When I was 13, a classmate revealed to me that his parents were German and that he had spent several years growing up in Germany. In my surprise at discovering his heritage, I jokingly exclaimed, “oh, so you’re a Nazi!”

I had only been living in the UK for a few months at that point and in my ignorance of the new culture I now inhabited, I lacked the context to appreciate the seriousness in how my statement landed. Growing up with a lack of proximity to western European culture ensured that my only reference points for Nazis were old Sunday afternoon matinees on TV which focused on the indominable British spirit, and Allo’ Allo’.

Obviously, he did not find my statement funny and summarily informed the teacher.

It certainly was not my intention to cause offence, but I absolutely had caused offence. And I didn’t only offend my classmate, I offended an entire class of individuals who were born and raised in this country. Many of whom will have had grandparents and great grandparents who were directly affected by the war. My statement not only made light of the atrocities perpetrated by the Nazis and the solemnity of the countless memorials to the fallen erected all over Europe, but it also pointed the finger at my classmate as somehow being tainted by that history simply on account of his ancestry.

In response, I could have insisted that my words were not intended to cause offence, that I was not trying to be insensitive to race, and that freedom of speech ensured I had the right to voice my unfiltered thoughts as they popped into my head. Or, I could have listened as the victim of my ill-considered verbiage expressed his hurt, apologise unreservedly and set out to educate myself as to why my actions were wholly inappropriate.

I think you know which of those would be the correct option to choose…

This past week saw the release of Harry & Meghan’s ‘tell-all’ interview with Oprah Winfrey. And among the many revelations to come out of it was the allegation that when Meghan was pregnant with Archie, a senior member of the royal family expressed concern to Harry over what skin tone their unborn child would have. Visibly shocked and mouth agape, Oprah recoiled in horror at the assertion and after an unsuccessful attempt to unearth the identity of the person who said it, the interview continued.

In the aftermath of that interview, I have seen countless posts on social media, listened to and watched heated debates on radio and TV, and read numerous articles in the newspapers which sought to unpick the veracity of that comment as racist or not. They all had a common theme – was it “…blatant racism or dumb question?“, why didn’t Oprah push harder to get the “context” in which it was said, and the royal family “is very much not a racist family.”

*insert eye-roll here*

I am tired of seeing white commentators and journalists try to assert that remarks and actions which cast negative aspersions on people in connection with their race (however subtle, and especially when it targets black people), need context before we can even dare to consider it problematic. Why do we insist on all the mental gymnastics to ensure the bar is set so high that we can never actually achieve consensus on whether a thing was indeed racist?

We don’t do that with antisemitism…

According to ADL.org, a “leading anti-hate organisation” whose “mission is to stop the defamation of the Jewish people”, antisemitism could simply include “stereotyped views about Jews.”

Let that sink in. All it takes to be labelled antisemitic is the mere regurgitation of harmful stereotyped views. How many harmful stereotyped views of black people do we see get trafficked as the main narrative all the time? Single moms? Absent fathers? Excess criminality? Poverty-stricken African countries? Teenage delinquency and gang violence? Reliance on athleticism or musical ability for success? I could go on. We set the threshold for clearly identifying other forms of discrimination so low, and rightly so. But when it comes to black folk, we behave as though only videotaped evidence of someone using the n-word will suffice. And even then, we justify it by saying ‘black people get to say the n-word all the time’, so context, right?

Last night my wife asked me if a black person had made the comment about having concerns about an unborn child’s skin tone, would it still be racist? I answered, “absolutely.” And here is the sad reality… This is a conversation black people have ALL THE TIME. We talk about not wanting our children to be too dark-skinned, or we look at the tips of new-borns’ ears so we can judge what their ‘final colour’ might be. Some people even select partners specifically because of their hair texture or skin-tone so they can pass on the favourable genetic traits and weed out the African ones. There is a whole flipping hashtag fetishizing bi-racial children and swirl relationships on Instagram! And at the other extreme of the spectrum, we have the hyper-sexualisation of dark-skinned women as though buxom lips and mind-bending hip-to-waist ratios offer the perfect response to colourism and an affirmation of their beauty.

