Would I deny my black son if he were gay? If you were to ask me this question when I was 18, then I would have said yes without flinching. “My son can’t be no batty boy” would have been my exact words.
If you were to ask me that question as a 31-year-old man, you’d get quite a different answer from me. I would shrug my shoulders and tell you: “That’s his sexual preference. I will love him all the same.”
But where did this seismic shift in my mentality come from? You couldn’t simply put it down to my age. There are many black men who I grew up with that were very homophobic when we were teenagers that haven’t lost any of that in adulthood. So what was it then?
Well before I spend the rest of this article explaining why my views on homosexuality changed, two disclaimers first. I know I’ll have a few critics, so I want to address their concerns right off the bat.
Firstly, the purpose of this article is not to advocate for black men to become gay. Nobody “becomes gay” anyway. Instead, this article is an exploration of black masculinity and why homophobia is not only ridiculous but also not an affront to black masculinity.
Secondly, I am not a homosexual man. I am straight, but I have written this article to address why I would not dismiss my child, hypothetically speaking, if he were gay.
Growing up in a hypermasculine world gave me a homophobic mindset
I grew up in East London or the "ends" as it is colloquially known. My environment was very hypermasculine. Raised by a very conservative and traditional Yoruba man, my first experience of masculinity was one of strictness and dominance. Please don't mistake me, my father was and still is an exemplary father, but he was not one for hugs and kisses or openly expressing your feelings. He was a provider and a protector.
At school, many of the black boys (and to be fair, boys in general) were also very hypermasculine. This hypermasculinity manifested itself in several ways. For example, bragging about how many girl’s numbers you had on your phone and how many girls had you had slept with (everyone would double their body count), how many people you’d beaten up and how good you were at football and how aggressive you were.
What it meant to be a black man, growing up, was all through the lens of being a straight man. It was why I was very homophobic by the time I was in my late teens. During this period of my life, the very idea of another man kissing another man was a perversion of masculinity. It corrupted the concept of what masculinity was in my head, and so I thought being gay was a disgusting and despicable act.
Also, the early 2000s was not as openly accepting of the gay community as it is today. Anyone who suspected of being gay would face backlash, more so if you were black. If someone in the ends thought you were a "batty boy", a derogatory term for a gay man, you would be at risk of violence.
Meeting gay people while I was at university
The first time my dislike towards gay people was challenged was when I first attended university. Fittingly enough, my first actual interaction with a gayl person happened when I left East London to attend university in Brighton – considered to be Britain’s gay capital. At the time of completing my degree application, I was not aware of Brighton's reputation, but by the time it was brought to my attention, I was already in my first semester.
It was while living in halls that I became friends with a boy who was gay. To be completely candid, I was uncomfortable around him initially. In my ignorant, small mind, I had unfounded suspicions that he might fancy me or kiss me in the student lounge. God, I was an idiot. However, once I had gotten to know him, he was, in fact, a cool guy. We both liked watching WWE, reading novels and enjoying cheesy 90s action films.
And he never tried to kiss me.
By the time I had completed my English degree, I had spent three years in Brighton and interacted with many gay people, men and women. There was nothing different about gay love and straight love other than how they enjoyed physical intimacy. I had even watched two gay couples fall in love, get together and then break up – just like any heterosexual couple. My strong antipathy towards gay people, hardened over my heart like ice, had now melted away.
Science over emotion and religion
However, the reason why I would never deny my son (or my daughter) if they were gay is not only because of my university experience. It’s also down to science. Much of the argument against homosexuality, particularly within the black community but not exclusive to it, is that homosexuality is unnatural.
But it isn’t unnatural at all.
Firstly, what we must remember is that humans (homo-sapiens if you want to get all technical about it) are mammals (a fancy word for animals). I've heard many people, not just black people, tell me that other animals don't engage in gay behaviour, but that is entirely inaccurate. Homosexuality has been observed in dogs, elephants, baboons, and even lions, to name just a few. Now yes, an argument could be made that you can't compare the sexual behaviours of non-sentient mammals to that of humans who are self-aware. But considering humans have just evolved from animals and the fact that homosexuality is seen in other animals, even if they lack sentience, is proof that homosexuality is as natural as homosexuality.
Another argument against homosexuality, which I once held, was that the sole purpose of sex is for procreation. However, considering how the millennial generations, and the many generations before, have engaged in sexual acts purely for pleasure, going so far as to use contraception to eliminate the "sole purpose" of sex, renders that argument moot.
By the time I had left university, I was no longer religious, as I felt it limited the human experience and naturally made be a prejudiced person. While I still do draw on the Bible occasionally and my empathy and feelings to examine anything, I also look at cold, logical and impartial science. And from a purely scientific point of view, I can no longer see homosexuality as an unnatural act. Human sexuality is complex and scientific studies have shown that the binary idea of sexuality, male attracted to female and vice versa, is only one expression of the broad spectrum of human sexuality.
Black masculinity does need to evolve
Being from the black community, I can say that, from my observation, there are still negative attitudes towards homosexuality. Blatant homophobic attacks have lessened, but this is mainly in the black diaspora, which has been influenced by western society’s embracement of the LGBT community. However, homosexuality is still punishable in some Caribbean and African countries. It can land you in prison or worse.
Black masculinity is still very much tethered to this idea of hypermasculinity –physical superiority, sexual prowess and intense competition. Homosexuality is viewed as the antithesis of all that. However, there are some black men, who you might consider traditionally masculine, that are gay. The 2016 film Moonlight dramatises the experiences of a black male gangster who is muscular, tall, violent - and gay. Some of the most brutal men in history, who many would categorise as embodying typically hypermasculine traits, were gay such as Ronnie Kray, of the Kray Twins. In prison, there are many examples of violent men engaging in homosexuality. Even if our mainstream society satirises it, it still happens.
