Women must be protected.
It's a simple statement that carries the heavyweight of truth. And yet, over the past few days, both women and men have had to be reminded about just how easy it is to forget this truth and even take it for granted.
The tragic death of Sarah Everard, a 33-year-old marketing executing living in South London, has brought into sharp focus the perpetual dangers that women have to live with for simply existing. It's a weariness that, as a man, I can't fully comprehend. Of course, men aren't exactly immune to threats from the outside world either - men are still more likely to be victims of violence and assault. However, the difference is that sexual assault towards women is more prevalent than it is for men. In 2017, the Office of National Statistics (ONS) estimated that 3.4 million women had been victims of sexual assault throughout their lives. For men, it was 650,000. Worse still, recent figures from the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) showed that, between 2019-2020, the number of rape convictions had fallen to a record low. Most disturbing is that 97% of women aged between 16-24. have been sexually assaulted, with 96% not reporting the incident, feeling it would be redundant.
Just by reading those states, as a man, even I get a slight sense of how the shadow of violence and sexual assault looms large over women's lives. If I were a woman, and I knew my claims of rape were likely to lead to nowhere, I too would be very conscious of my surroundings, especially if men are around me on a dimly-lit street. It’s a shame that it’s taken the death of a bright, young woman with a future ahead of her to start having this conversation.
But being someone who questions everything, it’s kind of my raison d'être as a cultural critic; I do find myself asking: would the death of a black woman in Britain have triggered a conversation about violence against women?
Are black women seen as ‘black’ first before anything
In 2017, I read, with deep sadness, about Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman's horrific deaths, 46 and 27 respectively, who had been stabbed to death at a park in Wembley on the former's birthday. This incident took a more sinister turn when it came to light that two officers, whose identity remains undisclosed, had taken inappropriate videos of the deceased women at the crime scene and shared them with some close colleagues.
While there was some furore over the indecency in which Bibaa Henry's and Nicole Smallman’s murder was investigated by the police, a lot of the conversation focused on the fact that both sisters had black heritage and were subjected to humiliation by the police, therefore tying it back to the institutional racism inherent in the Met. But why is no one talking about the fact that an 18-year-old teenage boy has been arrested as the alleged killer? Why did these two black women's deaths not ignite a conversation about male violence but had to instead become a conversation about racist attitudes within the police?
I sometimes get the impression, especially in Britain and western society at large, that when it comes to the violence that women face from men, it is the incidents of these crimes being committed against middle-class white women that really matters. When black women are victims of male aggression, it only ever makes the headlines and gets people all riled up if there is an obvious racial element.
Over in America, the death of Breonna Taylor last year March gained international attention. Breonna was killed by white police officers who fired shots into her apartment when searching for her boyfriend on drug-dealing allegations. But had those police officers been black, then would they have been such anger? I am inclined to say they wouldn't have been because the racial element wouldn't exist. It's almost as if a black woman losing her life only warrants attention and conversation if it is at the hands of a white man.
We must never forget the humanity of black women
According to the Crime Survey for England and Wales, from April 2019 to March 2020, 4.6% of black women in the UK reported domestic abuse. This is almost half compared to White British women, where it's 8%. An obvious reason for this wide gap is most likely due to the significantly larger sample size for white British women. Writing anecdotally here, a possible reason there is such a smaller sample size of black women might be down to cultural elements such as black women’s reluctance to speak about domestic abuse compared to their white counterparts.
On the issue of culture, there is a narrative in the western mainstream that black women are strong, tough and fierce at all times. Black women like Beyonce and Serena Williams are viewed as the beacons of black female Herculean strength. But it can all get too much. I have spoken to many black women who have told me that society's expectation for them to be always thick-skinned and fierce robs them of their humanity and even their feminity. Black women can be just as vulnerable as any other race of women.
Overall, the point I am making is that black women must be included in any conversation about male violence and not sidelined in favour of the voices of middle-class white women. A black woman could have been Sarah Everard as well. Violence against black women matters, even if it's not linked to racism. In fact, especially if it’s not linked to racism.
