Smooth, angry, cold, powerful: how we talk about black | Books



I have been black since about 1988, when I was coloring images of priests from the Roman Catholic elementary school of Corpus Christi in Brixton Hill, south London. I remember it well. We were sharing tables and colored pencils and I looked up to find that there were no more "solid" pencils available in the pencil case. By "skin color", I mean a shade of pinkish beige that was a facsimile of what we can call "white", the European skin. Caucasian color With a touch of tan. Tea with an excessive splash of milk, if you want to talk about drinks. However, a girl whose name I have long forgotten started asking around for a skin-colored pencil, eager to end her priest before recess. Being the people always willing to please me that I am, I shrugged and offered her a brown pencil, thinking, in all my wisdom of six years, that the illustrated priests could have had the skin the same color as mine.

"That's not the color of the skin," he said.

It's my skin color, I thought. But I didn't say. What I did was proceed to color my priest with the brown pencil, secretly very dissatisfied with the result. I also wanted a priest with skin-colored skin, see. It turns out that the improvisation was not a solution. Hello inadequacy Have you encountered the otherness? Glad to make your acquaintance.

I'm not black No matter how dark my skin is, no matter how dark it is in racist digital cameras with dodgy ISO settings, my skin is not black in color. They are probably something closer to raw cocoa, coffee or flat Coca-Cola. I'm the color of drinks. Black, as a description of leather, is a label. As a description of racial identity it is a rather lazy reference, not to a real darkness, but to an essential non-candor.

The second problem of being black is that it is absolutely, at least symbolically, true. Because, if nothing else, one thing I can confirm is that I'm not-white. Which means I'm anything "non-white". I am the other thing

Blacks undoubtedly have a shared sense of identity deriving from otherness, probably because "black" is racially political much more than is racially descriptive, with the potential to be irrevocably divisive. As an adjective, the word "black" has a terrifying negative list of connotations, which is practically equivalent to pure evil and hopeless misfortune. Derived from the English word "sweart" (survive in modern English in the word "swarthy"), it is almost an exclusively negative concept. The only positive connotation I can find is that of being financially "in the black" – ironic when one considers the lasting link between darkness and poverty.

Call me black and I will have a complex knot of pride and insecurity that tightens in my psyche. It is a word that reminds me that I am smaller and different from that, but it is also a source of self-assertion. Call me black and I won't break even because I'm so used to calling myself black that it has become the invisible target. A perspective that has hardened into an objective truth. Call me black and I will welcome the definition, despite the fact that it denigrates as much as it defines.


The expression "ethnic minority" must be the largest oxymoron from "falling landing" or "casual sex". If you take "ethnic" as culturally or genetically non-European meaning, then most of the world is ethnic. Which makes an ethnic minority a global majority. If you take it as a dictionary, however, as in relation to cultural, racial or genetic origins that differ from those of a dominant group, it becomes deeply subjective. You can only get an ethnic minority where there is a kind of majority, and that majority must be culturally dominant, that is, white. Hello Friend. We meet again.

The anticlimatic truth is that "the ethnic minority" has evolved in a politically neutral way of saying "other". Just when we thought we were out of the maze. Ethnic? Minority? Other. Non-white. Return to black. Ah well. In reality it seemed like progress for a second.

Chadwick Boseman in Black Panther ... & # 39; an echo of a very peculiar kind of black rage & # 39;

Chadwick Boseman in Black Panther … & # 39; an echo of a very peculiar kind of black rage & # 39; Photography: Allstar / STUDIOS DI MARVEL / DISNEY


In 2018, the film Black Panther very quickly it has established itself as a cultural phenomenon. Let's not underestimate this: in 2018, the coolest superhero was the African, the accent and everything, and he just happened to have the same name as a revolutionary organization that was looking for black empowerment and social justice. In this, Black Panther is an echo of a very particular type of black rage, a rage that has burned the experience of black through the struggle for civil rights, by any means necessary, through black power and until this simple fact has transformed the provocation: Black Lives Matter.


You see words like "nigger", "coon", "wog" and "darkie" and you freeze waiting for the big kaboom. Then see "mixed race" and it's time for relief. Something mild, something easy. A break from all the sharp abrasions and explosive taboos. But the "mixed race" is an incognito explosive device.

His suggestion is that c & # 39; is something we could call an "unmixed race". It implicitly supports ideals of racial purity that reinforce deeply problematic racial hierarchies. In the black community, the mixed breed tends to refer to the mixed black and white. Note, we're not even talking about countries here – just the basic color of things on the skin. A white parent, a black parent, a mixed child. I am currently experiencing this scenario in real life.

Me: black, my wife: white, my children: mixed race.

