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.