The heart-breaking truth of the matter is that people of all races perpetuate white supremacy, and this is a conversation that black people are thoroughly familiar with. Colourism is one of the ways in which the legacy of white supremacy manifests within black communities. Oprah didn’t need to ask any further questions for context, because like myself and many other black people, she already knew the context intimately.

So, I cringed when I read some of the idiotic things written defending the British monarchy against claims of institutional racism. Leaving aside the history of empire and colonialism for a moment, I think people believe we are fixated on imagining the Queen shuffling around Windsor Castle with a cuppa mumbling to herself, ‘bloody immigrants!’ Nevermind the now banned video of the Queen calling the US Ambassador a Gorilla, is it completely out of the realms of possibility to believe that a historically white, elite ruling class may have some deep-seated prejudicial attitudes?

Racism does not always look like vein-bulging skinheads shouting the n-word in the street, it can look like ignorance too. It can look exactly like when I linked my classmate’s intrinsic identity to the worst parts of Germany’s history without taking the time to learn more about his actual heritage. It can look like rallying to the defence of the person who said or did the racially insensitive thing, while minimising the experience of the person who endured the trauma of having it hurled at them. And most insidious of all, it can look like the rabid insistence on painting racism as isolated incidents carried out by lone individuals on the fringes of society, and a refusal to consider that it could be evidence of a wider systemic cancer.

It is this cancer which leads an entire society into reacting defensively and unleashing its venom on anyone who dares to try and call out the issue of racism. You don’t need to look any further than the comments section of a Daily Mail article for evidence of exactly this kind of vitriol.

Earlier, I asked, why do people dismiss allegations of racism against black people so easily? It is because we would need to honestly confront Britain’s leading role in taking a benign concept such as the variations in skin colour across the human race, refining false narratives on how it either diminishes or enhances an individual’s intrinsic humanity and then using it to justify the destruction of entire civilisations. We are happy to support the fight against things like antisemitism because we largely see ourselves as having been on the right side of history in that conflict. But daring to challenge the virtue of the empire, colonialism and the industrial revolution, all aspects of British history many people retain a certain level of nostalgia about, is a direct assault on their heritage. Nobody wants to hear they are the bad guy in the story.

So, we sweep the scandalous parts of the story under the rug where we don’t have to deal with it. It’s a bit like when you ignore your slightly dementing nan who makes the odd racist joke at Christmas because she’s had a drink or two. Or when you laugh off the uncomfortable stories your uncle tells every now and then about how different things used to be back in his day.

And herein lies the issue… we are all affected by this blight and carry with us internally held prejudices about certain groups of people. Some of us are more significantly impacted by these prejudices than others, and the sooner we can acknowledge that is the sooner we can start having real conversations about what to do about it.

I have been so disappointed by the discourse that has taken place in the embers of what came out of Harry & Meghan’s appearance with Oprah. We have spurned every opportunity to have the genuine and necessary conversations about the issues raised. Instead, we reduced it to a debate on whether the Sussexes are lying, the appropriateness of the timing of their interview and whether the revelations were led by motivations to kickstart post-royal careers in the media.

Is it completely unfathomable that maybe we are not actually a post-racial​ utopia, and that deep-rooted issues on discrimination​ in society never actually went away but simply became less overt while we got better at justifying their existence?

I’ll leave you to answer that one on your own.

Photo by Ferdinand Stöhr on Unsplash

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PART 2 – (listen to Part 1 here)

Nanny of the Maroons was a legendary warrior and is one of Jamaica’s national heroes. She led a community of formerly enslaved Africans in the early 18th century and fought a guerrilla war over the course of a decade against British authorities who had colonised Jamaica.

In April 1740, and after suffering great losses, the British signed a peace treaty with Nanny to end the hostilities. The treaty provided for state sanctioned freedom for the Maroons and granted 500 acres of land to Nanny and her followers. Despite leading over a thousand slaves to freedom during her war with the British, a condition of the peace treaty demanded that Nanny and her forces would be called upon by the British to help capture and return runaway slaves to the plantations on the island.

And so, adversaries became collaborators.

