Smooth, angry, cool, powerful: how we talk about blackness

Teacher and writer Jeffrey Boakye has encountered endless labels all of which have informed his experience of being black and British today. Here, he unpicks their meanings

BLACK

Ive been black since about 1988, when I was colouring in pictures of priests at Corpus Christi Roman Catholic primary school in Brixton Hill, south London. I remember it well. We were sharing tables and colouring pencils and I looked up to find that there were no more skin colour pencils available in the pencil pot. By skin colour, I mean a shade of pinkish beige that was a pretty spot-on facsimile of what we can call white, European skin. Caucasian colour. With a hint of tan. Tea with an overgenerous splash of milk, if you want to talk beverages. Anyway, a girl whose name Ive long since forgotten started asking around for a skin-colour pencil, keen to get her priest finished before playtime. Being the ever-helpful people pleaser that I am, I shrugged and offered her a brown pencil, thinking, in all my six-year-old wisdom, that illustrated priests could have skin the same colour as mine.


Latest Discounts
  • Discover The Most Powerful Secrets To Solving Any Communication
  • Step-by-step,26-week training program for planning,constructing and preaching sermons.
  • Regenerate sagging face skin and beat wrinkles with face training exercises.
  • Learn how to sleep 1-3 hours less every night and wake up with more energy than you've ever had.
  • Learn the magical words that will touch his heart in a way that no other woman can ever make him feel.
  • Here's the Fastest and Easiest Way to Go From Meeting a Man to Marriage...
  • Over 150 powerful subliminal mp3s. Only 14.97. Better than hypnosis
  • How you can model the success and talk like a native.
  • Anger is a detour in the grieving process. Learn to let go and move on.
  • The Soccer Systems That Can Beat Any Sportsbook
  • Success mastery X is the ultimate blueprint for achieving success.
  • Learn How To Make Any Woman Sexually Obsessed With You (And Only You) Without Even Touching Her
  • Secrets to Dog Training - stop your dog's behavior problems for good
  • A step-by-step program to enhance your radiant glow and natural beautyIn the next 21 days
  • Speed Up Your PC Performance Get the PCFixKit Windows registry cleaner.
  • This lets you make money on every NFL and college pick for the entire 2010 season.
  • Cut Your Electric Bills By 75 (or more) In Just 2 days
  • It's the Ultimate EDC Tool - Tactical, Multi-Use, Yet Totally Discrete ...
  • This crushing software sucks money from roulette tables into your pocket on auto pilot
  • 33 Powerful Tricks that would wake up the animal in your man and fix his hunger right on you
  • Clickbank Ads
     

    Thats not skin colour, she said.

    Its my skin colour, I thought. But I didnt say that. What I did do was proceed to colour my priest in with the brown pencil, secretly very unsatisfied with the outcome. I wanted a skin-colour-skinned priest, too, you see. Turns out the improvisation wasnt a solution. Hello inadequacy. Have you met otherness? Pleased to make your acquaintance.

    Im not black. No matter how dark my skin is, no matter how dark I appear to be in racist digital cameras with dodgy ISO settings, my skin is not black in hue. Im probably something closer to raw cocoa, or coffee, or flat Coca-Cola. Im beverage colour. Black, as a description of skin, is a label. As a description of racial identity its a pretty lazy referent not to any actual blackness, but an essential non-whiteness.

    The second problem with being black is that it is absolutely, at least symbolically, true. Because, if nothing else, one thing I can confirm is that I am not-white. Which means that I am whatever not-white is. Im the other thing.

    Black people undoubtedly have a shared sense of identity stemming from otherness, probably because black is racially political far more than it is racially descriptive, with the potential to be irrevocably divisive. As an adjective, the word black comes with a terrifyingly negative list of connotations, pretty much equating to pure evil and hopeless misfortune. Deriving from the Old English word sweart (surviving in modern English in the word swarthy), its almost an exclusively negative concept. The only positive connotation I can find is that of being financially in the black ironic when you consider the enduring link between blackness and poverty.

