and expensive watches – Hushpuppi’s Instagram account has it all (noticeably his Instagram has no photos of beautiful women around him, odd considering how much wealth he has. Goes to show money can't buy you game).
Recently, Hushpuppi was arrested in Dubai along with another associate. The FBI have accused the Nigerian of money laundering (no surprise then). He is to go to court later this year in America to fight for his innocence, but it's not looking great for Mr Hushpuppi. He should probably sell some of those diamond-crusted watches to raise enough for bail.
With over 2.5 million followers, many young black people around the world are fans of Hushpuppi. Some of my black male friends from my social circle look to him as inspiration to achieve the lifestyle he has carefully crafted on Instagram. Many black women see Hushpuppi’s account and want a man with that kind of resources to provide them with that lavish style.
Personally, I am not a fan of Hushpuppi. Why? Because he represents the toxic relationship many young black people have with money.
Let me explain.
Growing up black and poor means everyone must know you’re now black and RICH!!
I’ll never forget, almost a decade ago now, when I finally got my first graduate job. I was a young marketing executive on a basic salary of 22k. But to me, it was like I was earning a six-figure salary. Guess what was the first item I purchased when I received my first paycheque? A £300 Armani watch (which I’ve since lost).
Deep it properly. I was a black graduate on a 22k basic, and I went to purchase a £300 Armani watch. Looking back at it now as a 30-year-old, it’s insane that I did that. But when I was 21, I felt the strong need to let everyone know that I had “made it out of the ends.” I was playing with the big boys now (on 22k, I wasn’t get paid that much more than a full-time cashier at ASDA, but a graduate job had me thinking I was just one step down from CEO).
I did not grow up as poor compared to other black people around me in East London. Both my parents worked decent jobs. However, I did not live the type of middle-class lifestyle that is common among many white Britons. I did not go skiing at any point, growing up, and my parents did not have a holiday villa in Marbella.
Like nearly every black person in East London, I grew up surrounded mainly by poverty. My road was not lined with Mercedes and BMWs. It was mostly run-down Ford Fiestas. As a teenager, I had a weekly allowance of around £10 for the whole week, and many of my black friends had far less to spend.
For many young black people in London, growing up in such harsh conditions gave us a sort of complex which fed into a desperate need for us to get money. While some of us went down the route of selling drugs or committing fraud, others strived for academic success.
Young black people wanted to reach a position financially where they could buy all the beautiful, disposable things like expensive watches and the latest trainers that our parents were unable to provide for us because they were too busy putting a roof over our heads. When I was very young, there was hardly any middle-class black families in Britain. There still aren't many today.
But the point is poverty is the common thread among many black Londoners. But that's only part of the story. It takes a much darker turn.
Hip hop and R’N’B culture - The Black Fantasy
What's the most significant black mainstream culture? Hip Hop and R'N'B, of course. Apart from the semi-naked women, the dance-heavy beats and the smart wordplay, Hip Hop and R'N'B culture is all about the flash and lavish lifestyle. Fast cars, dollar notes raining from the ceiling while black men with diamond-crusted teeth strutting around with massive chains around their necks.
And impressionable young black people soaked this shit up. I remember when I was 15, I dreamed that one day I would be surrounded by sexy women and riding in a Cadillac like Jay Z. But as I got older, the more I realised that the over the top displays of wealth in all these hip hop and rap videos is manufactured entertainment. It wasn't real.
But for many young black men, those Rick Ross videos were not entertainment. It was real to them. And many black boys felt they needed to aspire to that. From around the mid-80s to the present day, millions of young black men have strived for the fairy-tale lifestyle portrayed in these hip-hop videos. Our obsession with German cars like BMW, our need to buy expensive bottles of champagne in clubs, gold chains around our necks and the latest designer clothing – it all stems from this black fantasy that hip hop culture created.
Unfortunately, it’s a dark fantasy that has led to many black people developing a toxic relationship with money.
The culture and mentality of greed is a disease that mainly affects young black people’s mindsets
I have seen some black people I know get into spiralling levels of debt trying to maintain a flashy lifestyle beyond their salary. Honestly, I have heard of stories of black men suffering severe mental health trying to strive for the type of life they see in hip hop videos even though their only 25.
This mindset of lavish living has also negatively impacted black relationships. We’ve reached a point where many black girls living in London wouldn’t even give a black man the time of day if he isn’t driving a BMW or Mercedes or who couldn’t take her to expensive restaurants regularly. With some black women placing unrealistic expectations on black men, I have seen black men do whatever it takes to show our sisters that they are "balling" when they are not. It has lead to many black men, some I know personally, to make foolish financial decisions or commit fraud or crime with disastrous consequences for their future.
The truth is many black boys “trapping” right now are not doing it to help their mother pay her rent and clear her debts. They want fast money to buy Dior, Gucci, and Armani.