The strict idea of male blackness is limited, and this is perpetuated by black mainstream culture – in rap music, our fashion and our films. Over the years, I admit that black masculinity, in the West, has become broader. Still, I do feel there needs to be more of an acceptance of homosexuality as being compatible with black masculinity. Of course, this will take much time as religious ideologies are still influential in black communities – both in the diaspora and back at home in Africa and the Caribbean islands.
Would I purposefully encourage my black son to be gay? Of course not. Never would I influence any child's behaviour to prove an ideological point – an issue I have with many liberals, but that argument is beyond the scope of this article. But I would be supportive of my hypothetical gay son and love him all the same because being gay is not a choice – it’s who you are. And he would still be a man in my eyes, in every sense of the word.
I criticise my people because I love my people.
When I decided to write this blog, I had to repeat the above phrase to myself. On the many occasions I’ve debated with my fellow brothers about the current state of the millennial black man in the UK, I have been called an ‘Uncle Tom.’ For those of you who have no clue as to what I am on about, an ‘Uncle Tom' is a derogatory term. It means a black man who shows no allegiance to the black community because he is against them or views them negatively.
It has hurt me when I’ve been called an ‘Uncle Tom’ by other black men because of my honest views. But to suggest I hate my own culture is deeply disrespectful but also just untrue. I am black and proud of it– not that I needed to justify myself.
However, just because I love my black people doesn't mean I won't criticise the negative behaviours that are common in our demographic.
Now, these points do not apply to every black male under 35 living in the UK. Instead, these are negative characteristics that permeate within black masculinity which holds many of us back, and we don't realise it.
So let’s get straight to it.
1. Too stubborn and egotistical
Being stubborn and having a big ego is shared across all races of men. However, sometimes I feel these characteristics are dialled up a notch among a lot of young black men. I sometimes suffer from this negative behaviour as well.
Many black men are not open to direct criticism unless it’s from someone they know and respect, even then they might feel attacked. Due to many factors such as our strict upbringings and/or our negative experiences at school, many black men are quite fragile. Behind the bravado, they lack genuine self-confidence in themselves. To conceal this, young black boys put on this "you can't tell me shit" attitude even when really need to listen to what someone is telling them. Especially when it's a matter of life and death.
Taking advice from another person is not a sign of weakness. Someone reaching out to help you is not a sign of weakness. Some black men need to be more open to change for their own sake rather than stubbornly ignoring all advice because of
2. The need to stunt all the time
Let’s keep it real. Many black men love to stunt. Any opportunity to show off our wealth and status, you better believe we gonna take it. We are gonna glow, so everyone recognises our swag. I remember when I passed my probation at work and so to celebrate I bought a £300 Hugo Boss watch which I flashed everywhere I went. There was no need for me to buy a watch that expensive but a brother gotta stunt sometimes. As you can see, I am not excusing myself from this.
Black culture, in the UK and the US but also in many parts of Africa, is materialistic. Money is the universal language of black people. Why? I suspect it's because many black boys did not have much growing up. So when many of us start making a lot of money, through whatever means, we spend it lavishly and often stupidly. Sometimes, some of us, and this applies to me, grow up middle-class but still throw away money because we feel that's what 'cool' black boys do. They get tables and pop bottles.
Look, there is nothing with wrong with showing off sometimes (myself and a good friend of mine coined the term ‘shinning’ to describe this) but I do feel young black men take it too far. Black men will burn absurd amounts of money on champagne, leasing cars, and buying a Gucci belt even when they don’t have it like that, but they must appear like they do. It is this behaviour that I feel is very detrimental to us, the need to look like we've 'made it' when we clearly have not.
I have seen with my own two eyes and heard of black men do whatever it takes just to obtain material wealth. 419, AC scams, pyramid schemes…. the list goes on. Making money is good but making money just to blow it all on a table every weekend or to get a Porsche on finance is ridiculously short-sighted.
Bringing me to my next point.
3. The rush to be successful so early
Many black men are ambitious. Especially black men with an African background. We strive for success like it's the meaning of life. But this drive for success does not give us a lot of patience.
I have spoken to many black men who want to be on six figures by 30. But I always scratch my head when I hear this. Why do you want to earn that much by 30? What even makes you think you deserve to take home that much at such a young age?
Look, it’s fantastic if you can earn six figures by 30 and I’ve known a few black men who have managed to achieve this. But this should not be a benchmark. Most people don’t earn that much by 30 because they don’t have the experience to command such a salary. Personally, I would instead earn a six-figure salary at 40, when I have two decades of substantial work experience. It's better than blagging my way to that salary at 30. And this doesn't make me unambitious, it makes me pragmatic.
There is no rush. As the saying goes, it’s a marathon, not a race.
4. No respect for hierarchy or organisation
We cannot all be the captain. We cannot all have the spotlight.
Sometimes, I do feel that many black men hate being below another black man. It goes back to my previous point about our stubborn and egotistical nature. Personally, I have no problem following orders from another black man if he knows what he’s doing.
But for many black men, it is difficult to follow instructions. I've seen it countless times. Black boys will argue and sometimes even fight over who gets to make the final decision. If you get a room full of six black men under 35 in a room to start a business, I guarantee almost four of them will get into a verbal or even physical fight. And this will be over who is going to be the CEO of the business.
We cannot all be the CEO. Someone will have to play a lesser role, and it's no shame on that person. Hierarchy exists to bring order to groups so that they can function effectively to execute a collective mission. But every ship needs a captain, and sometimes black men need to throw away their ego and pride and defer authority to the most capable black man in the group.
The black community across the world, including Africa, would flourish better if we learnt to be better organised when we come together rather than treating structure and discipline as unimportant. This disorganisation is so rampant among black men; it's a cliché, but it's a sad one that is limiting our potential.
5. Competing all the time
Arguably the most crucial and common trait which affects so many black men is constant competition with one another.
Competition, in and of itself, is not necessarily bad. In fact, healthy competition among driven black men is to be encouraged as it pushes us to do better and strive further.
But the problem is competition among black men is not healthy.
