My mother always told me “Charity begins at home”. I still revel is the amount of progress we’ve seen in 2020; I know in reality it’s only a drop in the ocean, but we have to take stock and appreciate that we’re seeing real social reform. Racism had long been swept under the carpet with the fake notion that it only existed amongst the ignorant and uneducated. No attention had been paid to the systems that upheld the status quo that disproportionately marginalised black folks.
From living with racism as a norm, black people have now empowered ourselves to rightfully nip every racist action in the bud and progressive white people have begun to recognise their privilege and made proactive steps to be anti-racist rather than adopting the default position of “not racist”. Corporations can no longer deny their lack of diversity at the senior level and the rampant bias that plagues the progression of people of colour up the ranks.
But what seems to have been massively overlooked during this movement is addressing and countering the profound impact that centuries of black character assassination has had within the black community. We need to talk about how we treat one another. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not implying that all black people don’t value and respect each other, far from it. Nevertheless, there are behaviours many of us engage in without even realising.
We know ‘black-on-black crime’ is a mythical term that has become fully-loaded and politically used to falsify the narrative of black people. Segregating housing policies will of course result in people committing crime against those within the same vicinity. Brixton, Peckham, Tottenham, Hackney are just a few examples of areas that the government strategically grouped people of colour, then labelled any crime committed within these areas as inherent attributes that makes blacks more violent than any other race.
These narratives, amongst many others, fed by the mainstream media are both effective and dangerous and have fuelled the issues we find within our own community. For me, the racist encounters that have stuck with me most are those from my people. Wrong or right, I expect a reliable level of solidarity within the black community. This isn’t because I’m promoting separatism or victimisation, it’s because our experiences are so unique that uplifting each other is imperative. We face such harsh external forces that we should be able to seek refuge within a safe space that we create. We’re not there yet but are more likely to be if we identify and acknowledge where things continue to go awry.
As always, I will mainly come from the perspective of a black woman. Our differing journeys are backed by major research by companies such as McKinsey (not that we needed this confirmation, but of course others did). They reported that black women have it hardest within society, which can be further broken down into different experiences for different shades. But within our own community, why do WE rank complexions? Why are lighter-skinned people still deemed more attractive and given better opportunities? This toxic division is harmful and we have to ask ourselves why this is still such problem.
Urgh, this one gets me the most. I listened to The Vitamin D Project on an Instagram live last week and she also touched on this. She regularly receives comments about her children’s lengthy hair, including ‘ah ha!’ moments when others find out she’s of mixed heritage. Why within our own community can we not accept that black people can have long and beautiful hair without a drop of another ethnicity running through their veins? My daughters have the most BEAUTIFUL 4C hair, but I’ve continued to battle comments from family members about their hair being ‘too tough’. Once at a party, an aunt even offered to take my eldest to the hairdressers to “sort out her afro”. Infuriating is putting it lightly.
After all we know; after all we’re trying to achieve; why do we continue to classify afro-hair as ‘good’ and ‘bad’? The coils on our crowns are part of our identity – what makes us US.
There are strong stereotypes of how the black body ‘ought’ to be. Black women with booties are hypersexualised, fetishized, and rarely celebrated until the same bodies are on others. Then you flip it and black women with modest derrières are brazenly shamed. We’re damned if we have and damned if we haven’t.
Black men are expected to be well endowed (!) and if they aren’t, they are often humiliated by rumour. I mean what a nonsense measure! However this is something that will impact a man’s self-esteem. Research clearly shows that black men are far more likely than others to be diagnosed with severe mental health problems.
Body types are not determined by race. Let’s not shame our own brothers and sisters and drop the ignorance about what is ‘deemed’ a black body. We are humans of all different shapes and sizes.
On a more positive note, I’ve seen a vast improvement on how we embrace our African roots. Being an African in the 90s put a target on your head. In school, most of us of African heritage wanted to hide this fact because we knew what that meant. We were targeted across the board. The same could be said outside of the school grounds. There was a primitive association that almost made you less of a person. It was ‘acceptable’ for black people to be openly ethnically racist which lead to many of us experiencing overt discrimination which is not acceptable.
But things are moving on significantly, mainly due to the American endorsement of afro-beats and African fashion. Countries like Ghana are experiencing year-on-year tourism growth and I pray that we continue to grow in pride and spirit for our place of origin.
Black pound day has improved the practice of ‘buying black’, but this great initiative hasn’t solved the problem of the questioning of black people’s successful financial positions. We need to change our perception that success is a rarity. Homeownership, grand designs, supercars are all within our reach (if that’s what we want). There doesn’t have to be a scheme, deal, inheritance or criminality behind the accumulation of assets.
As a community, we have to drop the scrutiny that pops in our heads; the “how did they”, “why have they”, “I bet they…”; this perception was conditioned by the media positioning black people as lower classed citizens. We should neither perpetuate nor endorse this false narrative. We should be championing success, not questioning it. This inadvertently supports the notion that we are undeserving and unable to reach a particular economic level which is damaging for us right now and for future generations.
We need to actively look at how we view and treat our own people. If we are asking others to be anti-racist, we have to ensure that as a community we are doing the same thing. We have to recognise that there has been a deep universal conditioning within society that has led to inaccurate and unhealthy perceptions of black people that has seeped into our own behaviours. Doing the work isn’t going to be easy and will require a lot of internal reflection. It is way too easy to revert to old ways of thinking but we have to be intentional on this quest.
A few tips…
- Stay motivated by engaging in informative reading and with positive accounts that promote the true image of blackness
Recommended Instagram accounts to follow:
- Use your voice to spread this important reminder.
- Check your behaviour – recognise when you’re not thinking in the right way and consciously reverse it.
- Pull your people up on their insular views.
- If you’re a parent, teach your children they are worthy, beautiful and can achieve all they desire. Teach them that in society we are all equal – no one is better because of their race. They are the FUTURE; we have to break the cycle, not redistribute it.
Change takes place one person at a time.
Sending love and light always.