There was a time when black people worked hard to obtain more money so they could feed their families and provide them with a better life. But for many young black people in this generation, getting massive amounts of wealth has become a toxic mission to live a fantasy of lavish living so they can show this to the world on Instagram. For many black men, they want to display on social media that “other niggers ain’t got it like me.”
Maybe the fall of Hushpuppi will be a wakeup call to some of us black men and even black women that we need to become less materialistic in our culture.
But I wouldn't bet any money on it. Even if I was balling like Hushpuppi.
The thing about black women is... [insert insult or criticism about how black woman behave]
As someone who has said the above line on numerous occasions, this was always going to be a difficult post to write. I was going to have to be brutally candid and honest with myself. So here goes…
For most of my twenties, I put down black women. I’ve got nothing to hide, and I don’t want anyone who might wish bad on me to think they have something against me. Now that I have reached my 30s, I am committed to uplifting black women and creating both platonic and romantic relationships with them. But, for a long time, I only ever criticised black women. That’s right; I was that guy. Below are just some of the statements criticising black women that I used to spout from my big mouth:
“Black women are too stubborn."
“Black women are too demanding.
“Black women always have a resting bitch face."
“Black women are too materialistic."
“Black women don’t show enough emotion.
“Black women make you wait for sex for too long."
“Black women don’t support black men."
The above is not even the complete list. So what changed in me? Well, last year, I travelled to Portugal for Afronation, where I saw and interacted with so many beautiful black women from around the world. Immediately after Afronation, I spent a week solo travelling in Lisbon, where I had a sustained period of deep self-reflection. Like I had to question a lot of my thought processes and deconstruct who I even was as a black man.
How could I proclaim that I love my black people if I were always so quick to put down black women? It goes beyond the fact that my mother was black. I had to examine not only why I had developed these thoughts but also understand the dangers of perpetuating such negativity about black women as a black man.
The purpose of this blog post then is to examine what I feel are the main reasons some black men put down black women
. But also, to look at why black men who are critical of black women are doing themselves a disservice.
Don’t attack black women to justify why you date outside your race
I have dated more women outside of my race than I have dated black women. To keep it real, I can count the number of black women I’ve had an intimate relationship with on one half of my hand. My ex/baby mother is a white Italian woman and my exes and lovers before my ex had all been different types of ethnic white.
The reasons why I have dated outside of my race are complex, and not the focus of this blog. Also, I am far from the only black man who dates women who are not black, so this is not necessarily much of a talking point. Instead, what is important is addressing the fact that some black men put down black women to justify why they date outside their race.
50 Cent and Lil Wayne recently came under fire for their disparaging comments about black women. During his interview with the Young Money CEO, 50 Cent talked about his love for ‘exotic’ women while dismissing black women as ‘angry’ and who get ‘mad’ at his dating preferences. Lil Wayne chuckled at 50 Cent’s comments. It was disappointing to see both of these prominent black men disrespect black women, but I couldn’t judge as I had done the same in the past.
To black men who do find other race of women attractive and exclusively date outside of our face, more power to you. A black man has the right to be attracted to whoever he wants, and as a black man, we don’t owe black women our love or our bodies. However, black men should not criticise black women to justify their choice to date outside their race. By doing this, black men are covering up their insecurities and self-hate that has been subconsciously instilled within them by mainstream rhetoric.
If any black man criticises black women when speaking to his white girlfriend, then he needs to ask himself why that is. A black man came from a black mother; he might have a black sister or black female cousins. Black men disrespect themselves when they disrespect black women.
The dangers of buying into stereotypes of black women
There has always been an agenda against black people within society. For example, if a black man commits a violent crime, then suddenly it is representative of most black men. Or if a black woman is portrayed as overly aggressive on television, then this is how a majority of black women behave.
As a result, some black men have bought into the mainstream narrative that all black women are angry, rude, and greedy. Firstly, this is not all black women, and secondly, these traits are not exclusive to black women. I have met aggressive white women, rude Indian woman, and materialistic Asian women. Let us stop immortalising this myth that black women have the worse attitude in the world.
Are black women more challenging to date compared to say, white women? An argument could be made that they can be. But, as I’ve explained in one of my earlier blog posts, many black women have grown up in a particular environment that makes many of them very tough. Often, it is our black women who are the backbone not only of black families but of the entire black community. Many of the strongest single mothers and wives I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting have been black.
Black men should be celebrating the resilience and toughness black women have rather than condemning it.
The dangers of only respecting light-skinned black women
For such a long time, to the point that it's tiring now, there has been an ongoing debate within the black community, mainly in western society but also in Africa and the Caribbean, about the perceived superiority of light-skinned black women. Many black men, and sometimes even black women themselves, have placed women with a lighter shade of skin on a pedestal. And this is reflected in black popular culture such as in black movies and films where the central black female lead is usually light skinned. And many black men have announced their preference for lighter-skinned black women over dark-skinned women.
For me, a black woman is a black woman, irrespective of the pigmentation levels of her melanin. Black men must be uplifting all black women; not only the ones whose skin is the colour of caramel. Black women with skin as dark as coca-beans are just as beautiful and rich.