I have had bitter arguments with my friends just because we turned something into a competition. How many girls we've slept with, who has the best swag or who got the most numbers on a night out. Sometimes this is just banter, but there have been instances where it's been clear jealously brought on by this desire to compete with each other.
Black men have died because of this nonsense competition we have with each other. All these postcode wars and ‘opps' all manifest from young men competing for territory they don't even own. Black men have lost their lives because another brother was jealous of his success.
As I stated earlier, perhaps it’s because so many of us black men grew up poor, that we have this scarcity mentality. We feel that if one of us is successful, then none of will be able to emulate that success. Instead of encouraging one another, we always compete with one another. Sometimes, it's to the point where this competition can become toxic and even deadly.
To any brother who has read this post, I hope you have done so with an open mind. I am not on a mission to attack black men; I am an African man myself. But, as black men, we must be able to analyse what we are doing wrong as individuals but also collectively within our broader culture.
Sometimes, we gotta show each other that tough love. And that starts with complete honesty about how we behave.
I knew the exact moment when I had outgrown baby girls.
Some time ago, I used to speak to one girl I had met at an event and we quickly connected as friends. She would call me often and we would talk, mostly about her life to be honest.
But one day, during one of our late-night phone conversations, it suddenly dawned on me that the only subject this girl was ever interested in discussing was boys. Every conservation would be about how some new boy in her life was either:
a) playing with her feelings
b) not acting the way she wanted him to act
c) a combination of the above points
Once I realised this, I reduced the amount of time I spoke to her and, after a while, I simply told her I was too busy to have these discussions only about her boy troubles.
Once I had verbalised this, we stopped speaking.
To me, it was no love lost and I didn’t regret it either.
But I was dealing with a baby girl when I can only be investing that much time into grown-ass women from this point forward.
Your time is precious and limited
Whether you’re a man or a woman, your time is precious, and it becomes ever more precious the older you get. You get to a point in your life where you simply can’t afford to waste time with certain types of people any longer.
This particular blog post can easily be applied to women, in terms of not wasting their time with baby boys but, for the purposes of this blog, I am going to examine the ways a man can tell that he’s dealing with a baby girl instead of a grown-ass woman. Also, this post is examining the platonic friendships a man has with a woman rather than a romantic or sexual one.
As a man, of course it’s fine to have women who are simply your friends and nothing more. However, I do think that as a man it’s more beneficial for you to develop friendships with women who have an adult mentality (i.e. grown-ass women) as opposed to a childish one (i.e. baby girls).
1) She only ever talks about man troubles in her life
If a woman only talks about the trivial problems she’s having with men, then she’s a baby girl and she’s wasting your time.
Look, there’s nothing wrong if you have a female friend and you occasionally give her advice about how to deal with men – who else better to ask than a man about why a man behaves the way he does.
But here’s the caveat.
If that’s what she talks about 90% of the time then, as a man, you’re devaluing yourself and she probably doesn’t even respect you. Never get into a position with a woman whereby all you are is a sounding board for her struggles with men. What exactly are you gaining from that kind of relationship? Surely you have better things to do with your time as a man than listen to your female friend rant about the evils of men for hours on end.
For the love of God, please tell me you do…
A grown-ass woman has more to talk about than just men all the time. She has opinions and ideas about a wide range of subjects. Most of the time you speak to her, it’s either you learn something new or you even question your own beliefs because of her intelligent viewpoints.
2) She questions why you’re busy and gets annoyed when you are
If your female friend calls you or asks you to meet her and you tell her you’re busy doing something, assess her response. If she gets annoyed at you then yes, you’re dealing with a baby girl.
A grown-ass woman will understand that you’re busy working on your hustle. How can she understand? Well, because she’s working hard on her own grind as well.
A baby girl doesn’t have any objective in her life besides getting herself into drama and seeking attention - both aren’t mutually exclusive either.
Which brings me to my next point…
3) Her life is constant chaos
I remember when I was in my very early twenties and I had a summer fling with a young girl around my age. Let me tell you, her life was constantly chaotic. Till this day, I have never met a girl with a life so bonkers it would make Lady Gaga look plain. This baby girl would always be broke, always be a mess, always lose her phone every week and always find herself drowning in drama with her family and boys.
At the time, she was a lot of fun but now, as a 30-year old man, I look back and I know I couldn’t waste my time with that kind of girl now.
Don’t get me wrong. I love girls who like to party sometimes and drink – I do those things myself and have a few female friends I go partying with.
But a grown-ass woman knows how to party and drink in moderation and she has some semblance of structure and order in her life.
"A grown-ass woman will understand that you’re busy working on your hustle. How can she understand? Well, because she’s working hard on her own grind as well."
A baby girl is just a walking tornado and while it can be fun initially to be swept up in her whirlwind of madness, as you get older as a man, trust me, her chaotic lifestyle will begin to stress you and drain you of your energy and patience.
4) She blames all her issues on men or other people
If I am speaking to a woman about her life and during our conversation, she blames all her mistakes on other people (usually men) then I know I am dealing with a baby girl.
A grown-ass woman has the self-awareness and humility to admit that she has made mistakes of her own making. Not only that, a grown-ass woman OWNS her shortcomings and takes responsibility for every silly and destructive decision she’s made that were genuinely down to her poor judgement at the time.
On the other hand, a baby girl will point fingers and rarely acknowledge the role she’s played in the nonsense situation she may find herself in. And if you try and tell her otherwise, she’ll be offended and most likely stop speaking to you.
5) She can admit when she’s wrong and apologise
One of the major hallmarks of a grown-ass woman is her ability to admit that she was in the wrong (if she genuinely was of course) and, to top it all off, apologise!
You’re dealing with a baby girl if she refuses to apologise when it’s her fault for whatever reason. And even if she does acknowledge she was wrong, it’s often in a dismissive manner and she won’t utter an actual apology. Girls have just as much pride as men, but a grown-ass woman can put her pride aside.