This is the animated version of the story. Actually, my white wife is a combination of English and Scandinavian, with God knows what else is thrown along the way. Meanwhile, both my parents grew up in the same area of ​​the rural Ghana universe, in West Africa, but if you look at my mother's hair and skin more cocoa than theirs, it's obvious that she has a little of something in his return to each time. Thus "black" and "white" begin to seem inadequate, while the "mixed" buckles undergo even the slightest interrogation.


Not my fault, I have the kind of name reserved for white men who wear stiff jeans and rhythmically nod to guitar-based soft rock. I have the name of a white British or American male born between the first half and the middle of the 20th century, despite having two parents who list English as a second language.

When my parents, two Ghanaian blacks (who had decided to try it in the UK in the light of the economic and governmental instability during the 70's), they stared at a fat black baby on March 22, 1982 and decided to call it "Jeffrey", they were making a cultural declaration linked to a complex social-historical network.

Now I have my children and the model repeats itself. My first child is called Finlay, while boy n. 2 is called Blake. Both names are very white, Finlay derives from Gaelic, Blake from ancient English. Why didn't I ruin the trend?

Much has been written about the socioeconomic destiny of people of color with black-sounding names, and the obvious conclusion is the right one: which has less to do with the name itself and more with systemic prejudice and impoverishment black. Taniqua and Terrell are less likely to find themselves growing among the ranks of Fortune 500 companies – not because of the intrinsic quality of their names, but because of the limited opportunities offered to the black working class and structural racism.


Saying my surname is a challenge that many people fail. In the worst case, we get a variation of bo-ah-kie, with a strong "k"; understandable if you don't realize that the Ashanti pronunciation of "kye" is actually "chi" as in chips.

The best thing is "bo-a-chee", which is almost there, but not quite right. This is what I established in my professional life. It is a kind of anglicised version that tears the African essence. Because to say my name correctly, you need to say it with a Ghanaian accent. Bwaaaaah-ch, it's the closest I can type. But outside of my family and the Ghanaian community, you will not hear this correct pronunciation.

Unlike first names, which can be chosen and decided on the basis of a parent's whim, surnames return to the fore. A black-sounding surname recalls that black roots are not in British soil. At this level, I am very proud of the fact that an increasing number of people have to struggle with Boakye. It seems like a victory for the Ghanaian identity in the mainstream, a continuous battle for recognition in which I fought on the front line.


Here is a joke that I remember from the confused and pre-googlable corners of my childhood:

When I was born, I was black. When I got older, I was black. When I'm sick, I'm black. When I go out into the sun, I'm black. When I'm cold, I'm black. When I die, I'll be black. When you were born, you were pink. When you got older, you became white. When you're sick, go green. When you go out into the sun, you become red. When you are cold, you are blue. When you die, you will be gray. And do you dare to call me colored?

I am terrible in remembering jokes, but I will never forget that … How it is fun not to black people or whites, but to the bizarre binaries of the racial definition, attracting the humor from the absurdity of the racial labeling the face of human commonality.


As for pornography, "Ebony" could be just another category, but the vision of black sexuality in the white eye is deeply problematic. For white men and women interested in black sex, the black body is a taboo. This is where the intrigue comes from, surely, that the black sexualized body has an illicit charm. Historically, this perception of black sexuality can be read as an act of violence against black humanity, a hypersexualization that says we are less civilized and therefore exciting. It is a mentality that supports racism, built on stereotypes of insatiable and well-endowed black men and sexually acrobatic black women. In the context of transatlantic slavery, black sexuality was an intrinsic part of slave rearing, further promoting the vision of black people as animalistic beings who did not deserve basic dignity.

The fetishization plus the objectification plus the dehumanization are a messy and intricate trio. I remember meeting friends in a bar somewhere in my early years and, having nothing else to do, I was unusually early. Out of nowhere a woman appears agitated and shrieked in a band and I think a tiara, trembling for the dizzying excitement of a boy dared by their friends. Clutching a cocktail with both hands, she blinked in the neon light and asked me if I was undressing for her and her friends who are out at a bachelorette party.


It's her friend's bachelorette party, she explains, and they wondered if I would have undressed for them at the bar for money. Behind her, a group of young women is huddled around a table giggling about the mojitos in my general direction. They are white.

I have no way of knowing exactly why I was chosen for an impromptu strip; if it was because I was alone, or if I look like a stripper off duty. For the record, I was wearing a Zara dress with a T-shirt and non-slip canvas shoes (don't judge me: it was the early 00s). Regardless of this, the meeting felt racially charged, as if my darkness were an invitation open to sexual objectification. What allowed that woman to approach me like that? The answer, I fear, are generations of racist ideology.

