Black people are NOT cowards



What a difference a weekend makes. Before the Don Sterling tape scandal, I had not heard of the Clippers basketball team or of their multi-billionaire owner. The back-story behind this scandal is the stuff that soap operas are made of. From what I have gleaned online it appears that an 80 year old rich White man who happens to own a basketball team takes a young biracial mistress. His wife of 50 (something) years instead of divorcing her husband sues mistress for $1.8 million citing that she is a gold digger using her feminine wiles to extort money from silly old men. Mistress goes to her boyfriend to complain; apparently he shrugs and refuses to offer help. Mistress then makes the recording, probably selling it to the highest bidder. Old man is then banned from owning a basketball team for life by the NBA.

This story is very interesting on many levels. I found it ridiculous that a man would date a biracial woman and then complain when she associates with other Black people. Is she only Black when she is in the company of other Black people? Is he able to overlook her blackness when they are alone or associating with other White people? He objected to her being photographed with Magic Johnson, a respected sports legend and entrepreneur. Mr Johnson is not exactly someone dodgy from the wrong part of town. It does beg the question as to whether Black people can be truly accepted by white patriarchy, even if they are respected members of society. If a former athlete who has been openly praised by former US presidents is not enough for a Black man to be deemed reputable company it would suggest that the answer to the question is a resounding no.

I was prompted to write this piece after reading an article by rapper Homeboy Sandboy titled ‘Black People Are Cowards’. His premise is that African – Americans do not stand up for themselves in the way that the Civil Rights generation did. As a consequence White people are now free to disrespect us. His secondary gripe is that hip hop artists and TV reality stars perpetuate negative stereotypes about Black people which fuels the racism African-Americans face.

It is ridiculous to blame the oppressed for their oppression. The way in which Black people behave or are perceived to behave has nothing to do with racism. Racism is a social construct which exists to determine who controls and has access to the world’s resources. Slurs such as Black people are lazy, violent, feckless, crazy etc are hollow excuses to justify the barbarism of slavery, apartheid and colonialism. A Black person’s behaviour will not protect them from prejudice. Sterling was not impressed by Magic Johnson’s reputation. Respectability politics is a dangerous concept because it offers a false sense of security at the expense of our self respect. I abhor the behaviour of certain Black entertainers or members of the community. I am no fan of misogyny or Black on Black violence. However, I will always champion the idea that we are not a monolith group. When Black people play into the ‘respectability’ game you are ignoring the pervasive power of institutionalised racism and denying our humanity by lumping us as a group rather than a collective of unique individuals with a shared hue. Most importantly this argument lets the perpetrators and beneficiaries of racism off the hook. ‘It’s not our fault that we are racist; after all look at how these people behave.’

Mr Sandboy goes on in his piece to label the NBA players cowards for not refusing to play after the tape had been leaked. These men may very well be multi millionaires but who are we behind the safety of our keyboards to expect them to put their livelihoods on the line. He goes on to label every one of us cowards for not being prepared to do the same should a relevant situation arise. I have no idea how many bosses worldwide hold absolutely abhorrent beliefs. There are very few people who can abruptly leave their jobs without facing dire financial consequences. Is Mr Sandboy prepared to pay the rent/mortgage of the people who do not want to work for a jerk? Racism is a societal problem it is too big to expect an individual(s) to rectify. In some cases the biggest sign of defiance is survival. My own parents suffered a lot of indignities throughout their working life and did this (without complaint) to put food on the table and to provide opportunities for my sister and I. To continue and thrive in a hostile environment is the greatest act of bravery. It takes all of your physical and emotional strength to carry on day after day. The promise of the post Civil Rights era has not been fully realised. Gains have been made in the last 50 years but we have not reached the Promised Land. Black people are still several more times likely to be stopped by police, unemployed and imprisoned compared to their White counterparts on both sides of the Atlantic. If you doubt that we live in a post racial society, this tape is proof enough to remove those rose coloured glasses.

I believe in the power of protest but we must put things into context. We live in a different time from the 50s and 60s. The Civil Rights just like the Arab Spring were not random. They were orchestrated acts of civil disobedience which took years to build its momentum. In order to have a far reaching movement, it requires strategy, patience and planning. If you want to hurt the likes of Sterling, stop watching/attending matches, stop purchasing their sponsors products, then sit back and watch Rome burn. In order to have purchasing power you need to be in employment. Once you have lost your purchasing power you have no voice. I would advise Mr Sandboy to take a class in 101 Economics.

Fast forward a few days, Mr Sterling has been fined $2.8 million dollars and received a lifetime ban from the NBA. (And to think that no Black athletes had to lose their jobs in order to achieve this) I am not naive, once the sponsors feared a serious backlash due to the tape the NBA had to take action. I am glad that such action was taken but I am far from dancing in the streets. Personally, I couldn’t care less who Donald Sterling wishes to associate with and the reasons behind that choice. What I do care about is when someone is able to use their racist beliefs as a platform to diminish the quality of life for others. When he is not busy chasing a woman four times his junior, Sterling is a housing magnate owning vast amount of property in Los Angeles. He has been accused of systematically refusing to rent apartments to Black and Latino tenants. Various court case of discrimination has been brought against him, the most recent being in 2006. In the US and most places at that, where you live greatly determines your safety, the ability to receive a decent education or healthcare. Consigning Black people to ghetto environments significantly reduces their quality of life, potential for social advancement and perpetuates the disparity between rich White and poor Blacks. That is the power of institutionalised racism, when somebody has the authority to put their beliefs into action at the detriment of others.