Like I mentioned earlier, most of these points can be applied the other way – how to distinguish a grown-ass man from a baby boy. But to the guys, as you get older and establish more platonic relationships with women, ensure that you’re only dealing with grown-ass women in your life.
Baby girls are only fun when you’re still a baby boy yourself.
Trust me. I know.
“Fam you said you’d be here at 7.30pm but it’s 9pm now?”
“Allow me, bro. I am moving on black people time.”
If I paid myself £20 every time I had this conversation with my friends, then I would probably have enough money to afford a mortgage in Chelsea.
In the black community, especially among black men, the belief that we are always late is almost treated as a universal truth. Black people always being late for work, for parties even for their own wedding is just expected because of ‘black people time’ (BPT)
Even I used to laugh about this and treat it as a joke.
Until one day something happened.
Then I realised BPT is a dangerous stereotype that is designed to stop the progress of the black community.
The insidious agenda behind the idea of ‘black people time’
It was around my mid-20s and still in the very early days of my marketing career.
Innocent-eyed and with an ‘I-ain’t-that-bothered’ attitude to work at the time, I remember consistently arriving in the office ten minutes late.
To my surprise, my colleagues, who were mostly white and middle-class, didn’t reprimand for my tardiness. Quite the opposite. They would make jokes like “Leke is late again” or “Leke, forgot to set that alarm clock again.” And me, like the mug I was at the time, would laugh with them, thinking that my co-workers didn’t mind that I was late.
In hindsight, what I realised was that they subconsciously expected me to be late based on my skin colour and instead of me to prove them wrong, I proved them right. In my naivety and foolishness, I thought I was bonding with the team when really all I was doing was confirming their preconceptions of black men as unreliable and tardy. This would have negative repercussions for me as I was overlooked for promotion on several occasions.
What we, the black community, need to understand is that some of these jokes about black people, which might appear harmless or dismissed as ‘bants’, are actually designed to paint black people in a negative light and can actually foster bias in non-black people to not give us a position because of the perceptions of us as “lazy” and “unreliable” which are reinforced by these so-called BPT jokes.
The racist origin of the term
Recently, I’ve been very curious about where the notion of BPT originated from? How did this come to characterise and popularise black people so much? Who started this propaganda?
After doing some reading around the subject I discovered that the phrase had been used as early as 1912 where it was called “coloured people time.” It was a derogatory term deriding black people as lazy.
Yet here we are in 2020, popularising the phrase and using it within the black community lightheartedly.
Now this wouldn’t be a problem if we weren’t taking it seriously.
The problem is we are taking it seriously and living by it.
Why we must not internalise black stereotypes
I’ve lost count of the number of times I have gone to black-organised events where the event has started late or, sometimes, not even started at all. Honestly, I went to Afronation last year and I was astounded, yes astounded, by how flawless the whole event was. Things happened on time!
Within the black British community, there is always this expectation that events will not go as planned and will be disorganised. As much as it pains me to admit it, for the most part, it’s true. When events don’t start on time or are disorganised, we throw our hands in the air and proclaim “black people time” and “so typical of black people” and then proceed to keep it moving as if this is just the reality of black people.
This is a significant problem that goes beyond the issue of BPT. For some reason, many of us in the black community have seen the negative characteristics that have been purposefully placed on us and then, rather than reject these proclamations against our character that are not rooted in anything scientific, we have internalised them. I am guilty of it myself.
Sometimes, it’s difficult not to internalise these negative portrayals of black people. Jokes such as BPT are reinforced by our cultural artefacts via movies, comedians and music. All these subliminal messages eventually seep into our subconscious until we begin to accept it as reality without even realising.
By accepting that ‘black people operate on their own time”, we are now holding ourselves back to progress as a people because we are allowing ourselves to think that being late or disorganised is fine – it’s just a black thing.
"...rather than reject these proclamations against our character that are not rooted in anything scientific, we have internalised them."
But by doing this, we are now collectively seen as untrustworthy and lazy, halting our progress as a people. Some of us, who do not adhere to the foolishness of BPT, now have to work even harder to fight against this negative stereotype placed on us which has also been reinforced by many of us.
So the next time you find yourself running late because of BPT really ask yourself: why you think it’s ok to be late to meetings, gatherings, parties etc? How do you think that makes you look? There is already so much working against black people's progression, does it make sense for my own development to never be on time for anything?
It’s not too late. You still have time to change (pun intended).
The biggest killer of young black men in London isn’t knife crime. It’s the absence of a positive existence.
A few days ago I read a statistic that saddened me but didn’t really surprise me.
According to Scotland Yard, almost three quarters of under 25-year olds killed in London homicides last year were from the Afro-Caribbean community.
Sir Stephen, Deputy Commissioner for Scotland yard had this to say:
“Of 149 homicide victims in 2019, 54 of them were under 25. Of those 54, 39 were from the Afro-Caribbean community, which is 72 per cent.”
Now some of us in the black community will read that statistic and instead of us to be concerned about this, we’ll either ignore it entirely or absurdly believe that Scotland Yard has fabricated the data because the establishment has an ‘agenda against black people’ which is an absolutely idiotic notion by the way.
The fact is young black men are disproportionately killing one another on the streets of London. You don’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to figure it out. On an almost weekly basis now there is another tragic news story of another young black boy, often well under the age of 30, who has died from violence. Later, we find out that the perpetrators shared the same skin colour as their victim.
Yet knife crime isn’t the biggest killer of young black men in London.
Do you know what is?
The lack of a positive existence.
Everyone in our lives (and those absent from our lives), everything we see and everything we experience moulds us, like clay, into the person we are going to become, whether we realise it or not.
For many, not all, black boys growing up in London, they are living in and shaped by a negative environment both internally and externally. The statistics only reinforce this.
Let’s look at the negative internal factors first. It’s been widely reported and proven that many black households are single-parent ones. In fact black households have the highest proportion of lone parents at 13%. Single black mothers often raise their sons without a father present in the home and if he is somewhat in the picture, the father himself is rarely effective as he himself is a lost and irresponsible man, disheartened and angry about the lack of opportunities in the UK. It’s a generational curse that sadly hasn’t been broken – lost black men giving birth to sons who are statistically likely to grow up to be just as lost as their fathers.