"C & # 39; is something enigmatic in the darkness that, combined with the illicit appeal of black culture, makes blacks very interesting by default" … Stormzy, performing at the 2018 Brit Awards. Photography: Hannah Mckay / Reuters


The cold black myth helps the white mainstream to understand and manage the black identity. C is something enigmatic in the darkness that, combined with the illicit appeal of black culture, makes black people look cool by default, without even really trying. In my brief spell on this planet, I had people congratulate me for how cold my hair is (after having the consistency) and applauding how good sportswear is (my trainers perfectly match my top running, so I could give them that) All this makes me wonder: am I okay? It depends. Are black guys fantastic?

The answer, of course, is yes. In fact, sometimes I get surprised by how cool it is. The last time I looked, I had written a book about dirt. Which is cool multiplied by cool. And I dress well, if you think The Prince of Bel-AirCarlton Banks dresses well, which it does. And I don't look stupid when I dance, that only great people can really get away with it, not to mention the fact that all black people can dance, which automatically makes us cool and me cool by proxy.


Could you attenuate it a little? You're a little aggressive. Do you have to be so loud? It is rather overbearing. You realize that sometimes you can make people feel a little uncomfortable. You have to be a little softer. You are passionate, I understand it, but your ways can drive people away. Stop screaming. It's a little intimidating.

Thus goes one of the most common criticisms directed at women of color, from people, I might add, that in reality they are not black women, usually in a sort of "professional" context. It happens in the office, in the classroom, in the staff room, in the e-mail thread, in the photocopier room, in the pub after work, and probably in the subconscious of the interviewer sitting on the big desk. I saw it up close – black women are highlighted as a combination of aggressive and angry that ends in the "intimidating" parenthesis. An idea that black women have an innate aggression that intimidates educated and conservative sensibilities, making them a threat to social decorum.


As a child, I can remember the feverish excitement with which the media spoke of the British lunchbox of Jamaican origin Linford Christie, an alliterative euphemism designed to cause elbows, nagging and smiles from the white society. I remember growing up, it was obvious to me that one of the great black stereotypes was that black men have large black penises. There were jokes on the playing field, comments that you would have eavesdrop on and, as in the case of Christie, celebrities who would have been readily targeted by this kind of sexual jokes. Usually the physically impressive ones.

The thing is, I've never found it all so funny. I found it uncomfortable. I could feel the objectification, the belittling, the disrespect of reducing an entire person to the sum total of their genitals. It looked like bullying.

It is ironic that a race label designed for a black man could reveal so much the prevailing attitude towards plural black men, lifting the lid off the white masculine insecurity regarding the horse. As far as I know, I've never been called "Lunchbox", but I've certainly addressed many indirect comments about having a big penis, never in malice, always from people I know, always in the name of jokes. A further proof of the nervous affinity between the dominant white and a darkness that does not fully understand.

"Whenever a commentator calls a powerful black athlete it is as if skill, ingenuity and tactics did not enter" … Venus and Serena Williams. Photography: Julian Finney / Getty Images


Whenever a commentator calls a powerful black athlete, my Twitter finger starts to itch. I feel the need to jump first into the culture of appeal and to highlight some racial stereotypes. It is not that these black athletes are not physically strong. I am often. And it's not that being physically strong is not a good thing. It is often. It is the definition of darkness based on the basic physicality with which I have a problem.

The Williams sisters are a good example. Like the rest of the world, I watched as they entered the professional tennis circuit at the turn of the century and continued to dominate the scene, paving the way in record books with an impressive list of Grand Slam titles to date. Both have been classified as women number 1 and both have brought home the most prestigious tennis titles, introducing black excellence in a typically white sport. Looking at their performances year after year, I was always struck by the way they were described by a terrifying media. Often it was how powerful they were, how strong they were, how powerful, formidable, unstoppable they were. As if their raw physical power were the only cause of their success, as if skill, determination, wit and tactics did not enter it.


If everything goes according to plan and I have success as an author as I think I can be, I will be on a trajectory that will end with, one day, an invitation from the BBC to act in Come strictly to dance. We all know that the expectation is that blacks can dance. It's a stereotype, one that is so pervasive that I think we all believe in it, including myself. But there is really nothing to say that I am calm, on the dance floor or out, because of my being black.

Smooth black is on the spectrum of cold black, which is part of the defense against black insecurity. And like all 7 billion of us, I'm insecure. Being smooth is the attractive shield; upgrade but defensive and expose the vulnerability as soon as it slips.