    Call me black and Ill get a complex knot of pride and insecurity tightening in my psyche. Its a word that reminds me that Im lesser than and different from, but its also a source of self-affirmation. Call me black and I wont even flinch because Im so used to calling myself black that its become the invisible lens. A perspective that has hardened into an objective truth. Call me black and Ill welcome the definition, despite the fact that it denigrates just as much as it defines.

    ETHNIC MINORITY

    The phrase ethnic minority has to be the biggest oxymoron since crash-landing or casual sex. If you take ethnic as meaning culturally or genetically nonEuropean, then most of the world is ethnic. Which makes an ethnic minority a global majority. If you take it at dictionary value, however, as in relating to cultural, racial or genetic origins differing from those of a dominant group, then it becomes deeply subjective. You can only get an ethnic minority where there is some kind of majority, and that majority has to be culturally dominant, ie, white. Hello friend. We meet again.


     

    The anticlimactic truth is that ethnic minority has evolved into a politically neutral way of saying other. Just when we thought we were out of the labyrinth. Ethnic? Minority? Other. Non-white. Back to black. Ah well. It actually felt like progress for a second.

    Chadwick
    Chadwick Boseman in Black Panther an echo of a very particular type of black anger. Photograph: Allstar/MARVEL STUDIOS/DISNEY

    AFRICAN

    In 2018, the film Black Panther very quickly established itself as a cultural phenomenon. Lets not underplay this: in 2018, the coolest superhero out was African, accent and all, and he just happened to have the same name as a revolutionary organisation that sought black empowerment and social justice. In this, Black Panther is an echo of a very particular type of black anger, an anger that has seared the black experience through the fight for civil rights, by any means necessary, through black power and right up until that simple fact turned provocation: Black Lives Matter.

    MIXED RACE

    You see words such as nigger, coon, wog and darkie and you freeze up in anticipation of the big kaboom. Then you see mixed race and its sigh-of-relief time. Something mild, something easy. A respite from all the spiky abrasions and explosive taboos. But mixed race is an improvised explosive device in disguise.


    Latest Discounts
  • Anger is a detour in the grieving process. Learn to let go and move on.
  • Discover The Most Powerful Secrets To Solving Any Communication
  • Regenerate sagging face skin and beat wrinkles with face training exercises.
  • Over 150 powerful subliminal mp3s. Only 14.97. Better than hypnosis
  • Step-by-step,26-week training program for planning,constructing and preaching sermons.
  • How you can model the success and talk like a native.
  • Learn the magical words that will touch his heart in a way that no other woman can ever make him feel.
  • Learn how to sleep 1-3 hours less every night and wake up with more energy than you've ever had.
  • Here's the Fastest and Easiest Way to Go From Meeting a Man to Marriage...
  • Cut Your Electric Bills By 75 (or more) In Just 2 days
  • Attune Yourself to Reiki, Right Now Powerful New System Shows You How
  • Download powerful hell, satan and demons ebook now, read it tonight, and then put it to work
  • The stunning secret of turning your wife on with the push of a button.
  • Learn how you can easily create mobile apps to generate passive income.
  • Three things you can do to a woman to give her the best orgasms of her life.
  • This program will teach you how to claim your healing through faith in Jesus Christ.
  • Easy natural method, gets rid of gallstones with no pain or surgery.
  • Discover How To Attract More Students To Your Tutoring Business
  • Put Your Ball Striking On Autopilot And Build A True 'Timing Free' Golf Swing.
  • Learn The Secrets To Increase The Effectiveness Of Your Immune System, Naturally.
  • Clickbank Ads
     

    Its suggestion is that there is something we might call an unmixed race. It implicitly upholds ideals of racial purity that reinforce deeply problematic racial hierarchies. In the black community, mixed race tends to refer to black and white mixed. Note, we are not even talking countries here just basic colour of skin stuff. One white parent, one black parent, one mixed-up kid. Im currently living this scenario out in real life.