Black women need to be protected. Not because their black. Not because of racism.
But because their women, first and foremost.
When I first saw the trailer for Bridgerton, the next Netflix-funded production from the streaming service's growing library of original content, I was intrigued. I had been a mild fan of Downtown Abbey, and I generally love a quality period drama. Besides, we hadn’t seen a decent period piece in ages. But what made Bridgerton stand out wasn’t just its genre, but it featured black people.
A lot of black people. In prominent positions in British high society.
I had never seen a black male lead, albeit a light-skinned one, in a period drama set in Regency-era England. You had a black queen dressed in an elegant Regency-era costume, sitting on a golden chair and dispensing instructions to her white servants. Just what kind of period drama was this! Even if it was going to be total rubbish, I had to check it out to see how they would handle and even explain all these black faces in an aristocratic setting, in a period where Britain had its hands all over the slave trade.
In my opinion, anyway, having watched the first six episodes of Bridgerton, I can report that it's not an epic fail. It has high production values with its dazzling costumes and detailed and vibrant settings. The dialogue is witty, and the performances are excellent across the board. But what about its black characters? How are they treated?
It's the treatment of its black characters that makes Bridgerton both refreshing and very confusing at the same time.
To address racism or not to address racism?
By the time I got to episode 3 of Bridgerton, I had accepted that the show was based in some alternative reality, sort of like Spiderman: Into the Spider-verse where you had different spidermen and spider women from a different universe. In my mind, Bridgerton took place in another universe where black people and white people co-existed in Regency London, and everyone just accepted it as normal. How else could you explain the presence of dark-skinned people in a ballroom party, not servants but high ranking members of society, or a black woman in one of the highest positions of the land during a period where England was very much involved in the slave trade.
I was on board with this, but then at some point, the show started to acknowledge race. Or at least slightly jab at the issue. There is a scene where Lady Danbury, played by Adjoa Andoh, tells a young Simon Basset, the black romantic lead, that he must be excellent because people like him and her cannot merely hide or blend into the background. This dialogue seemed to imply that they had to be exceptional because of their race.
Another time where race is called out, and it's very blatant, comes midway through the series when Lady Danbury tells Simon Basset that “We were two separate societies divided by colour until a king fell in love with one of us. Love, Your Grace, conquers all."
These attempts to address race took me out of the story and the world the creators have crafted in Bridgerton. If you're going to address race, don't do it half-heartedly and without commitment. I understand that Bridgerton exists as light-hearted escapism, which it accomplishes, but then trying to sprinkle in more serious anecdotes about race don't mesh well with the show's overall tone.
During these instances where race is highlighted, it feels as though the creators thought they needed to mention the issue in a production filled with black people. But by doing this, the whole point of colour-blind casting, which the producers of the show have gone on record to say was why they cast black actors, rings false. If it were genuinely colour-blind casting, the producers would never have brought up race in the first place during any part of the storyline.
Black people as window dressing
The more I watch Bridgerton, the more I am entertained. There is no point where I am bored with its story of romance, matching-making, high-society antics and scandal of course. But the more I see the black extras in the background; it dawns on me that this is what most of the black people in this drama are – background characters.
Apart from about four, most of the black characters in Bridgerton don't have substantial speaking roles. You can't call them characters even but extras. These black people in high British society seem to exist as window dressing – their purpose is to make Bridgerton's visual aesthetic different from the other period dramas that have come before it. As a result of this, however, the casting of black actors then feels very perfunctory and opportunistic, since diversity is all the rage these days.
That being said…
Even though I have issues with Bridgerton’s handling of race, I am still binge-watching it because it is endlessly entertaining and mostly well-acted and well-written. And it's excellent, and even refreshing to see black faces featured in an expensive production, dressed in Regency-era clothing and looking very dapper. Even if the producers just wanted to populate the setting with black people, bringing some melanin to proceedings and winning brownie points for diversity, at least those black extras look fantastic while strutting around in exquisite castles and lush garden parties.
“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.
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.