Just like the pantomime gladiators that have been defined and characterized by color, I have often felt as if my darkness was projected on me by the context. I'm black because I'm black, yes, but my darkness is also created by the fact that I'm surrounded by candor. This means that my ability to integrate depends on how "normal" (ie, white) appears. How I dress and talk, with whom I mix, what my tastes are and how my values ​​are expressed.

Of course he does. During all the time spent at school, from four to eighteen years, the only time I approached to start a fight was once in sixth form when I heard a child from a low class group murmuring something about made me a bounty. A Bounty is a chocolate bar that is white inside, brown outside. It is made of coconut, which is also white inside, brown outside. Growing up, Bounty was a term commonly leveled to blacks who "recited in white". When I heard that boy was saying it in my general direction, I was irritated. I was furious. That would denigrate my black identity, knowing nothing about me. At the time I was a deputy headmaster, so obviously he knew me about it. I turned to him with an intensity of 100 watts and asked him to repeat the accusation. I challenge you. Say it again. He faltered. Neighboring teachers tried to intervene but I was deaf to their appeals. I was ready to change. The boy broke up in a corner and I ran away in English.


For a black guy raised in Britain in the 90s, this may have been the highest award. To be called a rudeboy it had to be adorned with the highest order of credibility of the road. When I was at school (I went to an all-boys), everyone wanted to be rude; meant that you were cool, powerful, influential and rebellious enough to deserve enough notoriety to introduce you to someone.

Like most people (including, believe it or not, many black men), I'm not quite a rebel for ever being a rudeboy. I operate within the establishment. I play by the rules. I have a natural revulsion against crime. I was a prefect. I am very polite, which is the opposite of rude. I have a mortgage Yet I have a deep respect for the rudeboy, largely due to the codes of darkness that shaped my consciousness even before I realized it was happening. Perhaps the simple truth is that we have all been conditioned to seek self-empowerment through a certain level of outlaw status, and for men of color, it is a corresponding archetype that remains well within reach. It doesn't take long to be rude; you just need to have a level of contempt for authority, and pay more attention to the codes of the road than to the laws of the earth.

The hashtag #blacklivesmatter has turned a moral data into a company juggernaut ... Jayceon Hurtz, 2, holds a signal for a protest for Black Lives Matter in California, March 2018.

& # 39; #Blacklivesmatter has turned a moral datum into a juggernaut of the company & # 39; … Jayceon Hurtz, 2, holds a cartel at a protest for Black Lives Matter in California, March 2018. Photography: Josh Edelson / AFP / Getty Images


Adjective. Colloquial. Informal. Politic. A decidedly black Americanism that made its entrance into the black rural America of the 20th century, up to the world stage of the 21st century. I am quite certain that the first time I listened to it I thought it was a whim of that vulgar African American sometimes called "ebonics", in turn linked to the pidgin dialogues derived from 17th century slave communities in states southern United States. The main grammatical features include the deformation of the times for emphasis. So, "I & # 39; m awake" can quickly evolve into "I & # 39; m woke", which means: "Yo, I'm really awake." The next thing you know, waking up is appearing in newspaper newspapers as a referent for millennial black activism. How did it happen?

The great myth, the great lie, is that we, as a species, are on the road to being post-racial. That we have somehow switched to the racism of our collective history. Not true. For many non-blacks the #black hashtag is a millennial call. It is a spray of cold water that reminds us that racial and social injustices exist and persist. Hashtags give visibility and digital momentum to ideas that might otherwise vanish. For example, before 2014, I am sure that many people suspected black lives were important, but the #blacklivesmatter hashtag has turned a moral data into a social juggernaut. It has awakened people to structural racism and racially motivated prejudices, focusing on nothing, a new shock to police brutality in the United States and that soon includes racial injustices all over the world.

In my classrooms, on the playing fields, I see the taste with which the black culture is consumed, but it stops at the true commitment with the black history and the legacies of the black intellectualism. As a teacher, I was exposed to the profound shortcomings of a curriculum that is hopelessly Eurocentric. No number of exciting black cultural artifacts can combat the pervasive gravity of the predefined white.

I can feel the cynicism that creeps in, so it's important to remind myself that awakening is essentially a serious position of social awareness. It is something to believe in, awakening the racial injustices that are literally death and life, concerned not only with state violence and the killing of black people by the police, but also with the wider conditions of poverty and imprisonment that contribute to the black oppression and deprivation of human rights in the so-called "developed" world and beyond. Engagement with this ideal can be as light as a retweet or as heavy as facing the riot police in a protest. In any case, it is a request for action deriving directly from the black experience. It is an alarm An alarm.

Black, Listed: Black British Culture Explored by Jeffrey Boakye is published by Dialogue (£ 18.99). To order a copy, go to P & p in the UK free on all online orders over £ 15.

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