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

    Thats the cartoon version of the story. In reality, my white wife is a combination of English and Scandinavian, with God knows what else thrown in along the way. Meanwhile, both my parents grew up in the same patch of universe in rural Ghana, west Africa, but if you look at my mums hair and fairer-than-cocoa skin, its obvious that shes got a bit of something in her going back to whenever. So black and white start to look inadequate, while mixed race buckles under the pressure of even the slightest interrogation.

    WHITE-SOUNDING FORENAME

    Through no fault of my own, I have the kind of name reserved for white men who wear stiff jeans and nod out of rhythm to guitar-based soft rock. I have the name of a British or American white male born in the early to mid-20th century, despite having two parents who list English as a second language.

    When my parents, two black Ghanaians (who had decided to make a go of it in the UK in light of economic and governmental instability during the 1970s), stared down at a fat, black newborn baby on 22 March 1982 and decided to call it Jeffrey, they were making a cultural statement tied to a complex socio-historical web.

    Now Ive got my own kids and the pattern is repeating itself. My first son is called Finlay, while boy No 2 is called Blake. Both names are very white, Finlay deriving from Gaelic, Blake from Old English. Why didnt I buck the trend?

    Much has been written about the socioeconomic fate of black people with black-sounding names, and the obvious conclusion is the correct one: that it has less to do with the name itself and more to do with systemic prejudice and black impoverishment. Taniqua and Terrell are less likely to find themselves rising through the ranks of Fortune 500 companies not because of the inherent quality of their names, but due to the limited opportunities afforded to the black working class and to structural racism.

    BLACK-SOUNDING SURNAME

    Pronouncing my surname is a challenge that most people fail. At worst, you get some variation of boahkie, with a hard k; understandable if you dont realise that the Ashanti pronunciation of kye is actually chi as in chips.

    Next best is bo-a-chee, which is almost there, but not quite right. This is the one I have settled on in my professional life. Its kind of an anglicised version that strips out the African essence. Because to say my name properly, you kind of need to say it in a Ghanaian accent. Bwaaaaah-ch, is as close as I can type it. But outside of my family and the Ghanaian community, you wont hear this correct pronunciation.

    Unlike first names, which can be chosen and decided at a parents whim, surnames reach back into ancestry. A black-sounding surname is a reminder that black roots arent in British soil. On this level, Im very proud that a growing number of people are having to wrestle with Boakye. It feels like a win for Ghanaian identity in the mainstream, an ongoing battle for recognition in which I have fought on the front line.

    COLOURED

    Heres a joke I remember from the hazy, pre-Googlable corners of my childhood:

    When I was born, I was black. When I got older, I was black. When Im sick, Im black. When I go out in the sun, Im black. When Im cold, Im black. When I die, Ill be black. When you were born, you were pink. When you got older, you became white. When youre sick, you go green. When you go out in the sun, you turn red. When youre cold, youre blue. When you die, youll be grey. And youve got the nerve to call me coloured?

    Im terrible at remembering jokes, but Ill never forget that one … How it pokes fun not at black people or white people, but at the blunt binaries of racial definition, drawing humour from the absurdity of race-labelling in the face of human commonality.

    EBONY

    As far as pornography goes, Ebony might just be another category, but the view of black sexuality in the white gaze is deeply problematic. For white men and women interested in black sex, the black body is taboo. Thats where the intrigue comes from, surely, that the black sexualised body has an illicit appeal. Historically, this perception of black sexuality can be read as an act of violence against black humanity, a hypersexualisation that says we are less civilised and therefore exciting. Its a mindset that supports racism, built on stereotypes of insatiable, well-endowed black men and sexually acrobatic black women. In the context of transatlantic slavery, black sexuality was an intrinsic part of the breeding of slaves, further promoting the view of black people as animalistic beings undeserving of basic dignity.