This crucial element of slavery and colonialism ensured its success and leaves a legacy of disunity between people of African descent which they continue to reckon with 400 years later.

Slavery was maintained by more than just brutality, pain and torture. It employed a systematic destruction of any individual identity of worth, disabused you of any shared sense of community you might have otherwise harboured and enforced structures of hierarchy within disenfranchised peoples. It disincentivised unity within its systems of subjugation by ensuring there were some who were granted just enough privilege to feel as though they had something to lose through rebellion and set them at odds with those who had no privilege at all.

In May 2018, US rapper Kanye West, made some controversial comments suggesting that enslaved Africans made a ‘choice’ to remain enslaved. While his words speak to a hidden truth, his articulation of it caused a great deal of hurt and furore. It was a clumsy and inaccurate attempt to elucidate how these structures of slavery and colonialism could have remained intact for so long. It is something this article does a much better job in describing – https://aeon.co/ideas/how-did-slaveholders-in-the-caribbean-maintain-control

While the article focuses primarily on the era of chattle slavery, it also describes in less overt ways how white supremacy persists in the minds of many who are of African descent. It rationalises the enduring nature of self-hatred, the aspiration for ideals rooted in whiteness, the disunity among the diaspora and the rejection of our African heritage as expressions of our shared trauma.

Reflecting on the BLM protests which took place last year where people across the globe mobilised en masse, we now ask the question, “what next?” Clearly mobilising, while a powerful statement of intent, on its own is not enough to effect real and lasting change. Conversations still rage on as to whether or not racism, white privilege and systemic issues actually exist.

On this episode, I continue my conversation with Lewis as we talk about what the zenith of this sort of activism needs to look like. The answer can be summed up in a single word… Organisation. Its the dismantling of white supremacy in our minds and a concerted effort to build a sustainable legacy of black empowerment.

If you like the podcast and want to give us some feedback, or if you want to be featured on the show, please use the contact form in the ‘About’ section.

In the meantime, click the link above to start the episode now and thank you for listening.

References:

Why it’s so hard to talk about the N-word | Elizabeth Stordeur Pryor: https://youtu.be/CVPl8jRaAqM

When The British Built Concentration Camps in Kenya: https://medium.com/all-history-and-no-play/when-the-british-built-concentration-camps-in-kenya-5a92bb7336f0

Jane Elliott Classroom Lecture Experiment Being Black: https://youtu.be/XYp5xkqTUjQ

Black Boys Viewed as Older, Less Innocent Than Whites: https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2014/03/black-boys-older

Doll Test: https://youtu.be/tkpUyB2xgTM

Photo by Matthew Lancaster on Unsplash

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THIS IS PART 1 OF A TWO-PART SERIES… (click here for part 2)

I recently took a DNA test.

While I have always been extremely proud of my Jamaican heritage, there is a whole other part of my history that was stolen from me and erased. I am in diaspora; part of a scattered population whose origin lies in a separate geographic locale. While I have always been aware of the fact my ancestors were trafficked from Africa and forced to labour under brutal conditions entirely for the benefit of the British Empire, who they were and where they came from has always been completely unknown to me. I, like so many other individuals of African descent, suffer from a disconnected sense of identity.

The DNA test was as much about finding out where my ancestors came from as it was an attempt to reclaim a connection to the hidden parts of my identity that were stolen away long before I was ever born.

Lewis Persaud recently penned an article titled, “Griots: The importance of documentation” (click here), where he writes about the crucial role they played in preserving the history of many West African societies. He argues that it was this very connection to their rich history which helped to maintain these ancient cultures, and as people of African descent, it is through “retaining a sense of self in a world designed to strip you of it…” that we begin the process of building a strong and stable community.

Lewis and I recorded this episode at the end of last summer in the wake of the global outrage which erupted following the death of George Floyd. Several other extrajudicial killings of black people and racially charged incidents prior had stoked the flames of discontent for many and kickstarted a wave of Black Lives Matter protests all over the world. One of those incidents was the slaying of Ahmaud Marquez Arbery who was hunted down and executed in the street of a suburban Georgia neighbourhood by three white men. It took 74 days for his killers’ arrest, and only after the video of his killing went viral.