My life would have been very different, and not in a good way, if my father had not been in my life. He was and still is a hardworking and responsible man till this day. As any African young man can relate, my father sometimes beat me, shouted at me and punished me severely to the point where I disliked him occasionally.
However, my father’s harsh discipline was necessary. By being strict, especially when I was displaying signs of bad behaviour that many boys begin to exhibit during our formative years, my father taught me to respect authority and the importance of hard work. Many of the black boys who kill other boys, black or otherwise, lack both the mentality of working hard and the importance of respecting authority simply because they’ve had no father figure to show them the way.
Boys will always seek out a father figure. If their father isn’t around who do you think they are going to turn to? Often, it’s going to be the older men in their council flat or at school who are living a negative experience to make money. Being young and impressionable, these young boys will model their masculinity on the behaviour of older, criminalised black men. Again, it’s generational cycle.
Now this isn’t to say that mothers cannot raise black boys by themselves. I have seen, even within my own family, black mothers step up and raise their sons very well. But, on the flip side, I have also witnessed, within my family, black mothers failing to raise their sons well and not because they were bad mothers, but because they simply lacked the faculties to teach a boy how to behave like a responsible man.
If we move on to the external factors, of which they are many and complex, therefore beyond the scope of this blog, we can also see the negative aspects of our wider society which often propels young black men into a life of crime, violence and drugs.
Firstly, our wider black culture encourages black boys to be violent, to misbehave and to disrespect authority. Music is the biggest conduit for spreading this negative message. As much as I listen to drill music and even like it, it does sadden me that drill music has become the most popular outlet for young black boys to express their ideas and lives.
Popular drill artists like Headie One talk exclusively and excessively about drugs, girls and their perceived enemies on the streets. Drill music does not communicate a hopeful message or even discourage the ‘trapping’ lifestyle; it merely glamorises it.
All of this is compounded further because the negative perception of young black men, already reinforced by black culture, is further reinforced by much of the mainstream culture in the UK. Newspapers like The Sun or Daily Mail, two of the most popular newspapers in Britain, negatively portray young black men as either bad and if they are not bad, then they are silly or irresponsible.
And these tabloid newspapers can boldly make these claims and even back them up because young black men, shaped by the negative experiences of their internal lives and encouraged externally to criminalise their lives through messages communicated through our black cultural artefacts such as music and films, give these newspapers a lot of ammunition. As much as I loved Rapman’s Blue Story, did it really do anything to change the perception of young black men in London or did it just reinforce the negative perception of us?
There is hope and change is slowly happening
Although this article sounds like it’s all doom and gloom for young black men in London, I must remember that violence and drug dealing is not the common existence for many black men in the capital.
I know many black men within my own social circle who are doing amazingly well both professionally and in their personal lives. I’ve seen black men earn six-figure salaries in good jobs, get married and raise wonderful families.
But the problem is that these positive representations of black men are outnumbered by the negative representations both externally and internally. Strong and responsible black men are simply not visible enough in our culture but, as I said, things are starting to change. Organisations like Dope Black Dads is doing a great job of changing the narrative around black fathers and has garnered great media coverage so far.
While there is still much work to be done, I must take solace in the fact that black men are doing much better now in the UK than they were 40 years ago, even if it feels like we haven’t sometimes.
But change takes time and I remain positive. What other choice do I have? There’s enough negativity in the black community already.
London has a population of 8.9 million people. A variety of people and cultures. So much to do and so much to see.
And yet it can be one of the loneliest places to be especially as a young person.
It must have been in late 2011 when I first developed a serious case of loneliness. I was a fresh graduate and had returned to London after studying and living in Brighton for four years. When I returned to the city, a lot had changed.
The city felt unrecognisable with the influx of white middle class people (i.e. gentrification). Many of my friends had changed or stayed the same so we no longer had the connection we once shared. My girlfriend at the time was still living in Brighton. Since I don’t like long distance relationships, I broke up with her which only heightened my loneliness.
Soon, I oddly fount myself alone in a city that I had grown up in. It was a depressing period and I found myself doing a lot of silly things, partly because I was a young man but also because I was just so annoyed spending time with myself.
What loneliness means
Loneliness is described as “sadness because one has no friends or company.” It’s a condition that has become an epidemic among young people across the UK.
Despite the immense popularity of social media and all the virtual friends who follow us on these digital networks, many of us still experience acute loneliness because we don’t share any real connections with many of these people who we follow on social media.
Most of the time we follow them because they either went to our school or live in our neighbourhood, but they aren’t our friends. You could pass them on the street, and you would completely ignore them because, in real life, there is no friendship between you and them.
Why we become lonely
A lot of young people, especially those under the age of 25, have this problem I’ve described above. They are so invested in social media that they haven’t really cultivated any real relationships in the physical world. After a while, when they go outside, they realise they don’t really have any genuine friendship groups within their proximity.
Other times, loneliness can occur when you move to a new environment. Last year, I made friends with many people from all over the world who came to London. All of them have described how easy it is to become lonely in the capital. Most people in London are very guarded and stick to their own people.
London is a vast maze with pockets of different communities that are closed off to new people. It’s a city for individuals not collectives so it can be difficult to forge relationships when people living in London are so individualistic.
You can also experience loneliness when you return to a place you’re familiar with after so many years of living elsewhere. But you’ve lost touch with what’s happening as everyone has moved on without you or you’ve moved on while everyone has stayed the same. Suddenly, you no longer feel like you belong to the community you grew up in.
Being by yourself is important for your self-growth
An important lesson I learnt last year is that being alone is necessary for a period of your life.
Western society is addicted to romantic relationships. Our most popular TV shows are centred around relationships – looking at you Love Island. Our society’s fixation with relationships means that so many people are desperate to hook up with someone because the very idea of being alone or single is weird – as if it’s inhuman.