    Fetishisation plus objectification plus dehumanisation is a messy, tangled threesome. I remember going to meet friends in a bar somewhere in my early 20s, and, not having anything else to do, I was uncharacteristically early. Out of nowhere appears a flustered, tipsy woman in a sash and I think tiara, quivering with all the giddy excitement of a kid being dared by their friends. Clutching a cocktail in both hands, she blinks through the neon glow and asks me if Ill strip for her and her friends who are out on a hen party.

    What?

    Its her friends hen party, she explains, and they were wondering if I would strip for them, in the bar, for money. Behind her, a group of young women are huddled round a table giggling over mojitos in my general direction. They are white.

    I have no way of knowing exactly why I was singled out for an impromptu strip; if it was because I was alone, or if I look like an off-duty stripper. For the record, I was wearing a Zara suit with a T-shirt and slip-on canvas shoes (dont judge me: it was the early 00s). Regardless, the encounter felt racially charged, as though my blackness was an open invitation to sexual objectification. What gave that woman permission to approach me like that? The answer, I fear, is generations of racist ideology.

    Theres
    Theres something enigmatic about blackness that, coupled with the illicit appeal of black culture, makes black people seem very cool by default … Stormzy, performing at the 2018 Brit Awards. Photograph: Hannah Mckay/Reuters

    COOL

    The Cool Black Myth helps the white mainstream to understand and handle black identity. Theres something enigmatic about blackness that, coupled with the illicit appeal of black culture, makes black people seem cool by default, without even really trying. In my short time on this planet so far, Ive had people congratulate me on how cool my hair is (after feeling its texture) and applaud how cool I look in sportswear (my trainers do match my running top actually, so I might give them that one). All of which makes me wonder: am I cool? Depends. Are black guys cool?

    The answer, of course, is yes. In fact, I sometimes surprise myself by how cool I am. Last time I looked, Id written a book about grime. Which is cool multiplied by cool. And I dress cool, if you think The Fresh Prince of Bel-Airs Carlton Banks dresses cool, which he does. And I dont look stupid when I dance, which only cool people can really get away with, not to mention that fact that all black people can dance, which makes us automatically cool and me cool by proxy.

    ANGRY

    Could you tone it down a bit? Youre being a bit aggressive. Do you have to be so loud? Its quite overbearing. You do realise you can sometimes make people feel a bit uncomfortable. You need to be a little softer. Youre passionate, I understand, but your manner can put people off. Stop shouting. Its a bit intimidating.

    So goes one of the most common criticisms levelled at black women, from people, might I add, who are not actually black women themselves, usually in some kind of professional context. It happens in the office, the classroom, the staffroom, the email thread, the photocopier room, the pub after work, and probably in the subconscious of the interviewer sitting across the big desk. Ive seen it up close black women being highlighted as some combination of aggressive and angry that ends up in the bracket intimidating. An idea that black women have an innate aggression that intimidates conservative, polite sensibilities, making them a threat to social decorum.

    LUNCHBOX

    As a child, I can remember the feverish excitement with which the media spoke of Jamaican-born British sprinter Linford Christies lunchbox, an alliterative euphemism designed to provoke elbow nudges, winks and grins from white society. I remember because growing up, it was patently obvious to me that one of the big black stereotypes was that black men have big black penises. There were playground jokes about it, comments youd overhear, and, as in the case of Christie, celebrities who would be readily targeted for this kind of sexualised banter. Usually the physically impressive ones.

    Thing is, I never found it all that funny. I found it uncomfortable. I could feel the objectification, the belittling, the basic disrespect of reducing an entire person to the sum total of their genitals. It felt like bullying.

    Its ironic that a race label designed for one black man can reveal so much about prevailing attitudes to black men plural, lifting the lid on white male insecurity in matters of the crotch. As far as I know, Ive never been called Lunchbox, but I definitely have faced many indirect comments about having a big penis, never in malice, always from people I know, always in the name of banter. Further evidence of the nervous affinity between dominant whiteness and a blackness it doesnt quite understand.

