Academia, Race

Who does Black excellence look like?

Writing about Black people again you say!?!?! Yes.

Basically, this Black excellence thing is really interesting to me. I think a lot of opinions surrounding it are really polarised. On the one hand, some people think black excellence is amazing and sets a good example for our community. On the other hand, some find it problematic and make it seem like Black people are essentially saying “I’m just as good as you massa!!”. I think each view sort of makes sense, but I’d like to offer my view.

What does Black excellence mean at the moment?

Perhaps my view is narrow but I think, generally speaking, Black excellence is defined by things that are praised in this wonderful capitalist economy! Academic achievement (Oxbridge/Brampton Manor), making it into the corporate world, entering a higher tax bracket, beating your non-Black peers in areas which they dominate. Now I’m not saying these are terrible things. My question is are we trying to be like rich white men? Kidding. My actual question is, what matters to us as a community and what role does our success play in that?

While it is excellent to “beat the odds”, what else does it do? Representation does matter, and we absolutely do need Black people in corporate spaces and higher education, but I think there’s more to this that is too often ignored.

 

What’s a better way to define Black excellence? (imo)

I think that the society we live in defines success in a pretty simple way, success is basically just having a career that pays really well and if you’re lucky, loving what you do. Even though with my generation there is more weight added to loving what you do, love doesn’t pay the bills as my mother says (she’s Ghanaian). Such a simple definition makes the path to success relatively clear, you go to school, you work hard, you get good grades, you go to uni, you work hard again, you get good grades again, you graduate, you find a job and then you make lots of money and become rich enough to start tax evading. The hard part is the tax-evading. Kidding, again.

The hard part is all the hard work (who would have thought?). It’s the countless hours of revision, studying a curriculum that looks nothing like you, maybe you work a job, your parents are on your ass about chores, etc. The list goes on. I’m sure a lot of us have heard the saying that you have to be twice as good to get half as far and to be honest, I think a lot of us have felt that. So obviously being successful in this sense earns you the Black excellence badge. You deserve it. You have suffered.

But do you deserve it thoughhhhhhh?

I think Black excellence is how much of an asset you are to your community.

If you’ve done all the work climbing up the corporate ladder just to snatch the ladder away when you get to the top, then you are a word that rhymes with spoon. And it’s not goon. What is the point in working so hard to do so little for anyone but yourself? Does that seem like excellence?

And what about our activists and community workers? What about the people in our community who look out for us but aren’t seen as excellent because they don’t dress fancy or dominate in their industries. What about the artists? The non-academics? They need to be recognised too. Just because we can’t quantify their value in terms of their earnings doesn’t mean we should overlook them. The same way Black people in education and the corporate world are more than just their grades and wages.

This isn’t to say that non-corporate Black people are never recognised, but it’s just that Black excellence is predominantly presented to us as rich Black people. And Martin Luther King.

Just because you do well doesn’t mean you do good. And in a time where we still have to be doubly better, I genuinely believe it’s our duty to look out for each other rather than be complacent with our own achievements.

 

How much of the good stuff is happening?

There are tons of great programs, internships, insight events etc. that allow young Black people in particular to improve their social mobility BUT a lot of them are incredibly elitist. Let’s say you have 3 groups of young Black people and let’s say they’re all at GCSE/6th Form age (for the sake of the example there are 3 groups obviously this isn’t literally the case but it helps demonstrate my point) :

  • Group 1 – Gifted Academically (The A/A* type)
  • Group 2 – Giften Artistically (E.g. Writers, Music makers, Painters)
  • Group 3 – Haven’t discovered what their craft is yet

Group 1 tends to have it pretty good in terms of how they are received by the community and education, particularly when the system of education best suits your abilities, is always encouraged. We see this all the time, especially on platforms like LinkedIn or Twitter on A-Level results day.

Group 2 tends to have it a little harder. I can imagine it being fairly difficult for Black parents, in particular, to encourage the arts when their child shows an interest and I know a lot of people who have had to bear the brunt of this. Not only that but making music, for example, is always seen as just a hobby for most as opposed to something that they genuinely could make a living off of. Now unlike Group 1, most schools don’t offer opportunities for these kids to artistically thrive. Whilst their Group 1 peers are applying for an array of summer schools and internships that they are readily presented with, Group 2 has to figure out an entire industry on their own. I don’t know about you but it was extremely rare for me to see any opportunities for creative industries at school pop up, and this was not because there weren’t any.

“Well not everyone can make it in music!”, well not everyone can become a CEO or an investment banker either but people don’t seem to keep that same energy.