Having this mentality often means that to avoid being alone, we end up getting into relationships that aren’t good for us – both romantic and platonic. We don’t realise this until the damage has been done. Even though I did love my ex partner to some extent, in hindsight, I got with her during my period of acute loneliness. I was in no position to really be in a relationship, but I entered one anyway and now I am dealing with the consequences of that.
Harry Potter actor Emma Watson recently got some flack because she said she was “self-partnered” but what she was saying resonated with me completely. She understood that, for a segment of your life, it is better to be alone so you can focus entirely on you. It is not anyone’s responsibility to make you into a better person. That’s on you.
Once you know yourself and improve yourself, you will choose better friends and better romantic partners
If more younger people embraced being single and alone, then I think a lot of us would end up in healthier and long-lasting relationships.
Instead of looking at single life with dread, we should see it as an opportunity to improve every aspect of our lives. We can learn a new language. Save for that mortgage. Get that driver’s license. This is a time where you don’t have to think about anyone else but yourself. Use that to your advantage.
That isn’t to say that we shouldn’t have friends we talk to. It’s crucial to build genuine relationships with other humans. However, if you spend time doing activities by yourself then you will better understand who you are. Consequently, you will choose friends and romantic partners that are a better fit for you, and you will attract more quality people because you’ve taken time to work on yourself.
"It is not anyone’s responsibility to make you into a better person. That’s on you."
A big city like London can make you feel lonely but only if you let it.
Explore the city by yourself, go to the cinema by yourself or even take yourself to Winter Wonderland. It’s scary and weird at first but, if you embrace it, you might just find that doing things alone is not so bad. You might even begin to love yourself.
Right now, my two favourite black British rappers are Stormzy and Dave.
These two are head and shoulders above anyone else in the grime/British rap scene right now.
And this isn’t an opinion only shared by me.
Dave won rave reviews for his debut album ‘Psychodrama’ and the Streatham-raised rapper bagged the Mercury Prize this year as recognition.
Stormzy’s second album, ‘Heavy Is The Head’ has been flooded with positive reviews across the UK music industry, cementing him as the current king of grime for the foreseeable future.
So what makes Stormzy and Dave two of the best black British rappers right now?
Both of them have an effortless and distinct flow (a major critique of black British grime is all that all our inner-city accents sound the same), intelligent bars and witty wordplay. But these attributes are only part of their greatness.
Stormzy and Dave killing it right now in the culture and mainstream because they both share a significant characteristic:
To be a black man is to never show weakness. Never
If there is one belief that is consistent across African and Caribbean men, it is this: never show weakness and never admit defeat. Growing up, I witnessed this behaviour a lot from many black men around me, both young and older.
At school, black boys were usually (not always) the boys getting into fights for any disrespect, real or perceived. We would never apologise to teachers if we were rude. Many of us wouldn’t even confide in each other if things go south in our lives; we always had to put up the front that we are “killing it” when, behind closed doors, we are struggling to cope with reality.
It’s like black men have been conditioned to put a lid on their psychological problems. It’s no wonder so many boys ‘in the ends’ are angry all the time – many of us are walking time bombs.
This notion that the black man is always strong is perpetuated not only by our black culture but the mainstream culture as well.
From music to films, black men are portrayed as either very strong, very violent, very confident or very funny. Rarely, do we get a nuanced portrayal of the black British male struggling with the everyday problems of life (unrelated to gang life). Although we are starting to have these discussions around black male depression in the mainstream discourse.
Vulnerability allows black men to confront their demons
But why do black men need to be vulnerable? Why should we risk exposing ourselves in such a way that could potentially compromise us or be used against us?
Because being vulnerable allows us to confront our personal demons.
Let’s go back to Stormzy and Dave.
Stormzy’s latest album features a lot of tracks which reveal Stormzy’s state of mind following his huge success as a rapper and cultural icon in the British public. Most noticeably he talks about his struggles with mental health in the track “One second.” In the track “Lessons”, Stormzy bears his soul as he admits his wrongdoing by being unfaithful to Maya Jama, a woman who showed him the realest love according to his own admission.
In “Psychodrama”, Dave talks about his troubled upbringing and his own battles with mental health in tracks like “Purple Heart.” For Dave, it’s the relationship with his incarcerated brother, jailed for a brutal murder, which gives us an insight into Dave’s psyche, as he stays loyal to his older brother despite the horrendous crime he committed.
Both Stormy and Dave are opening their souls to the public. And while they are lining themselves up to be shot by the guns of judgement and scrutiny, they are also letting out their demons and confronting them.
"It’s like black men have been conditioned to put a lid on their psychological problems. It’s no wonder so many boys ‘in the ends’ are angry all the time – many of us are walking time bombs."
Obviously, I am not saying black men need to be sharing their inner struggles to the public. But it’s important for us to confide in our families and friends about the troubles we are facing in life, instead of just saying “Yeah, I am out here, fam” or “It is what it is, fam.”
When I went through the terrible breakup with my ex and witnessed the breakdown of my family, it was a difficult period that could have destroyed me. It nearly did. What saved me was that I was able to express all my negative thoughts, fears and worries to people who were close to me. I also solo travelled to be alone with myself so I could really confront my thoughts, process this terrible loss and ultimately move forward with my life.
Being vulnerable saved my life.
The world is tough, and black men need to be tough. But it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t admit our faults
As a black man, I know how it is. For us, the world is tough and unforgiving. Most of us in this country were not born to wealthy parents or even complete family homes. We must work twice as hard as anyone else. Black men need to be tough because the world is not always going to be kind or even fair to us.
However, that shouldn’t stop us from being honest with ourselves. Too many of us, young and old, often wear this fake mask that we are doing fine, driving our nice cars, wearing our designer clothes and popping bottles in the club. Yet behind all the bravado and showing off, we aren’t doing very well mentally. Many of us are even lonely.