    Whenever
    Whenever a commentator calls a black athlete powerful its as if skill, wit and tactics dont come into it Venus and Serena Williams. Photograph: Julian Finney/Getty Images

    POWERFUL

    Whenever a commentator calls a black athlete powerful, my Twitter finger starts itching. I feel the need to jump head first into call-out culture and highlight me some racial stereotyping. Its not that these black athletes arent physically strong. They often are. And its not that being physically strong isnt a good thing. It often is. Its the defining of blackness according to basic physicality that I have a problem with.

    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 proceeded to dominate the scene, racketing their way into the record books with an impressive list of grand slam titles to date. Both have been ranked womens No 1 and both have taken home the most prestigious titles in tennis, introducing black excellence to a typically white sport. Watching their performances year on year, Ive always been struck by how they were described by an awestruck media. It was often something about how powerful they were, how strong, how they were powerhouses, formidable, unstoppable. As if their raw physical power was the sole cause of their success, as if skill, determination, wit and tactics dont come into it.

    SMOOTH

    If everything goes according to plan and I am as successful as an author as I think I could be, I will be on a trajectory that will end with, one day, an invitation from the BBC to star in Strictly Come Dancing. We all know the expectation is that black people can dance. Its a stereotype, one that is so pervasive that I think we all believe it, myself included. But there really is nothing to say that I am smooth, on the dance floor or off, due to my being black.

    Black smooth is on the spectrum of black cool, which is part of the defence against black insecurity. And like all 7 billion of us, Im insecure. Being smooth is the attractive shield; empowering but defensive and exposing vulnerability as soon as it slips.

    COCONUT

    Much like the pantomime gladiators who were defined and characterised by colour, Ive often felt as though my blackness is projected upon me by context. Im black because Im black, yes, but my blackness is also created by the fact that Im surrounded by whiteness. This means that my ability to integrate depends on how normal (ie, white) I appear. How I dress and talk, who I mix with, what my tastes are and how my values play out.

    Of course it does. In my entire time at school, from the ages of four to 18, the only time I came close to instigating a fight was one time in sixth form when I heard some kid from a lower year group mumble something about me being a Bounty. A Bounty is a chocolate bar that is white on the inside, brown on the outside. Its made out of coconut, which is also white on the inside, brown on the outside. Growing up, Bounty was a term commonly levelled at black people who acted white. When I heard that kid say it in my general direction I was incensed. I was furious. That he would denigrate my black identity, knowing nothing about me. I was deputy head boy at the time, so he obviously knew me in that regard. I swivelled to face him with 100-watt intensity and demanded that he repeat the accusation. I dare you. Say it again. He faltered. Nearby teachers tried to intervene but I was deaf to their appeals. I was ready to switch. The kid melted into a corner and I stormed away to English.

    RUDEBOY

    For a black boy growing up in Britain in the 90s, this might have been the ultimate accolade. To be called a rudeboy was to be adorned with the highest order of street credibility. When I was at school (I went to an all-boys), everybody wanted to be a rudeboy; it meant you were cool, powerful, influential, and enough of a rebel to warrant sufficient notoriety to make you someone worth knowing.

    Like most people (including, believe it or not, many black men), Im just not enough of a rebel to have ever been a rudeboy. I operate within the establishment. I play by the rules. I have a natural revulsion against criminality. I was a prefect. Im very polite, which is the opposite of rude. I have a mortgage. And yet I have a profound respect for the rudeboy, largely due to codes of blackness that shaped my consciousness before I was even aware it was happening. Maybe the simple truth is that we have all been conditioned to seek self-empowerment through some level of outlaw status, and for black men, there is a corresponding archetype that remains well within reach. It doesnt take much to be rude; you just have to have a level of disdain for authority, and pay more attention to the codes of the street than laws of the land.

