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Black History Month: A Final Thought
As we come to the end of Black History Month it is important to shine a light on the Black Lives Matters Movement and highlight the historical significance to the problematic discourse of racialisation.
Black history month is an opportunity for people from the various pockets of the Black community to learn about our own history and educate those who are not from the Black community, in order to decolonise our institutions and our society. As Black people we have our own history formed by systemic oppressions and great triumphs. While it is easy (and lazy) for institutions to use terms such as BAME and People of Colour (POC) these problematic uses of language oppress blackness. We are not a monolith of coloured people. Different racialised groups have and will experience, and uphold difference, harms and achievements within society. Furthermore, it would be naïve to ignore the narrative of anti-blackness that people from racialised groups uphold. Therefore, it is important for us and people that look like us, to continue to have the space to talk about our history and our experiences.
For many people in the UK and indeed around the world BLM became a mainstream topic for discussion and debate following the murder of George Floyd. While the term BLACK LIVES MATTER is provocative and creates a need for debate, it signifies the historical ideology that black lives haven’t mattered in historical and in many ways, contemporary terms.
While it is easy to fall into the trap of describing the Black experience as an experience of victimhood, Black history months allows us to look deep at all our history and understand why and where we are as a society.
The UK is one of the most diverse places in the world, yet we continue to fall prey to the Eurocentric ideology of history. And while it is important to always remember our history, the negativity of only understanding black history from the perspective of enslavement needs to be questioned. Furthermore, the history of enslavement is not just about the history of Black people, we need to acknowledge that this was the history of the most affluent within our society. Of course, to glaze over the triangle trade is problematic as it allows us to understand how and why our institutions are problematic, but it is redundant to only look at Black history from a place of oppression. There are many great Black historical figures that have contributed to the rich history of Britain, we should be introducing our youth to John Edmonstone, Stuart Hall, Mary Prince and Olive Morris (to name a few). We should also be celebrating prominent Black figures that still grace this earth to encourage the youth of today to embrace positive Black role models.
Black history for us, is not just about the 1st-31st of October. We are all here because of history we need to start integrating all our history into our institutions, to empower, educate and to essentially make sense of our society.
The Peace of ‘the Lamb with the Lion’ (Oh say, can you see?). Happy not Leap Day #BlackenAsiaWithLove
The peace of the Lamb with the Lion (Oh say, can you see?)
There is no peace between the lamb and the lion.
The lion will always feel hunger, and feast, nurture cubs, and prosper on lamb.
This becomes the lion’s nature.
The lion may grow greedy on the ease of his feed.
Wallowing on his back in the sun, him belly full o’ greed.
For the lion, none of this is the slaughter of the lambs.
🎵Them belly full but we HUNgry.
Black people were born into the American caste system hangry!
White people, on the flip side, were granted freedom to feed themselves, and
Gain capital if they agreed to cooperate – actively or passively -with the system of hate.
Many men did, many were coerced with the promises and benefits and power of whiteness.
Hunger and anger easily fester into animality, hell and hate – none of which leads to liberation. If we were determined to be free, merely mastering the masters’ tools could not be our fate. We have had to craft a culture of resistance… based on love. This is the antithesis of the Greed, Anger and Stupidity that fuels hate. In our resistance, we have forged the ‘strength to love’ ourselves, in spite of the ‘birth of the nation’. Humanists of all hues always find a way.
Early that winter after Emmett Till was executed and his Mississippi killers acquitted, the radical Mrs. Rosa Parks refused to continue to go along with riding Jim Crow in Alabama, and in so doing gave Dr. King his final cue. Down one summer from up north, apparently young Till had made some form of pass at a white woman in a shop in town. He crossed Jim Crow, for which he had to be promptly sacrificed.
Apparently, Mamie Till had sent out a powerful signal that summer by leaving the casket open for all to view her son’s dehumanized corpse – an honor killing, quite scripted and business as usual by that point in our nation’s still
hopeful nascent democracy. Ms. Till resisted. She’d crossed a line by balling her fist, then pointing her accusing finger squarely at Jim Crow – that’s who’d snatched, brutally tortured, mutilated and murdered her boy. The lions had fed. “Dar he,” Till’s uncle, Moses Wright, said standing in court, pointing to the men who’d dragged the boy from his house, never to be seen alive again. They could no longer cooperate with a corrupt and deadly system.