I don’t know about you lot, but I am anticipating BckChat Uncensored. It’s switching up the usual format of ‘round-table’ discussions and moving abroad. From the preview, it looks like a black, South-London version of Love Island and I can tell this is going squeeze so much laughter out my lungs.
My more highbrow, intellectually-minded friends don’t quite understand why I like BckChat London. Yes, it's loud. Yes, it's vulgar, and yes, it can be misogynistic. But you know what? It is unapologetically Black British. Being born and bred in London, the cast of BckChat are around my age, and they are so recognisably and refreshingly familiar in their mannerisms and viewpoints. It is refreshing to watch a show like this which is so true to its roots.
Another familiar show I’ve recently started watching that is similar to BckChat London is 3shotsoftequilla. Its premise is identical to that BckChat London but exclusively features Black British men discussing a variety of topics. Like BckChat, it's very Black British, very loud and, if you grew up in London, very entertaining. It’s like I am listening to the sort of banter I have with my friends.
Black British is an identify now
I think now, arguably more than ever, we are in a period where Black British culture is permeating confidently through mainstream British society and feels authentic, rather than trying to be African American. I don't think we've quite reached the renaissance or the golden era, but there's been a shift. Growing up in London, I remember a time where the notion of ‘Black British' was a nebulous concept. I never identified as a Black British person when I was a teenager. When I was 13, if someone asked me what I identify as, I would have replied that I identify as a Nigerian. Ask me now, at 29, and I’d say I am “Black British” or, more specifically, “British Nigerian.” I have reconciled my Britishness with my Nigerianess.
A massive factor in this successful reconciliation is because the idea of being “Black British” is a tangible construct because we have a collective culture, albeit a developing one, but a culture nonetheless. The forging of a truly authentic black British culture started with the Notting Hill Carnival followed by a series of events throughout the 70s and 80s that are too complex to cover in this single blog post. The emergence of jungle and garage music in the 90s added another layer to black British culture. The rise of grime music in the noughties further gave the young, third generation Black British youth a voice. Black British identify has become even more concrete now with afrobeats, drill music and with entertainers like Mo The Comedian and Michael Dappah, who have entertained the mainstream without losing their Black British identity.
From a sociological perspective, a confident Black British identify has manifested because black people in England have become more unified. Growing up in Newham, East London, I remember a time where African and Caribbean kids didn't get along. There was this silent animosity between us mainly because the Caribbean culture was seen as ‘cooler' than African culture. The only reason this was the case was that Caribbean people had been in England longer than Africans, so their culture was better acclimatised into British society. Now we have reached a point where all black people in England play together. The second and third generation of African and Caribbean adults now have mutual respect towards each other in England which has helped solidify the Black British identity.
We have not yet entered the Black British cultural renaissance
As much as I love shows like BckChat and 3shotsoftequilla, they are very similar in style and structure. Both of them are very London-centric, and both of them can become a little too immature, a little too loud and a little too foolish. But it’s entertainment. And good entertainment at that.
But what I would like to see is more content from Black British creators which is more intellectually stimulating. We do have the Mostly Lit podcast which I implore you to check out if you’re looking for some Black British content which is less in-your-face and more cerebral than BckChat and 3shottequilla. Rapman's Blue Story trilogy and Shiro's Story are examples of mature, Black British storytelling in film.
I am not saying every single piece of Black British culture must be brainy and have some deeper subtext. We have highbrow and lowbrow white British culture, and we should also have highbrow and lowbrow Black British culture. But I feel we do not have enough of the former. Now the drill genre dominates Black British music, and our content online is entertaining but mostly loud and silly. Even our movies are just big and flashy, with little introspection or any thoughtful analysis of the Black British psyche. This year's most prominent Black British film was Intent 2: The Come Up. While I paid to watch that movie and enjoyed it, it’s a damn shame that this was the biggest and most advertised Black British movie of 2018.
For Black British culture to reach new heights, we need more Black British creators developing content which goes beyond just entertaining us. We need material that makes us think and takes a proper look at Black British lives growing up in Britain and all its complexities. The reason why I've decided to become a part-time, cultural writer is that I wanted to write fiction and non-fiction books which explore the lives of Black British people in a way that truthfully comments on our flaws, our conflicted lives while also being entertaining.