And then if you’re in Group 3 you’re basically punished for not knowing what you want to do with the majority of your life when you’ve only lived a minority of it. It’s ludicrous. It seems like when it comes to tackling careers there’s always an assumption that you know what you want to do so that when an opportunity is presented to you, you just take it. Like if you’re broadly interested in Engineering, there are an array of different things you can sign up for. But if you have no idea, you have to select from the narrow industries you’re presented with at school and just pray that something sticks. Who is going to take the time to tell these kids they don’t have to have it all figure out? That a lot of successful people who love their jobs peaked “late”?

How does Black excellence tie into all of this? Attitudes towards success start at a young age.

My general point with the examples is a lot of good is happening for the Group 1’s, and that’s great. But there are other avenues to explore and it’s up to schools, mentors and parents to present their children with a map that has more than 3 roads on it (Medicine, Engineering and Finance are the 3 roads if you didn’t already know). Even in saying this, the opportunities presented are so elitist that value-added is completely ignored. What about the students who are not getting A’s and A*’s, they might not be working any less hard, they might not have any less to offer than their “smarter” peers yet they will be denied access to experiences they deserve because they are already just not good enough. What message does this send? This trickle-down economics of harnessing the best of the best and investing loads into them doesn’t work if we want to look at the bigger picture of where we see our community in the future. This sort of progress is bottom-up.

To put it simply, who needs sponsorship the most? The Oxbridge student who is guaranteed employability or the young Musician who can’t afford studio time but needs it? You could argue that you can have both, but do you need both? There is no point in an altruism that isn’t effective.

We should be avoiding unjust hierarchies within our groups, not perpetuating them.

If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together. – African Proverb

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Race

Can Black People be Racist?

Okay so amongst the rubbish I get asked on curious cat someone asked me if I thought Black people could be racist to be white people. I was literally like omg someone has finally asked me something relevant!!! But when I answered yes they then proceeded to say I’m one of those all lives matter people.

Hate to see it.

I think the main disagreement when it comes to talking about whether or not Black people can be racist is how we define racism. There are a lot of general definitions that are mainly saying that it’s when you discriminate against or treat someone differently based on the fact that they’re a different race but I think these definitions are valid. Some say that they’re problematic because they may be written by white people but this doesn’t actually mean they’re wrong. You don’t always have to be a victim of something to understand what it is.

The go-to definition it seems is the “power” one where people define racism in terms of power.

Essentially the definition is:

Racism = Prejudice + Power.

They then use this definition to justify that Black people cannot be racist to white people because there is a power imbalance. I can see why people might agree with this. It is true there is a power imbalance in a lot of circumstances but just because there’s a new “quirky”/”woke” definition of something doesn’t mean that it must be true. If you really think about this, we cannot define general racism this way.

By saying you have to be powerful to genuinely be racist totally ignores intersectionality and can be extremely problematic. To explain why I’m going to conflate power and money. If we say racism requires power what we’re saying is that poor white people cannot be racist and rich Black people can. Now this is obviously stupid.

This is also saying that Asians cannot be racist towards Black people because they too are a group that lacks power. Although in a lot of aspects they may hold more privilege, this does not take away from the struggles faced in their own communities. Now I know a lot of black people would agree that Asian people can be racist, but you cannot say this and then maintain the power definition of racism. Anti-Blackness in the Asian community and the Black response to it is a whole other issue that I’m not going to unpack in this particular post but I hope you see what I’m getting at here.

The power definition of racism is really describing institutional racism in my opinion. Institutional racism is racial discrimination that exists in certain establishments or institutions, as the name suggests. Where power comes into this is who allows or manages the behaviours that discriminate. For example, institutional racism would exist between someone who has the power to hire/fire and a potential or current employee if the person in power makes decisions solely based off the persons race.

It gets kind of complicated here because questions like “what if the person hires on a positive discriminatory basis?” So like what if the person employs an Asian based on the fact that they think Asians are smart, or they’re trying to diversify the work place? Well calling that racism seems a bit far fetched, that just seems like ignorance to me but I’m just a small girl with a small blog so what do I know!!

 

We shouldn’t excuse ourselves from bad behaviour just because we were once or still are the victims of it. That being said, Black people being racist isn’t comparable to white and even Asian institutional racism. In the wise words of my friend Tosins mum ” If a white person is racist, they can most likely block job opportunities and get away with things that Black people cannot. When a Black person is racist, you are limited to only inciting fear and violence because there is no institutional power”.

I just feel like being oppressed doesn’t mean that you cannot oppress others. Maybe you don’t have the power to oppress to the same degree; but then why would you want that? It seems regressive to me.

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Race

You’re so much more black.

Guys if one more person says this to me I’m gunna lose it fr.