Reading Rosa Parks’ cue, King rallied his congregation, and
Agitated the local community, and
Called for a boycott,
Not a storming of the state capital, which still sits just a stone’s throw from his church.
Teach-ins, sit-ins, rallies and marches followed.
They called them rioters-n-things just they do today.
Roaring, shouting, chanting, singing: We! Shall! Overcome (period).
They were met with guns and bayonets on bridges,
At schools, white parents mobbed Black children trying to make their way.
Now, Miss Betsy pays for her kids to go to private schools and ignores the public ones.
We were singing the blues for Mister Charlie.
This blues train was a just stop along long revolutionary tracks that have deep underground roots.
We’re talking ‘bout a revolution!
Bayard Rustin taught Martin Luther King the power and techniques of non-violent civil resistance. By 1959, MLK had assumed the rhetoric and role of Fredrick Douglas, and began
fellowshipping with Dalits while studying how Gandhi-ji had spearheaded a non-violent imperial defeat, which decolonized, yet ultimately, further splintered the sub-continent. Such solidarity still stands between oppressed and progressive peoples everywhere.
King’s call to conscience and action grew…the lambs bellowed out for solidarity.
King’s movement joined hands with people of all races, religions, all faiths, and
They marched arm-n-arm with the humanists among sinners, senators, students and sanitary workers, and
Gave the president the language of emancipation, and
Then Dr. King advocated against war,
Just as poor and Black soldiers were being disproportionately deployed to die on the front line.
They say that’s what got him shot-n-killed to death…
A casualty among many.
There are people around the world today singing “
GAS fuels hate!
This is why we can’t wait!
Progressives peacefully demonstrate to affirm our shared belief in humanism,
In spite our CONstitution’s original ill-fate.
Love is the true heart of patriotism.
Peace is what our actions illustrate.
So, get up and sing your blues today because #BLM:
🎵Get up! Stand-up!/Stand-up for your rights!/Get up! stand up!/Don’t give up the fight! [repeat infinitely]
What’s the Capitol of Insurrection? #BlackenAsiaWithLove
A week ago, I was writing -hopefully – about the peaceful transition of power. I was thinking to myself that even if Georgia’s run-off election didn’t release the American senate from the hooves and cleaves of the CONservative right, that somehow, the world would be in a better state now that dialogue-oriented ‘liberals’ were leading the administrative cabinet. This week, however, I am writing about a failed coup d’etat in the United States.
Much of American history is steeped in the struggle for freedom. To be clear: WE have never, ever been free in America. None of us. Sure, relative to where I sit right now in S.E. Asia, the fact that I am talking openly about politics, and speaking ill of other people’s nasty votes, attests to this relative freedom I enjoy just by having that bald eagle on my passport. The fact that it’s a national pass-time to be critical of power, all the while coveting it for myself, points to the hypocrisy with which each and every American struggles internally. It’s not that people of other nations don’t share this struggle, but it’s just that we Americans do this in the world’s richest, most ethnically diverse nation. And ‘the problem we all live with’ persists.
By signing the Emancipation Proclamation, Lincoln didn’t defeat white supremacy any more than the Declaration of Independence defeated tyranny and injustice. “With great power comes great responsibility,” goes the Spiderman mantra. Yet, here I am on my knees, in tears, crying for the death a of a democracy that’s been in decay ever since my people were brought to those shores in shackles, owned by those mentally enslaved by white-washed Jesus.
Unfortunately, it would be facile and naïve to pretend that this American moment isn’t painful. It hurt me, personally, to see the siege of our Capitol, live and in technicolor, more vivid than any dream I’ve dreamt or nightmare about this very scenario. And I have had both dreams and nightmares about the siege. My mother’s parents grew up southern, Black, poor and politically disenfranchised as a matter of everyday practice under Jim and Jane Crow. It’d would have been nothing for a lynch mob to tackle any negro attempting to vote. That was business as usual, even as they conscripted my grandfather into the army to go to Europe and fight Hitler. The irony has never, ever been lost on any of us.