Black British culture is varied and black creators should be communicating every aspect of it. Loud, fun and flashy is great, but Black British culture is and must be more than that if we want real longevity.
They still talk about Shakespeare; let’s do our best to make sure they are still talking about us 200 years from now.
Feel free to leave a comment below if you would like to share your opinion on this issue
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So, last night, my Twitter feed blew up. Chris Rock was trending. Initially, I thought two things: 1) Please don’t tell me Chris Rock is dead or 2) Please don’t tell me Chris Rock has become another casualty of the #metoo movement.
It turned out it was neither. Instead, Chris Rock was trending because of the word “Nigga.” A word that is up there as one of the most talked-about, most contested and most heated words in the history of language.
But what had Chris Rock done? Well, a clip from 2011 (not even this year, which shows how easily triggered the internet, and by extension, our society, since the internet is a more accurate representation of our society than actual society, has become) shows Chris Rock, Ricky Gervais and Louis CK humorously talking about comedy. During this segment, Louis CK starts casually throwing around the word "nigga" a few times, and Chris Rock rolls back his eyes in laughter. You can watch the clip here.
Did I mention how easily triggered my generation is? The twitter mob formed in droves to condemn Louis CK for uttering the word, sacred only to black people, and then proceeded to shame Chris Rock for sitting there during the entire segment, doing nothing while a white man with a ginger beard was letting the word roll from his tongue right in front of him.
Now, I’ve watched this clip a few times. After I did, I just shrugged my shoulders. Once again, ‘woke’ Twitter has exaggerated its anger, acting like everything is a slight against black people (*yawn*) without really thinking logically about it.
However, this new ‘issue’ did get me thinking about my relationship with the word ‘nigger' or ‘nigga' (is there a difference?), how I feel when I use it and my thoughts on non-black people who use it.
What’s up my, Ni$$a?
I am not going to feign some intellectual superiority and say I am above using the word. It would be a lie, and I do my best to always remain authentic. So yes, I do use the word ‘nigga.’ Not always, mind you, I am not in a rap video. But I do sometimes use it, like many young black men, in a few different contexts as described below:
As a term of endearment to my black friend
e.g. “What’s up, my nigga”
As a derogatory term, if I feel a black friend, always male, is acting selfish
ly, e.g. "Give me more pie. Don't be a nigga."
As a derogatory term, if a black male is behaving in a way that one could consider stereotypical
e.g. “Look how he is behaving. Like a nigga.”
Of course, I would never use the word within a professional context because I am not an idiot. But when I am around friends, even white friends, in a casual setting, then yes, I’ll sometimes use the word and always in a humorous way.
I am aware of the history of the word and what it once meant. But words can take on new meaning, especially when they become a colloquialism. To me, the term ‘nigga’ has become a slang word among many black people, and I use it in that context. It once meant something else, but black people have given it another meaning. Words can be malleable like that.
But should non-black people use the word?
Now, this is where we get into the sensitive and touchy ground. Earlier this year, on stage, Kendrick Lamar angrily called out a white fan when this fan shouted the word “nigger.” I didn't quite understand his anger. He uses the word "nigger" in his lyrics but then becomes inflamed when someone says it as part of the lyrics to his song? But he's okay if a black person says it? It's illogical.
The problem in my opinion (and it's an unpopular opinion I know), is that black people have reclaimed the word "nigger" and now suddenly we've become all precious over it. We act as if it only belongs to us, thus given the word a 'forbidden fruit’ aura. It’s like we're tempting non-black people to use it because we make such a big deal about it.
No word belongs to anyone. If you use the word "nigger" in your lyrics, how on earth can you be pissed off if a white fan, who bought tickets to see you live, says the word when he or she is reciting a song you wrote? Is that fan supposed to censor themselves if they’re not black?