When I started my blog I really didn’t think I would ever really talk about my race because to me it’s never really been that deep. I feel like a lot of mixed people can have an identity crisis where they can’t figure out if they’re white or black and I never really understood that, being both just wasn’t that difficult for me to understand. I don’t want to take away from the experiences of mixed people who did experience that, but for me it wasn’t a thing. It’s weird though, because it felt like other people expected me to go through that phase. Like having to tick the “Other” box when filling out forms that ask about ethnicity hasn’t put me on edge, but I have been made to feel like it should.

I’d say I’m fairly in tune with both of my cultures. My mum’s from Ghana and my dad’s from Pakistan, both of them were born and raised in their home countries so I’ve learned a lot about each culture from both of them. You’d be surprised how similar they can be. My parents are cool people, very reasonable and they never really talked about race until I was a lot older.

Anyway, this isn’t (technically) my life story.

I just don’t want to hear anyone telling me that in their opinion I’m more black. I get it, I don’t look Pakistani, but that does not mean I am any less Pakistani than someone who does look it. I also understand that I tend to engage with black issues more than brown issues, but this also does not make me any less Pakistani. Race isn’t a merit. If it was then the likes of that rachel doly zaly should be considered black. Plus ,the very fact that I do not look Pakistani means that I can’t actually relate to the struggles that Pakistani women face day to day. On top of that I’m not Muslim, so my presence in the Pakistani community is fairly non-existent. But even then, anti-blackness in the Pakistani community is rife so is there even a place for me?

I just think that generally, asking or just forcing mixed people to pick a side is absolutely stupid, what do you actually gain? Depending on the persons’ mix, identifying themselves can be very complicated. Often times I’ve just identified as a black woman for no particular reason other than out of convenience, but if I were to now identify myself as an Asian woman then it would raise a lot of eyebrows. The reality is that the black community is generally extremely welcoming to mixed individuals, now maybe this is partly due to colourism, but either way they just are. Other ethnic minority communities can’t say the same, so if a mixed person says they’re black just understand they know they aren’t fully black and they aren’t trying to be. Sometimes it’s just easier to say you’re black and not have questions asked about your mix. Whether this is problematic, I’m not really sure. I just think as long as you aren’t claiming experiences that aren’t yours or talking over others, what is the harm?

The thing is, I haven’t had an identity crisis, but in thinking about my race I have come to understand how complicated it all can be. Like the privileges that I have in being light skinned in the black community simply do not exist in the brown community because I’m “too black”. Then there’s also the fact that there isn’t really a mixed community because “mixed race” isn’t actually a race. In my life, the only other person who could truly understand this is my brother, but our experiences are likely to be totally different just because of things like gender. I think that generally mixed people can relate to certain things like being asked which culture they prefer, but it seems like most of the stuff we can relate on are experiencing similar microaggressions. Oh and by mixed, in this context I’m talking about being mixed with black and something else.

My point is if you think I’m “more black” please keep it to yourself.

 

I read this the other day and I actually cannot believe it. 1985. AS IN 34 YEARS GO: In South Africa, the Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act of 1949 prohibited marriage between Whites (people of European descent) and non-Whites (being classified as African, Asian and Coloured). It was repealed in 1985.
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Race

My Thoughts: Colourism

If you’re tired of seeing the word colourism your darker skinned counterparts are just as tired of experiencing it. 


FIRST OF ALL:

Screen Shot 2018-07-28 at 01.14.25

 

In my opinion this is a pretty solid definition. I underlined ‘typically among people of the same ethnic or racial group’ because this is what makes colourism so interesting yet problematic. The sheer fact that members of the same race are discriminating against their own is mad. It makes it difficult for us to pinpoint who or what exactly is accountable. I’m sure most would point the finger at black men or even lighter skinned women, but why is it that these groups are most likely to reject the existence of colourism altogether and what is the root of colourism in the first place? It has been said many a time that black men do not talk about black women the same way males of other races talk about their female counterparts.

In America colourism has roots in slavery. Lighter skinned slaves, who were typically the mixed children of their slave masters, tended to take up jobs in the house that were deemed more desirable than the outdoor jobs typically done by darker skinned slaves. However, colourism in the UK is notably different. Colourism amongst black Brits, particularly those of African descent, can be said comes directly from the home countries of these immigrants and can be also said is due to the lack of positive representation in the media of black women. It’s evident in a lot of shows/movies, you can see for yourself if there is a black lead she is usually of a certain complexion. As time goes on we are starting to see darker skinned women taking on lead roles, but this isn’t necessarily mainstream yet.