Many days, in my daydreams, I’ve often wondered what it’d be like if a bunch of freedom-loving folks just stormed the Capitol and occupied the seats of power until the elected leaders conceded to formally grant our freedom. Yet, I would never want to see the mass graves they’d have to dig should any negro or negro-loving white person even gather to talk about storming the Capitol – let alone share plans and munitions. Besides, I am an earnest follower of non-violence and genuinely believe liberation is found therein. Instead, we’ve spent years – decades, nearly a century of recorded history – warning the world where white supremacy would lead us, if left unchecked. I’d be as rich as Jeff Bezos if I had a nickel for every time someone told me that racism was dead, and that I was dredging up hate by insisting we speak about it. Yet, here we are. Whatcha gonna do now?
I love you.
You are beautiful.
I know you can do anything.**
- Record this on your phone.
- Listen regularly especially when in doubt, love or trouble.
- Encourage others.
This is just one of the ways we can build the “strength to love,” as Dr Martin Luther King urges in his eponymously titled book. I use this affirmation with my students in order to encourage them to build confidence, self-esteem and become aware of any self-loathing they many carry. It takes confidence to listen to others before speaking one’s own mind and embrace change. It’s easy to be toxic, especially online. It takes guts, however, to resist insulting others who have differing perspectives. It takes tenacity to think twice and NOT respond with greed, anger or stupidity (i.e. to lead a life freer of GAS).
Certainly, those who labour in the classroom have often come to realize that in addition to teaching our subject matter, we’re often teaching people how to become more confident. Nowhere is this more visible than in urban Asia, filled with youth, sandwiched between cultures online, wedged between generations that have steep distinctions. Youth in Asia are regularly assaulted with all the wonders of the world right in their pockets, but confronted with the reality of ‘development’. They’re often to young/inexperienced to recognize that no nation is ‘there’ yet, so they falsely hold up the west as a beacon of hope. I say hold up a mirror to one’s self, with the fierce determination to see nothing but love and acceptance. THAT, my friends, is development.
**Adapted from Lizzo, live at Glastonbury 2019. See here move the crowd here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QnIbJi_jWII
Then she has the crowd say: “I love you Lizzo. You are beautiful, girl. And you can do anything, b*tch. Do it on your good days, but especially do it on your bad days ’cause that sh*t is like medicine, man!”
Standing under the stars with you. #BlackenAsiaWithLove #
Standing under the stars with you.
This is the moment I’ve waited for for so long.
For so long I’ve longed to be with YOU.
To be with you, to just be here, standing underneath the stars is like heaven and earth in one.
It feels like heaven on earth, so softly touching your skin.
Touching your skin, feeling your breath against my face, there is nobody like you.
I LIKE you… a lot.
This is the moment I’ve waited for for so long.
You and I underneath the stars.
Our lives must be as big as the universe for us to have crossed paths.
I can’t believe that I crossed paths with the YOU.
I want to cross your path every single day from now on.
From now on, I want to be with you.
This is the moment I’ve waited for for so long.
I have waited an eternity to see the stars with you.
To see the stars with you feels like the Earth, the Sun, the moon AND all the planets aligning.
The planets must be aligned to night as good as I’m feeling.
I’m feeling good, with every twinkle our lives become more crisscrossed and intertwined.
Crisscrossed and intertwined so much a mobile phone can’t capture this moment.
Please, be here, now, I beg you.
The Euthanasia of the Youth in Asia: Milky White Skin #BlackenAsiawithLove
Shahrukh Khan (SRK) is arguably the Indian film industry’s biggest global star and commercial brand ambassador. In one early advertisement, he strikes a match from a dark-skinned kid’s face to show just how abhorrent it is as a trait. In another ad, ostensibly more humorous, SRK disses a group of traditional Northern Indian wrestlers for wearing skirts and make-up. The star chides them for using the feminine product instead of (converting to) the newly available male version (i.e. re-packaged in gray rather than pink). The product? The skin bleach Fair and Handsome. In both ads, the transformed, ‘fairer’ skinned consumer is pummeled with young girls virtually appearing from nowhere.
This follows the typical consumerist trope: The product makes users more popular and sexually appealing. Yet, things got worse. Clean and Dry’s ‘intimate’ bleaching shower gel for women (C&D). Yes, you read right: A bleaching shower gel aimed at lightening brown women’s crotches. There’s no male equivalent, save for a well-circulated spoof called Gore Gote: India’s #1 Testicular Fairness Cream (Mukherjee). In the initial shot of the C&D advertisement, a pouty-mouthed (fair-skinned) woman is ignored by her (fair-skinned) husband in their (upper-middle-class) apartment. Naturally, it seems, she bleaches her labia with C&D. After displaying the product’s virtues, the husband literally chases the wife around the fancy flat as she playfully dangles (his) keys. Her secret to happiness: A newly bleached intimate area. Is this a proxy for a white woman’s vagina?