It is now exactly one week shy of a year since Ahmaud was killed, and his family continue their wait for justice.

It also currently happens to be Black History Month in the United States. And with the recent news of one Utah school originally agreeing to parents’ demand to exempt their children from taking part in Black History Month learning before backtracking after a backlash on social media, the question I ask is, what happens now that the protests have ended? What do we need to do as a people to move this fight forward?

I think the beginnings of an answer lies in first grounding ourselves in a strong sense of identity, because as Marcus Garvey once exclaimed and as illustrated so beautifully by Lewis in his article, a “people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots”.

On this episode, Lewis and I talk about reclaiming our identities, the true nature of racism and what is required in dismantling the structures it has built.

If you like the podcast and want to give us some feedback, or if you want to be featured on the show, please use the contact form in the ‘About’ section.

In the meantime, click the link above to start the episode now and thank you for listening.

When I started the Podcast, I said I wanted to reveal the inner lives of men and that while many of the men featured on the show would be black men, we wanted the stories told to resonate with all men.

With the current socio-political landscape in the wake of the high-profile killings of Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd, I felt it was right that the stories told in the last couple of episodes focus on our blackness.

In this episode, I continue my conversation with Daniel Peat from Episode #14: Black Men In White Spaces, but we talk about our identities as men beyond the colour of our skin;  what makes us who we are.

This is a bonus episode, so it’s much shorter than usual, but just as impactful all the same.

If you like the podcast and want to give us some feedback, or if you want to be featured on the show, please use the contact form in the ‘About’ section.

In the meantime, click the link above to start the episode now and thank you for listening.

We’re in the middle of a global conversation on racism and its insidious nature. I felt moved enough to present my stories and experiences of racism on a company-wide call along with 4 of my black colleagues.

Recounting my experiences and listening to my colleagues share their own was, quite frankly, traumatising and left me deeply troubled. After the call, several of my white colleagues reached out to me to thank me for my courage and to tell me about the profound impact hearing these stories from people they know well, had on them.

One colleague admitted to their own naivete on the matter and asked about the microaggressions I had been subject to at my current company. Below is my emailed response. I share this because I now realise the depths to which most well-meaning white people are mired in ignorance. Ignorance about their own contributions in making the spaces they control toxic for the black people who inhabit these spaces with them.

On this episode of the podcast, I’m joined by Daniel Peat as we reflect on these toxic interactions and try to find a way to both survive and thrive despite it.

Thanks for reaching out. I’m glad these conversations are moving into a more open forum.

To be honest, this is one of the better organisations I have worked at. I have always felt respected and seen as an individual by my colleagues. With that said however, there has been the occasional interaction with someone where they say something that makes me cringe. Often in those moments, there’s an internal dialogue I have with myself about whether to challenge their remarks or just leave it and move on because no one wants to be perceived as the ‘angry/confrontational black person.’

I can tell you about a few conversations I’ve had or overheard where I felt the need to speak up in the moment.

Someone mentioned to me last year how thankful I must be that Britain led the charge to abolish slavery. They completely overlooked the fact that Britain perfected the transatlantic slave trade and was its preeminent driving force. They also ignored the reality that one of the main reasons for ending slavery was the fact that cotton replaced sugar cane as the money crop of the industrial revolution. It was no longer financially viable to continue those voyages to seed the concentration camps in the Caribbean with bodies to keep an arduous agricultural enterprise with diminishing returns going. Also, slaves could be a rowdy lot sometimes and uprisings weren’t uncommon. Ultimately, it was more trouble than it was worth. Even then, it was the slave owners who were paid reparations by the British government. So no, I didn’t feel particularly thankful.

I’ve had conversations where people justify police brutality and extrajudicial killings by saying how dangerous a job it is, and if the black people in the videos had just complied, things would be okay. Essentially, black lives are justifiably dispensable when black individuals are disobedient. I could draw all kinds of connections to the history of the particular power dynamic, but you get the picture.