    the
    #blacklivesmatter turned a moral given into a societal juggernaut … Jayceon Hurtz, 2, holds a sign at a Black Lives Matter protest in California, March 2018. Photograph: Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images

    WOKE

    Adjective. Colloquial. Informal. Political. A distinctly black Americanism that has worked its way out of 20th-century rural, working-class black America all the way to the 21st-century world stage. Im pretty certain the first time I heard it I just thought it was a quirk of that African American vernacular sometimes referred to as ebonics, itself linked to pidgin dialects stemming from 17th-century slave communities in southern states of the US. Key grammatical features include the warping of tenses for emphasis. So, Im awake can swiftly evolve into Im woke, meaning: Yo, Im really awake. Next thing you know, woke is turning up in broadsheet newspapers as a referent for millennial black activism. How did this happen?

    The big myth, the great lie, is that we as a species are on our way to being post-racial. That we are somehow past the racism of our collective history. Not true. For many non-black people the hashtagging of #black is a millennial wake-up call. Its a cold water splash reminding us that racial and social injustices exist and persist. Hashtags give visibility and digital momentum to ideas that might otherwise fade. For example, pre-2014, Im sure a lot of people had an inkling that black lives mattered, but the hashtag #blacklivesmatter turned a moral given into a societal juggernaut. It woke people up to structural racism and racially motivated prejudice, zeroing in on the nothing-new shock of police brutality in the US and soon encompassing racial injustices worldwide.

    In my classrooms, in the playgrounds, I see the relish with which black culture is consumed, but it stops short of real engagement with black history and heritages of black intellectualism. As a teacher, Ive been exposed to the deep shortcomings of a curriculum that is hopelessly Eurocentric. No number of exciting black cultural artefacts can fight the pervasive gravity of default whiteness.

    I can feel the cynicism creeping in so its important to remind myself that woke is essentially an earnest position of social awareness. Its something to believe in, waking up to racial injustices that are quite literally life and death, concerned with not only state violence and the killing of black people by police, but the wider conditions of poverty and incarceration that contribute to black oppression and deprivation of human rights in the so-called developed world and beyond. Engagement with this ideal can be as flimsy as a retweet or as heavy as facing down riot police in a protest. Either way, its a call for action stemming directly from the black experience. Its an alarm. A wake-up call.

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

    Original Article : HERE ; The Ultimate Survival Food: The Lost Ways

     


    Latest Discounts
  • Here's the Fastest and Easiest Way to Go From Meeting a Man to Marriage...
  • Regenerate sagging face skin and beat wrinkles with face training exercises.
  • Discover The Most Powerful Secrets To Solving Any Communication
  • Over 150 powerful subliminal mp3s. Only 14.97. Better than hypnosis
  • Anger is a detour in the grieving process. Learn to let go and move on.
  • Learn the magical words that will touch his heart in a way that no other woman can ever make him feel.
  • Learn how to sleep 1-3 hours less every night and wake up with more energy than you've ever had.
  • Step-by-step,26-week training program for planning,constructing and preaching sermons.
  • How you can model the success and talk like a native.
  • Steps to help stop your break up and get your ex back in hours not months.
  • Empowering Affirmations, Designed To Reprogram Your Self-conscious Into A Powerful Manifesting Engine.
  • This is a game changer that will make you feel happier instantly
  • Spoon Bending 101 Is A Great Way To Get A Feel For What Telekinesis Can Do.
  • Learn how to influence others using the art of conversational hypnosis.
  • This crushing software sucks money from roulette tables into your pocket on auto pilot
  • Change Your Mind, Change Your Life Influence Your Mind and Others.
  • How to talk and flirt with women so they are instantly attracted to you.
  • Join 56,712 others who've erased back pain and sciatica from their lives.
  • Discover The Secrets To Build Hot, sexy And Jaw-Dropping Legs With Cuts That Turn Heads.
  • Gives you the muscular size of a bodybuilder and the superhuman strength of a powerlifter
  • Clickbank Ads