What’s wrong with consumerism? The marketplace will not save you. As a Black person interested in self-love, it is clear that the market is murderous. There, the fetish of blackness is made widely available, as if one could bottle stereotypical ‘coolness’ and sell it to the youth in Asia, one of the largest consumer groups in the world. Fashion shops targeting youth regularly plaster posters of Bob Marley or Hip-Hop thugs to peddle goods to youth. Yet, standing in the rotunda of this mall, one could see shops of every major western cosmetics brand, including Clinique, Mac, Estée Lauder. Here in Asia, the flagship product in each shop is skin bleach! Black is cool, but white is power. Ironically, at the time I was modeling for a campaign in Vogue and Elle Décor in India, yet none of the make-up artists carried my mocha shade (shady, right).
The skin bleach industry is by far the most virulent of all consumer products – even fast food. The bulk of this industry is meted out on the bodies of women…and girls who learn early that fate of darkness (just check out any Indian Matrimonials page). According to an August 2019 article in Vogue: “Per a recent World Health Organization report (WHO), half of the population in Korea, Malaysia, and the Philippines uses some kind of skin lightening treatment. And it’s even higher in India (60%) and African countries, such as Nigeria (77%).” After a 7 minutes instrumental intro to his 1976 hit, Yellow Fever, Fela Kuti chants: “Who steal your bleaching?/Your precious bleaching?…/Your face go yellow/Your yansh go show/Your mustache go show/Your skin go scatter/You go die o.”
It’s lethal, often a mercurous poison used to kill the soul. It is a fetishization of whiteness, that reveals the “internalization of the coloniser’s inferiorisation of dark skin as native and Other” (Thapan: 73). It’s euthanasia. Skin bleachers are painlessly killing themselves, willingly participating in their own annihilation. Not only does it quite literally murder the melanin in one’s skin, it symbolically kills one’s ‘dark and native’ self, giving birth to a new and improved modern identity. It requires constant application and reflects a consumerist’s self-regulation. Bleach is expensive, despite the industry’s ‘bottom of the pyramid’ approach to the marketing 4P’s – bleach sold in cheap tiny packages for the poor. Skin bleach is a form of mimesis, to actually embody modernity through crafting the ‘cultivated, developed and perfected’ self (Thapan: 70).
When I began teaching at UoN, I was asked to propose topics for business ethics modules, which were then optional. Hesitantly, I suggested skin bleach and hair weaves. Looking at the composition of the student body, this would be as familiar to them, as the products were locally available (see picture below taken in an ‘ethnic’ hair shop on Northampton’s high street). Several students have subsequently pursed these subjects in their dissertations. I was sad to learn that in colloquial Somali, ‘fair skin’ is a moniker for pretty, just as we western Blacks use ‘light skin and long hair’. Colourism makes dark-skinned people unsafe in our own homes.
I was pleasantly surprised at the support from the module leader, an older, straight white man. He said he knew little about the politics of black and brown skin and hair, yet listened with great interest and did his own research into the matter. What’s more, he stood by me both literally and figuratively. He was there when I was called to account for some negative student feedback such as “I’m a guy, I don’t wear make-up,” when asked to consider the differential impact of beauty standards on the psyches and earnings of women in business. He stood by me when I’d dropped the F-word (feminism) into the curriculum. This was before the Gender Pay Gap became more widely known or theBritish government required audits from large organisations. He is an ally. He stood by me in ways that may have been riskier for individuals outside the circles of normative power of gender, race and class. Talk about a way to use one’s privilege!
Kuti, F. (1976). Yellow Fever. [LP] Decca 8 Track Studios. Available at: https://genius.com/Fela-kuti-and-africa-70-yellow-fever-annotated [Accessed 13 Nov. 2019].
Mukherjee, R., Banet-Weiser, S. and Gray, H. (2019). Racism Postrace. Durham, N.C.
Thapan, M. (2009). Living the Body: Embodiment, Womanhood and Identity in Contemporary India. New Delhi: SAGE.