I am all for all of us doing our part to make the world a fairer place but I am a believer in picking battles. I think it is right that Sterling be taken to task for his abhorrent views but the real fight is how do we tackle the system which allows men like Sterling to live in their ivory towers while they enforce housing segregation in the 21st century. Mr Sandboy would be better served taking his ire out on the powers that be instead of expecting miracles from the have nots.

Please let me know your thoughts


The post-racial myth


This week leading actor, singer and activist Harry Belafonte was presented with yet another accolade for his various works promoting Civil Rights and social justice. Not just content to receive his award, he placed responsibility on the stars of today, claiming that the likes of Beyonce and Jay-Z do little in highlighting the inequality in society for people of colour. Many have rushed to their defence stating all of the good works they do for various charities. However, the most powerful couple in music have been noticeably silent on this issue.

I do expect celebrities to have a social conscience. Carefully stage managed acts of charity are a good thing but not to be unexpected when you earn more than the Commonwealth combined. The Black community were the first to support their careers and start their ascent to superstardom so you would think that the support would be mutual. By way of comparison Bruce Springsteen has consistently championed the plight of working class Americans throughout his nearly 40 year career. On issues such as mass unemployment or the Trayvon Martin murder, the majority of Black celebrities are conspicuously silent. Many Black entertainers show two very worrying traits, apathy and selfishness. As long as the individual’s needs are being met, the rest of the poor masses can eat cake.

Whether they like it or not, celebrities are a massive influence our young people. This deliberate avoidance of any political thinking by Black celebrities has helped to create a critical thinking vacuum with our young people. Instead they are force fed the same message daily: ‘Get rich or die trying’. Concepts such as consequence, self esteem, racial pride and love are no where to be seen in mainstream hip hop and rnb. The results are startling and depressing. The rise of colourism within the Black community on both sides of the Atlantic is a pathetic backwards step. We now have Black people who insult other Black people who look exactly like them because they are Black. Where is this generation’s James Brown to say ‘I’m Black and I’m proud?’

I am not taken with the argument that Jay-Z (or any other multi platinum rapper) embodies the ‘American Dream’. This statement implies that there are equal opportunities for all. In the U.S. as of June 2012, unemployment for African American men is at 14.4% compared to the national average of 8.2% (source CNN) Jay-Z and his ilk cannot represent the American dream if only a select few can realise that dream. The inference that just because there are a few multi millionaire Black celebrities and a Black man in the White House that we live in a warm and fuzzy post racial age is hogwash. When Black men on both sides of the Atlantic are still several times more likely to be stopped by the police, unemployed or jailed we do not live in a post racial age.

Terms like post racism/post feminism are misleading because we do not live in a world without racism, misogyny or homophobia. It hoodwinks our youth into believing that this is as good as it gets, that there is nothing left to fight against. Racism has not disappeared, it has merely changed form. Black footballers no longer have bananas thrown at them as they did in the 70’s but in the last football season two high profile footballers Luis Suarez and former England captain John Terry were found guilty of using racist language against Black footballers. The lack of any real consequence, the apologist language of those seeking to defend their actions goes to show that racism is still a malignant force. The killing of Mark Duggan served as the catalyst for the London Riots of 2011. The police claimed that they killed him as he pointed a loaded gun at them. The police have been unable to prove that he was armed at all. Therefore, it would appear that his race was a determining factor in death.

We are not society free from racism or sexism. We cannot be swayed by the superficial. The odd Black millionaire or the acceptance of Black culture in mainstream music or fashion does not indicate that we now live in a harmonious utopia. The engine behind equality is power. Until all people of colour can influence legislation, access to wealth, are present on the boards of schools, businesses, media outlets and other institutions we will find ourselves in a state of racism continued.

I have also noticed that in tandem with this post racialism fallacy is the normalisation of Black ‘dysfunctionalism’. The video of the Black bus driver giving a female passenger an uppercut is a perfect example. I agree that the bus driver in a role of authority should have removed her from the bus and used excessive force. I also agree that the young woman was out of line and should not be acting in a violent manner and then be surprised to be assaulted herself. On reading comments about the video I am also very disheartened at the acceptance of violence against Black women within the Black community. I raise the video because once again it reinforces every negative stereotype and justifies why there are only a few Black success stories because the vast majority supposedly lack the discipline, finesse and talent to become one. This is really dangerous because it places the onus of responsibility on the disenfranchised and not on social inequality. Tragically, it also acts as proof for the growing amounts of Black people who do not believe that they should strive or expect more from life.

We do not live in a post racial age. I will freely admit that I have had more opportunities than the generation before but the fight for equal rights continues. Equal rights require equal power across various societal structures. Access to that power will not occur without the belief of various communities that that power is owed to them. We have to energise our youth so that they strive to have more not less opportunities than the current generation in charge. To do otherwise would be an abject failure in our responsibilities. We cannot continue to be content with individual success. The political silence by the majority of the Black famous elite reinforces that we are not in this all together. It is also very limiting that majority of Black millionaires are all within the entertainment sector. I am looking forward to a time when I see celebrated Black scientists, politicians, architects and law makers. Stagnation is not progress. If that does sadly come to pass, the blame does not just lie with any rapper or a punching bus driver – it will be a damning indictment of us all.

Please let me know your thoughts