I am not advocating that white people can use the word any way they want. Naturally, when the word comes out from a non-white person's mouth, it takes on a dark history which I don't need to explain (slavery, duh). It is for this reason why context and common-sense is always so crucial.
If I humorously call a white friend a historically derogative term for white people and then he calls me the n-word, then, within this context, we are both joking around with each other. So, I am not going to be offended. Now, if a random white man came up to me on the street and shouted "nigga" to my face well that's a whole different context.
Of course, a non-black person should ask themselves why they are using this word in the first place. If it's for light comedy, if it's part of a song lyric and it is not said maliciously or used as a way to legitimately belittle a black person, then, for me, it wouldn't be a problem. However, a white person who carelessly says the word all the time because they think it's "cool" is an idiot but I probably still wouldn’t be offended. There are much more cruel things in the world to be offended about, trust me.
" The problem in my opinion (and it's an unpopular opinion I know), is that black people have reclaimed the word "nigger" and now suddenly we've become all precious over it. We act as if it only belongs to us, thus given the word a 'forbidden fruit' aura. It’s like we're tempting non-black people to use it because we make such a big deal about it. "
In the case of this Chris Rock video, I am not mad at Chris Rock or Louis CK. It's evident that Chris did not mind Louis CK saying the word because they have a certain camaraderie. I am sure Chris Rock has probably called Louis CK all kinds of names relating to his gingerness and his receding hairline.
As always, I love ‘woke' Twitter, but at times it frustrates me. The black community in western society need to stop being precious about the word ‘nigger.' Consider the context in which it is used. Not everything is a deliberate slight against us.
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A few years ago, I was on a date with this pretty, young girl. She had winked at me from across the table and with a cheeky smile said:
"I know you have a baby mama."
I smiled at her and, in a playful tone, I replied:
“Maybe I do, and maybe I don't, so what?”
By the way, I didn’t have a daughter at this point in my life. I was newly single after ending my three-year relationship with my girlfriend I had met and dated at Uni.
This girl I was on a date with laughed at my response and we continued the rest of our evening, talking very casually about our past sexual experiences. I don’t need to spell out what happened after we got the bill.
A year later, I recall speaking with a close friend of mine about a young woman from Liverpool that he had met in Bournemouth. They had slept with each other. I was sitting in the passenger seat of his car when I asked him:
“Bro, what happened to that nice girl from Liverpool you were kinda seeing? She was alright?”
A wry smile formed on my friend’s face.
“She didn’t want to date because I am a black guy and she thinks I’ll cheat on her. Can you imagine.” His tone was thick with mockery. Of course, he would.
Looking back at these two exchanges from my past, it got me thinking. Why is it that many heterosexual, westernised women and men think black men are cheaters? The word ‘player’ is synonymous with the phrase ‘young black men" but why is that? Why do many black men feel like they are supposed to be very sexual? Are infidelity and sexual prowess somehow innate within the DNA of black men or is this a myth perpetuated by western culture and the media?
I love girls, girls, girls
Most heterosexual men love women. Most heterosexual men are capable of cheating. Infidelity is universal across all types of men and women as well (but this post is not about that). But yet, I’ve heard many women tell me they would never date a black guy because they honestly believe nearly all black men are players. To them, white men are more loyal. More faithful. Whenever I hear it, I always roll my eyes. Where does this notion come from? It must be from black culture of course.
Culture is like an invisible language that we all understand. It gives us a common reference point in which to provide some meaning to the things around us. Hip Hop and R'n'B culture is arguably the most visible black culture across western society. And in this culture, men portray themselves as highly sexual and highly promiscuous. Listen to Jay-Z's "girls, girls, girls," for example. Listen to almost any song by Trey Songz. Watch most of the rap videos from the 90s and noughties. Heck, even the recent furor around Offset cheating on Cardi B. Black male rappers are singing about cheating on women (and doing it), sleeping with an abundance of women and boasting about their unrivalled sexual prowess under the sheets. A lot of women have swallowed this image of black men whole and therefore view them as highly sexual and highly promiscuous.