The importance of cherishing our black women as black men
I want to end this article by imploring our black men to cherish our black women. It does not matter if you’re currently dating a woman who is not black, still love and honour our black women.
Many times over, black women have held it down for black men. No matter how tough we may feel they can be (and all women can be challenging anyway), we must uplift and encourage all black women.
So, I apologise for every time I ever put down a black woman. As I grow into a more mature black man, you will never hear me put down a black woman again. The world can be a cruel place for black women; they don’t need their black men to be cruel to them as well.
Saturday 27th June was a historic day for the black British community.
When I saw #BlackPounDay trending on twitter on that Saturday afternoon, I felt elevated. It was as if my whole body felt immense joy, and I had the biggest smile since my daughter was born.
For years, going back to even my late teens, I have talked with other brethren about the importance of supporting black businesses and creating a black economy in the UK, the same way the Jewish and Asian community have. Most of the time, this conversation would fall on deaf ears and we continued talking about football, music and girls.
Many of us black people in the UK generally tend to be more focused on bettering our own individual lives and the lives of our immediate family and friends. For a very long time, especially in my younger years, the black British community never really saw itself as an actual community. Instead, we were a disparate group of people, African or Caribbean, who just happened to live in the UK at the same time. That was it.
But the viral sensation of #BlackPoundDay, a movement started by ex-So Solid Crew member Swiss, has shown that there has been a massive shift within the collective psychology of the black British community. It's taken decades to reach this point, but finally, the black British community is a functioning community of black people in Britain who finally see themselves as one group regardless of their heritage. Last Saturday, we came together all in the name of the black pound.
The black British identity has fully come into its own
It is too simplistic to attribute the success of #BlackPoundDay to the #blacklivesmatter movement and the death of George Floyd, which rocketed the whole #blacklivesmatter movement to the global stage. Of course, both have certainly given more urgency and relevancy to #BlackPoundDay, but it would have eventually existed even if racism had not become the current cultural zeitgeist.
Put simply, #BlackPoundDay was inevitable. As a black Londoner, born and bred, I had witnessed the divisions among the black community, both culturally and geographically (e.g. postcode wars). Then, as is always the case with black people, I started to see black people come together in the form of music. We started to hear a black British sound which started with garage, then grime, followed by UK funky house (RIP), bashment, drill and afrobeat.
From my research, back in the 60s, 70s and 80s, African and Caribbean kids did not go clubbing together. African and Caribbean music was not played in the same clubs in London as it is today. But by the 90s, African and Caribbean kids had all grown up together in the UK, so we now shared a Black British identity that overshadowed our Caribbean or African heritage, even if we did not admit it to ourselves.
Today, millennial black people listen to the same black British music, speak the same black slang (wagwan fam) and share the same black British jokes regardless of our heritage. We now have a recognisable black British identity.
So, with this fully realised albeit quietly acknowledged black British identity, the idea of a #BlackPoundDay was able to garner the serious traction and galvanise an entire group of people to spend on black businesses. We we’re supporting our own.
More work to be done
#BlackPoundDay will undoubtedly become a cultural fixture the same way Black History Month is. The economic empowerment of black people in the UK is what will create a visible and large black middle class, facilitate social mobility within the black community and thereby lift most of us out of poverty.
The next #BlackPoundDay is set for August 1st. Like I did last Saturday, I will spend my money on black businesses and will do my best to do this as often as I can – not just on a specific day.
But to create an actual black economy in the UK, we will need to do more than support a few black businesses. We need to diversify the types of black-owned services we provide, and we need to ensure the current and next generation of black boys and girls have the right skills to thrive in the economy.
There are many black hairdressers, black cake shops, black nail shops, black fashion retail shops, black barbers and black event services. Trust me; I will continue to support these businesses in any way I can and as consistently as I can.
But we cannot limit our burgeoning black economy to only these types of services. We need to start creating black companies which offer services and products that are in high demand.
For example, a franchise of black supermarket retailers like ASDA which sells African and Caribbean products from all over the world. Or a B2B software service where most shareholders and employees are black British people. Or imagine a chain of properties purchased by a collective of black people, akin to a housing association, which are lent exclusively to other black British people.
All of that is a pipe dream right now. We are probably another 30 years away before we reach that. However, there is no reason we cannot start building the foundations now.
We can mentor and encourage our black children to equip themselves with skills that the economy needs such as IT and healthcare skills. We can even launch a national black trust fund which requires black people in the UK to contribute a small percentage of their salary into it. Black entrepreneurs in the UK could access this trust fund to obtain capital to fund their business, or black parents could access it to send their most gifted children to the most prestigious schools.
Now is the time for the black British community to capitalise on the powerful #blacklivesmatter movement happening across the globe and rally together to grow our wealth collectively.
Let #BlackPoundDay be only the start of a revolution that will not only be televised but economised as well.
Visit the #BlackPoundDay website and find a large directory of black-owned businesses: https://blackpoundday.uk/
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.