More black British men need to follow Stormzy’s and Dave’s example and learn to be more vulnerable albeit with the right people. Society likes to characterise us young black men as overly sexual, overly aggressive and overly confident but, like every other human, we bleed; we feel and we fall.
True strength is being able to admit that we aren’t strong all the time.
Nipsey Hustle, may his soul rest in peace, gave the world music that hit you hard as a man.
Asking me to choose my favourite Nipsey track is like asking me to choose my favourite colour in a packet of skittles – it’s almost impossible since nearly every track of his hits me in some way.
But if someone put a gun to my head and threatened to blow my brains if I didn’t choose, then, to save my life, I would pick Nipsey’s Hustle’s Double Up. Since reaching 30, it’s a song which resonates even more. Throughout the song, Nipsey raps about how he doubled up in life; constantly achieving his dreams and becoming a truly self-made man.
It’s a mindset I am trying to cultivate now that my twenties are behind me.
Every man is his own king. And every king needs his castle
I truly believe that every man on this Earth is a king. Every man on this Earth was made to rule. However, when I say rule, I don’t mean govern other people but to have total control over his own life. So every king needs a castle.
Unfortunately, the way western society has developed over the past 20 years - a terrible economy, over sexualisation of women and men and the pursuit of instant gratification - means that most men have not behaved like the kings of the earth that we are supposed to be, particularly a lot of us black men.
If I look back at my twenties, myself and many other black boys around me (although it’s a behaviour across all race of boys in western society) were not focused on building our castles the way men like my father would have been. In my case, wild parties, casual sex, splashing money and bad decisions colour most of my twenties.
But, in all honesty, I don’t regret any of those experiences.
My 20s were one wild and crazy movie. I had some unforgettable times and experienced two immature but emotionally and physically intense serious relationships (one which resulted in the birth of my beautiful daughter) and I certainly have some interesting stories to share one day.
But my 30s cannot be the decade-long party and drama that my 20s was.
The decade of building my empire
If you haven’t realised already, I am a highly ambitious man with some big ideas and big dreams. God-willing, I will live long enough to accomplish them.
Yet to realise my ambitions, I must build. Brick by brick. Doing this takes time and effort and at 30, where I haven’t accomplished much as far as I am concerned, this will require a drastic shift in my focus. Below are the three things I have promised myself in order to ensure I have built my empire by the time I am in my late 30s.
No serious relationship till 60% of my goals are accomplished – As I’ve spoken about in a previous post, relationships are a distraction. Depending on where you’re at in life, they can be a good distraction but when you’re a man in the stages of building your castle, a relationship is a bad distraction. Most women these days aren’t going to help you build your empire as they want your attention most of the time. Until at least 60% of my goals are accomplished, I am not investing in a serious relationship with women. Just keeping it real ladies but, for now, I am keeping it strictly casual.
Work harder than you play – I played a lot in my twenties – way too much. There was a period in my twenties where I would go out hardcore partying and drinking on a weekday and go to work the next day completely shattered, affecting my performance. All that stops and has stopped for a while. I love a good party, so you’ll probably still find me at a rave in Shoreditch, but it’s limited to only a few weekend evenings. The rest of the time I am on my grind.
Save money – My greatest vice is my reckless spending. It’s not that I don’t know how to save, I just severely lack the discipline. Since university (blame student loans) I’ve had a “I’ll make it back anyway” attitude to money which I simply need to rid myself of. I am not fully there yet, but I’ve made significant progress and becoming better at saving money. No longer do I care about buying brand names – I’d rather use some of my disposable income to travel.
More than I ever did in my 20s, I now have a clear vision of where I want to be and what path I need to take to get there. Due to the childish ways of my 20s, I have created some fires I now need to put out, but I am well on my way to extinguishing those flames.
My throne awaits me. I am going to spend the next few years building my castle so I can take my crown and sit on my throne. Afterwards, I’ll see if there is a queen out there worthy to sit beside me but that’s a post for another time…
Just a couple of days ago, I turned 30. The BIG THIRTY. Ask anyone who knows me, and they will tell you, a few days before the big day, I was stressed. Was this the end of my youth? Have I accomplished anything? Have I made too many mistakes?
Once the big day arrived and went, I felt oddly at peace. For the first time in a while I felt balanced. Of course, no one ever stops growing and learning but I realised that I know myself now: my weaknesses, my strengths, my likes and my dislikes and I was completely comfortable with who I am.
So, after being inspired by this great post from fellow University of Brighton alumnus Ross Asubonteng (a great personal blog by the way with inspiring teachings), I have decided to write a list of the six pieces of advice I would tell my younger self if I was given a time machine (apart from going back to 2015, the last perfect summer).
1)Women are fun but not as important as your friends are making them out to be
Don’t worry too much about the opposite sex. I know most of your friends, particularly when you arrive at university, will be focused on sleeping with as many women as their hormones will allow. But don’t be too quick to chase women all the time or have a girlfriend just because your university friends have girlfriends. Take time to explore meaningful pursuits outside of girls because in your 20s, girls are mostly a distraction anyway. Trust me.
2)Don’t be too reckless with money. Cultivate the attitude of saving
Instead of the miniscule pocket money you used to receive from your parents, you will begin to start making some decent money after university. Try not to squander it all on alcohol and partying – that isn’t to say don’t have fun – but set some money aside for a later day. Trust me, you’re going to wish you had because your life will be rocked by a huge bombshell in your mid 20s and you will struggle with this new shift in your life partially because of your recklessness with money.
3)Don’t be so naive about raising a family
That bombshell I was talking about? Well, you end up having a baby with your then girlfriend at the age of 26. At first you will be ecstatic and excited, thinking about all the things you will do with your baby daughter but you are foolishly unaware of how unprepared and naive you are about the realities of raising a family. You’re naturally a nice man, having been brought up responsibly, but while you will be a good father you will be a terrible family man at 26 (there is still much you want to do with your youthful energy, staying at home with a crying child constantly will make you deeply miserable) and this will ultimately lead to the breakdown of the relationship with your daughter’s mother. But it’s ok. Everything happens for a reason and you’ll be fine in the end.