Now, if you look at music genres dominated by Caucasian men such as rock or pop music, their subject matter is rarely about how many women they have slept with or how many times they will make a woman orgasm. If they sing about women, it’s in a way that is admiring and rarely misogynistic. David Bowie never oversexualised himself the same way R Kelly did.
Over the years, with the introduction of more sensitive and less sexual rappers like Drake and Kanye West, we have seen this oversexualised image of black men diminish in Hip-hop and R'n'B music and culture. But still, the legacy of hypersexual black male rap artists and singers from the 90s and 2000s still lingers.
Are some women oversexualising black men to their detriment?
Going back to the scene of the date I had years ago, would my date had made a joke about me having a baby mama if I was a white man? Even though I had been coy about it for humorous effect, what if I did have a baby mother I wasn't taking care of? Would she have cared? A big part of me doesn't think she would have because to her "black men have baby mamas" and this is what she expected from a black man.
I am not saying black men don't leave a trail of women with their children behind. But this is not a behaviour typical to only black men in the way society and our culture continuously perpetuates. And I'll concede that absent fathers happens more in black communities but this is the result of a lack of education and not because "it's what black men do."
The myth that all black men have the biggest penis (I've spoken to a few girls who have told me this isn't even true), is another way that women overly sexualise black men. I remember the first time sleeping with one particular girl, and she said to me:
"I hope it doesn't hurt. I know what you black guys have down there."
At the time, being in my late teens, this inflated my ego but, looking back at it now, it irritates me. To be reduced to the size of my penis.
On another occasion, following a holiday fling in Ibiza in my early 20s, the girl who I had slept with, while putting on her clothes, had said to me:
“I thought you’d be more aggressive in bed?”
“Really? Why?” I asked.
"Because black men are usually proper aggressive in bed, right?" She told me that she had only slept with three black guys, which included me, so how could she make such a wide-spread statement about how black men are 'supposed to be' in bed?
What some women are inadvertently doing is giving some black men a free pass to cheat on them without even realising it. When women tell black men “I know you have a big dick” or “I know you’re a player” or “I know you’ve slept with so many girls” and yet still sleep with him, she’s objectifying him by sexualising his blackness. What happens when they do this? Many black men think that because these women will still sleep with them anyway because they like the fact he behaves in a very sexual and promiscuous way, they continue acting like this. Simply put, these women don’t expect any other standard from black men and black men know this.
A caveat though. This objectification and over-sexualisation of black men are often carried out by women who aren't black. In my experience, black women don't examine black men the same way. Of course, they too can find a black man attractive because he has a nice body that is appealing and he looks like he might be good in bed (I still don’t understand how a woman can tell), but this is rarely assumed just because he has black skin.
We need more representations of black men that aren't hypersexual or hyperaggressive
As I touched on earlier, if there is one development that I am thankful for in Hip Hop and R'n'B culture, it's that black men are no longer portraying themselves as hypersexual and hyperaggressive. There is more humanity in black popular culture. Citing examples such as Kanye West, Drake and Kendrick Lamar, these rappers speak more about their emotions rather than just their sexual dominance and sexual exploits. Even films like the Academy-Award winning Moonlight, directed by the talented Barry Jenkins, are deconstructing this stereotype, portraying the sensitive sides of black men rather than only showing our sexual or aggressive sides as was the case in the past.
" When women tell black men “I know you have a big dick” or “I know you’re a player” or “I know you’ve slept with so many girls” and yet still sleep with him, she’s objectifying him by sexualising his blackness. "
One of the main reasons I wanted to become a writer on the side was because I wanted to write stories which portray black men as flawed, complex, funny and multi-faceted humans. I want to move away from this caricature of black men as overly sexual and overly aggressive.
Promiscuity is not something that occurs mostly in black communities. Watch an episode of Jeremy Kyle, and you will see stories of white men cheating as well. It’s not a black man thing.
Lastly, black artists have a responsibility not to oversexualise themselves through our art by only talking, writing and rapping about sex with women. That's so 90s, and we must continue to move past that.
Feel free to leave a comment below if you would like to share your opinion on this issue
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