Conversations framing immigration and multiculturalism as being a blight on Britain’s social fabric and its public services, particularly post-referendum, rankle me. I’ve had many during my time here. In my experience as an immigrant, I’ve spent upwards of £20k on fees to the Home Office for visa renewals, solicitors to check documentation or act on my behalf, and to cover the NHS surcharge (despite the fact I’ve paid taxes all my working life). Also, every visa I’ve ever had allowing me leave-to-remain in the UK has the line “no recourse to public funds” indelibly etched onto it. I couldn’t claim benefits even if I wanted to. If you make a mistake on your Home Office application, it’s automatically rejected, and you have to pay the fee all over again to submit a new one. Add to that the emotional and financial weight of family or friends who may have somehow gotten into difficulties with their own immigration status, whether because of an innocent mistake on their part, or they unwittingly fell afoul of a system whose default position is to reject you unless there is no other option but to accept you. I comfortably earn more than the financial threshold required by the Home Office, but I still submit my wife’s payslips alongside my own because I can’t afford to take anything thing for granted.

People sometimes bring up other atrocities against people of other races to suggest black people do not have a monopoly on oppression. Obviously, that has never been the argument anybody has ever tried to make about why slavery and racism is particularly heinous, but to bring it into the conversation feels like little more than an attempt to minimise the tragedy of what tens and hundreds of millions of Africans and their descendants endured and continue to endure. Over 2 million Africans perished on the voyage to ‘the new world’. Whether due to the despicable conditions aboard slave ships, or because they were thrown overboard for the insurance money.

Then you have the Trump apologists. Enough said.

This week, someone mentioned to me watching 12 Years A Slave, and how they found it remarkable that despite enduring all of that abuse, the slaves still held on to their Christianity and faith in God… because worshipping a white Jesus is what religion looked like in West Africa before they were abducted and trafficked across the ocean.

I don’t believe people intend offence but there is an intellectual laziness that sits at the foundation of this whole paradigm. Every time I hear someone say, “I can’t believe this still happens”, is a reminder to me that life is such that you have the luxury of inhabiting its spaces without a second thought about your right to be there. It also reminds me that the ignorance itself is the poison that fuels these interactions. It doesn’t happen to them; therefore, it doesn’t exist. And if it doesn’t exist, then these people shouting about injustices over there are just making a fuss for no reason. This, for me is the real face of racism. It’s not being called the N-word or being told to go back to Africa. Most ‘good’ people don’t behave like that. It’s the assumption that the world is more or less fair because you get treated fairly… the implication being, your view is the only one that really matters.

Every black person knows they have to teach their children how to survive in a world that, every day, seeks to inflict little cuts on their soul. How many white people teach their children not to be the blades?

This goes nowhere unless people everywhere take responsibility for educating themselves. It needs white people to disarm themselves and invite these conversations with their families, friends and colleagues. More importantly, it requires their deliberate and consistent action to be agents of change within their spheres of influence.

Best wishes,

Jamie

If you like the podcast and want to give us some feedback, or if you want to be featured on the show, please use the contact form in the ‘About’ section.

In the meantime, click the link above to start the episode now and thank you for listening.

Kenneth Barish Ph.D, author of Pride and Joy: A Guide to Understanding Your Child’s Emotions and Solving Family Problems, wrote that “As parents, we are, unwittingly, too critical of our children.”

Courtney Hoilett and Maurice Reid return to the podcast in this episode to share their experiences on how their their family context and their parental relationships impacted on them. We also talk about the power of encouragement and affirmation from other men who have had a positive influence on our lives, the importance of role models, and figuring out how we want to be viewed by the world around us.

Joining the conversation in addition to Courtney and Maurice, you will also hear from Lee White-Samuels.

Lee has been married for 9 months, and works as a teaching assistant in a school and as a freelance graphic designer. He talks about some of the key ‘coming-of-age’ experiences which helped him develop his confidence as a young black man.

Fundamentally, this episode is about identity and trying to reconcile who we are becoming on our journey through manhood with the stereotypes and labels the world has placed upon us.

If you like the podcast and want to give us some feedback, or if you want to be featured on the show, please use the contact form in the ‘About’ section.

In the meantime, click the button above to start the episode now and thank you for listening.