Difficult conversations in the black community

When you compare black people to other ethnicities, we’re arguably one of the more open communities. Black culture is always apparent in the places that the diaspora finds itself within and we generally integrate better than other ethnic minority groups. By that token, both our successes and challenges are more visible and the latter is therefore viewable for those even outside of the community. Where other communities are very adept at keeping their problems in-house, our experience has meant the contrary.

Being from London, one of the world’s most ethnically diverse cities, I feel qualified to say with confidence that I know we aren’t the only community with challenges. I’ve seen institutionalised misogyny, racism, drug use, domestic abuse and much more as stereotypical, albeit not consistent, features of other communities that never seem to get the spotlight on them due to their insularity.

But for the black community, we aren’t afforded the luxury of keeping our problems to ourselves. Consequently, the issues some sections of our community are faced with are exploited by the media and society and used to besmirch the majority of us, even within our own eyes. The latter is significant. We can’t perceive ourselves in such a negative way, let alone allow others to do the same, without realising it’s something we need to talk about. So why is this a conversation we aren’t having?

Three Men by Rennett Stowe is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The sad reality is that even as a black man, who’s been around black people my entire life, I will be more likely to be suspicious of a large group of black youths congregating than I would with a group of white youths. That’s only for me to have to check myself for what is essentially racial profiling of my own people. Rapper and activist Akala said the same of his initial thought of suspicion when seeing a fellow black male paying in a large amount of cash at the bank, again, only to have to check himself for succumbing to racial assumptions.

Despite both being black men, society’s successful racist conditioning has caused us and others to identify with a negative perception of those in our own image. What a win for racism and a failure on our part to recognise and stem it from happening.

It could be argued that the openness of the black community places us in a better position to address this and to have the conversations that other communities instead ignore. Though we aren’t taking advantage of that and we’re suffering in our denial that this is necessary dialogue for the community.

In a controversial but incredibly hilarious sketch from his Bring the Pain HBO special, Chris Rock spoke of the distinction between most black people and the minority that feed the stereotypes we face -

“Now we’ve got a lot of things, a lot of racism in the world right now, Who’s more racist? Black people or white people? Black people! You know why? Because we hate black people too! Everything white people don’t like about black people, black people REALLY don’t like about black people. There’s some shit going on with black people right now. There’s like a civil war going on with black people, and there’s two sides. There’s black people and there’s n******. The n****** have got to go”.

Putting aside subjective views on use of the n-word, amidst my uncontrollable laughter I immediately identified with such a brilliant articulation of the frustrations I had as a black person with a few within my own community. There was us, the majority of black people who made being black a privilege and something to be celebrated. And then there was them; the minority whose foolishness and ignorance the rest of us have to suffer the stereotype for.

The sketch divided black people. Rather than being owned as an experience of most black people in distancing ourselves from negative stereotypes, some viewed it as airing our dirty laundry in public. Did those people not think it was bit late to be concerned with that given those stereotypes were already in the mainstream?

The fact is, every ethnicity has those bad-minded few that don’t reflect the masses but do push negative stereotypes. Yet rather than acknowledge the very home truths that we need to face and address in order to progress, we’re failing to reflect and act.

In countries where the black diaspora can be found, we make up a shockingly disproportionate amount of the prison population and are subject to disproportionate racial profiling by police. The US is another kettle of fish with not only institutionally racist police forces but that being accompanied by well documented police brutality that’s encouraged by the douchebag-in-chief. In the UK, the racial profiling similarly exists against a history of tension between the police and the black community.

Racial profiling by police in the UK can’t be denied. Like most black males, I’ve been stopped by the police (something many non-blacks have never experienced). Furthermore, if they’re looking for a suspect, surely we don’t all look the same. Yet what we also can’t deny is that violent crime occurring within the black community seemingly isn’t going away. And if the police wanted an excuse for their racial profiling, that’s given it right to them.

Again, it’s a minority of black people responsible. Nevertheless, it’s enough to warrant acknowledgement and urgent addressing when black youths killing other black youths happens to the extent that it is. White youths kill each other too in the same sad circumstances that are also against a backdrop of deprivation and a lack of education. But when you make up around 3% of the population, as black people in the UK do, it becomes a much alarming reality.

I’ve previously written about the legacy of slavery on the black diaspora and the aforementioned can clearly be traced back to this. Centuries of being dehumanised and perceiving ourselves as inferior has permeated the black psyche to an extent that even today, we’ve been programmed to see the price of our own black lives as cheap (while the establishment continues to push that narrative for us and everyone else). This isn’t said to justify crime within the black community but rather to explore its deep rooted causes that have worsened with deprivation. Nonetheless, this is a problem that exists now and needs to be addressed.

Sky Sports boxing pundit and boxing historian, Spencer Fearon, tweeted his support for stop and search as a tool to address the rising gun and knife crime within the black community. That’s despite black people being eight times more likely to be targeted than white people. However, his comments came following him attending two funerals of black youths in the past month, both due to gun crime.

The disproportionate targeting of black people being stopped and searched is a clear indicator of racial profiling by the police. Although in the context of violent crime in sections of the black community, Spencer Fearon acknowledges a pressing issue that can’t be ignored. Whether or not you agree with him, it’s a necessary conversation that we aren’t having and to the detriment of our community. Meanwhile, black youths are succumbing to our inactivity on the matter while bad apples are allowed to have such an adverse effect on the community.

The experience of the black diaspora around the world is similar. We aren’t having the difficult conversations necessary to progress as a community. We have successes to celebrate which we need to build upon but we also have to address the challenges that we face. Unlike other communities, our difficulties are already in the public domain which exacerbates how negative we look to others when we fail to address them.

Acknowledgment, dialogue, cooperation and action need to be forthcoming within the diaspora. Otherwise, we’ll remain stagnant as a people and continue to succumb to the actions of the minority. Every community has them, ours are just out in the open making it that bit worse for the rest of us.

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