4)Don’t be afraid to cut off friends. Loyalty is not a given
There will be friends you’ve known for a long time who will deeply disappoint you. There are friends who you will realise were never really your friends to begin with. This will hurt you but, in the process, make you stronger. You will tolerate less bullshit from people, and you will become more ruthless in your ability to cut off friends if they cross your boundaries. You are a nice guy and you will realise you’re too nice and need to be an asshole sometimes. It’s a realisation that will stand you in good stead as you move forward in life and deal with more cunning people in your personal and professional life.
5)You will move jobs. A lot. But this is not a bad thing in hindsight
After graduating you will have a series of jobs because you’re naturally charming and people like you. However, some of these jobs will be good experiences and some will be very bad experiences, but you will certainly move around a lot for various reasons. At times you may feel like a failure for not staying in a single job for such a long time but as a result of this you will pick up a range of experiences from different types of companies and different types of people. This will make you a more well-rounded person, both personally and professionally.
6)Learn to be alone for a while – it will take time for you to grow into your own
Don’t be afraid of being alone. It is this fear of not being around someone that will make you rush into a new relationship when you just left one and put up with nonsense from some friends just because you don’t want to lose them. But being alone will be crucial for your development. Due to being pampered by your parents during your formative years and your friends holding your hand throughout university, you’re not very good at standing on your own two feet but this will change gradually. You will travel alone and start to enjoy being an independent person and become comfortable in your own skin.
There will be many twists, turns and bumps throughout your 20s but you’ll be ok. You’re a strong guy, always have been. You just need to realise that for yourself. And thankfully, you will.
“I don’t want to be with you anymore.”
As a man, but especially as a Yoruba, Nigerian man, hearing those words come from the mouth of my then girlfriend and the mother of my daughter snapped my heart like a twig and was like a point-blank shot to the face of my pride.
As soon as she said those words, there was a lot of shouting, insults, tears and pleading. Here was I, as a man, witnessing my family fall apart before my eyes. Deep down inside, I knew that my ex-partner was making the best choice for herself and for me as well– our relationship was basically a sinking ship with a gaping hole, and everyone needed to abandon it. But my Nigerian pride was too much and, to be honest, I was afraid of being alone and single again.
Having been fully single for nine months now, I have pretty much moved on and accepted the fact I am going to be a co-parent to my daughter most likely for the rest of my life now but never say never right? However, being single again has taught me a few things about the importance of being emotionally independent as a man, discovering who you are as an individual and self-reliance.
The problem with many relationships – particularly with African men
Although it’s slightly changing, for the most part, African men are still very conservative regarding their relationships. The man is leader and the woman must follow his lead. This was exactly my way of thinking too. Even though I was born in England, I was still raised in a Nigerian household, so my parent’s marriage was what I used as a template for my own relationships.
Some women like this set up especially if the man is very capable and she’s naturally submissive. However, with women now working and earning, such a structure might not work in the times we live in. I know many African men who still want their wife to cook, clean the house, look after the child and still bring home the coin. It’s unrealistic and unfair to expect women to carry all those responsibilities and the man does nothing apart from go to work and come home to a cooked meal. England isn’t Nigeria (and things are even changing over there).
African men, from my observations, can be too reliant on woman to clean up their lives. I was like this as well. I am not arguing against a woman doing domestic chores, but men should be helping in equal measure. We should know how to cook our own food. Iron our own clothes. Wash the dishes. Which brings me to my next point.
Building self-reliance as a man
A man, especially by the time he gets to his mid-20s (If not earlier) should be fully self-reliant. If you can’t even operate a cooker by the age of 25, then I fear for you. If anything, most of a man’s twenties should be him learning how to take care of himself. Know how to pay bills. Keep a steady job. Try to keep your credit rating decent. These skills are critical for a man to become a fully mature adult but gaining these abilities requires a man to be a lone wolf for a period of life which means no girlfriend living with you who is basically doing all these things for you. Let’s be real, a quality woman wants to date a man who can handle himself not a baby boy she has to handle herself.
Get your money up first
Whether you like it or not, women are attracted to a man who has accomplished something. This does not mean you have to be rolling in it (although some women do have their ridiculously high standards) but in a time where women are making their coin, they will expect their man to also be making a decent living. Just because you’re a man doesn’t mean you are owed a wife. You must earn a wife.
Hence why it’s important for a man to get his money up first. Spend a significant part of your 20s just working tirelessly on your career, your side hustle or whatever it is you’re doing to make paper (as long as it’s not illegal of course). It makes no sense to be spending most of your time chasing girls when you’re broke, or you’ve just started your career. That isn’t to say you shouldn’t have fun with women but that’s all it should be – fun. Spend the majority of your 20s and even your 30s, if you have to, working on yourself and you will attract high quality women down the line.
"Let’s be real, a quality woman wants to date a man who can handle himself not a baby boy she has to handle herself."
Learning to be happy first before having a girlfriend or wife
This is the most important point in this whole piece. You must be happy first before you get into a relationship. In recent times, women have started to understand this concept but I think a lot of men haven’t quite understood it. There still a lot of African men who can only be happy if they have a woman by their side to start a family.
Now I am not saying having a wife and a family shouldn’t make you happy but you’re happiness should not only come from that. Men become very needy because they place so much emotional responsibility on a woman to make them happy. Instead, a man should spend a period of his life being single so he can learn to find happiness within himself first before finding a woman to add to that happiness, instead of being his happiness.
All men are created differently. Some men reach a level of independence and self-sufficiency at 24 and some men at 34. But what is important is that a man gives himself some time to be single so he can grow as a man without a woman having to carry him. It is not a woman’s job to mother a man like a child. Instead it’s a man’s job to grow himself so he feels and looks like someone who carries himself like a king.
A Prophet Who Loved Her, Leke Apena’s first novel, will be published in 2020. Find out more here.