In Ghana, one of my own home countries, lighter skin has become so sought after that women in particular are going to extreme measures to attain it. Some women even resorted to taking pills whilst pregnant in hopes that their children would be born with a lighter complexion. Hydroquinone is the primary chemical in most topical skin lightening products (that is also said to be potentially carcinogenic) which thankfully Ghana has banned. This is a huge move as the skin lightening industry is worth billions, this is a step in the right direction for countries like Ghana that will hopefully set the example for other African countries to follow suit.

That being said, whilst the issue of colourism “back home” is slowly but surely being addressed the same cannot be said for those of us in the UK. Many darker skinned black women can name countless occasions in which they have been discriminated against or picked on because of their complexion. This is absurd. Many would respond and say that these women should call it out when it happens but many also seem to forget about the angry black woman narrative. A black woman, and in particular a darker skinned one, calling out colourism is often seen as bitter despite her objection of a comment being completely valid. It’s very easy to say what you would do in a hypothetical situation because the chances are you haven’t literally been in that situation. It’s also worth noting that colourist comments tend to be made in casual environments in which a dark skinned female calling it out may seem to be darkening the mood. I’m sure many of us have witnessed it first hand in secondary school; being called blick, “you’re pretty for a dark girl”, “she’d be peng if she was lighter”, etc. It may seem like it’s not that deep, but if you feel that way the chances are you’re not dark-skinned or you have made such comments yourself. Comments like these from a young age can be damaging to a black girls self-esteem and also paint a negative picture of darker skinned girls to the rest of us where darker skinned women are deemed unattractive (and not just in terms of looks).

It’s often the case when I have these conversations with my mates a few might say that these things were more prominent in secondary and eventually people grow up. At face value this claim seems fair but what is really being said is that “yeah colourism is bad, but eventually people grow out of verbally and racially abusing black women”. You might think this is an extreme way of interpreting this response but that is essentially it, if you are making comments towards someone of a darker complexion that are derogatory because of the fact they are dark, that is verbal and racial abuse. Abuse isn’t always beating someone up with a hammer and it is not a rite of passage. And yes, in secondary school people were made fun of for various different things and whilst people call this character building many cannot relate. Besides, in my opinion colourism is more destructive than it ever will be progressive. We need to change this narrative that making comments like this is normal when you’re young but the only way we can do this is by calling it out, especially if you are lighter in complexion because your fairness comes with a privilege that you should use.

I have also heard some talk about “reverse colourism” in which it’s said that lighter skinned folks are discriminated against and are bullied but this seems like the kind of response that is made to erase the severity of colourism against darker skinned people. Although, I read an interesting paper on extreme colourism in Tanzania where black people with Albinism are treated in horrific ways. That being said, this is still a black issue. In fact, colourism is also an Asian issue and a feminist issue. It’s clear that the victims of colourism tend to be females and dark skinned African females in particular, however, colourism in Asia is worth talking about. In Asia, there isn’t much regulation on skin lightening products. ‘Fair & Lovely’ products are extremely popular and it seems as though many don’t see an issue with using their products because they claim to not be physically dangerous. But the key word here is physical. Many asian women are used to seeing their favourite bollywood stars have light skin and be desired, in fact bollywood is saturated with actors all within one or two shades of each other. This lack of representation breeds self hate. Perhaps people should not take this too seriously, if you see a light skinned person and end up hating yourself that seems like a you problem right? Absolutely not. This line of thinking is problematic, self loathing takes time. It’s the little things like trying to stay out of the sun in the fear of getting too dark, or buying the foundation that doesn’t match you or it’s even being afraid to wear certain colours because you feel like it won’t look as good on your darker skin. All of this comes from wanting to be desired, it’s literally in our nature.

In light of this, this isn’t to say you should have a radar to detect colourist comments everywhere you go, but pay attention to what people say and also how they say things. Colourism is often closer than you think. 

Good reads:

The roots of colourism:

https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-colorism-2834952 (this is more on the American side)

Eyrams take:

https://wordpress.com/read/blogs/138319559/posts/92 (she has a fab blog, plenty of good stuff to read)

Extreme Colourism & Albinism in Tanzania: http://researchbank.acu.edu.au/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=9203&context=fhs_pub

Colourism in Asia:

http://www.womensrepublic.net/colorism-and-anti-blackness-in-the-asian-community/

http://www.herculture.org/blog/2015/10/8/colorism-in-the-s-asian-community#.W1u8EthKjxg

Ghana banning skin lightening products:

https://qz.com/718103/skin-lightening-is-a-10-billion-industry-and-ghana-wants-nothing-to-do-with-it/

(Also make sure you have a look in the comments and leave your own thoughts!)

Strong people stand up for themselves, but stronger people stand up for others.

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