Once I attended a meeting in London of very keen, Black professionals, who had each paid £75 for the privilege of discussing a particular report and its potential impact on the community. I waited eagerly for its content. However, my one abiding memory of that meeting was the negative way three very vocal 'sisters' totally hijacked the proceedings to question who had written the report and what colour that person should have been.
For the next two hours, absolutely nothing was discussed until the terminology was sorted out and the colour of participants was fully checked and analysed: a total waste of delegates' time, money and talents. Months later, I am still trying to work out what we achieved on that day because we never did get to the actual findings! I am sure my experience is not unique and could explain why often so little is achieved within our community.
Black though we may be, if we have never been to Africa, we are no more 'Africans' than the descendants of the early Britons across the Pond who fought with the UK for their independence and are now very much Americans. They cannot call themselves Britons when they have very little physical or cultural ties with the mother country. Names are extremely important when they are associated with a sense of wellbeing and a definite history. However, people who cling to the past, long after it has lost its meaning, tend to be stagnant in their ambitions, fearful in their thoughts and fossilised in their actions.
Having a sense of continuing frustration, yet not sure how to deal with it, they gradually find it easier to look towards another utopia, to see it as the answer, even when it is alien to them and is merely just a dream. Thus the place they left decades ago, like Bangladesh, Jamaica or India, is still 'home' even forty years afterwards. This view stops them facing their new reality, keeping them exposed as very obvious minorities, forever on the periphery while they abdicate responsibility for their future and blame the past for any present predicament.
Inscurity and Underachievement
We stop developing when we live in the past and hang on to it for its own sake, while being constantly bitter and vengeful. In this way we learn nothing from it to safeguard or improve our future. Black people are of African descent, and that is labouring the obvious, but we have chosen, or been given, a different future which we must develop to the fullest in the brief time available. If you feel strongly about any country, more than you do about the place you live in, then DO something about it! Why not visit that place, examine its prospects and help to build it up? Share your expertise with the community to enable others to benefit from your contributions while you gain a sense of fulfilment.
Hankering daily after somewhere else, while we do little to improve our current existence, makes life needlessly difficult and frustrating. It becomes a good excuse, and a handy ploy, to prevent us ever facing our own reality. It also keeps us stuck in the paradise of our dreams while the paradise we could help to build disintegrates around us. A country divided cannot thrive. Its people has to work together, not against each other, to give it life and success.
It really doesn't matter what we call ourself. We can only extend and conquer the earth when actions take precedence over words; when we know who we are and wish to be, when we accept that identity fully and head off into the future to give it life. Only then will we be able to deal with any obstacles in our way; to feel confident about our potential for making a difference to ourself and our environment. Repressing our ambition under a daily concentration on labels, names and theories indicates real fear and little self-esteem as we replace deeds with semantics and a lack of vision.
Key Questions for Our Future
The answer will not only be truly enlightening, it might actually point you in the right direction for the greatest achievement of all time: liberating yourself from the semantic slavery which has chained you for long enough to the aimless sinking ship of negativity and regret. There really is a connection between the death of seven Black youngsters in six weeks, the state of the Black community and how it views itself and the apology demanded from the British government over slavery. They are all linked to our self-perception, sense of impotence and genuine frustrations. We had an apology from a past British Prime Minister about what happened hundreds of years ago and the legacy it has left.
Fine, so what now? Only self-confidence and high self-esteem can propel our children to greater self-love and achievement. Unless we love and respect ourself, our children have no hope of loving or respecting themselves too. They will always be ashamed of who they are and keep taking it out on each other. Many of us are still back there wallowing in self-hate and slavery. But it's time to start taking responsibility for our lives so that we can give our children the reinforcement, strength and pride to take responsibility for their lives too.
An apology from the politicians might force some superficial accountability and assuage some egos, but it is an empty gesture which reflects the past and does little for us and our future. The real question is: When are WE going to forgive ourselves for our distressing past and actually discard our slavery mentality to realise the wonderful, talented beings we are? This is fundamental to the progress of Black children, to their feelings of security and value, and to leaving our own positive legacy, no matter where we are in the world.
Perception dictates the reality of every individual so that no two people share the same perspective of their life or situations. Selective perception (based upon cultural conditioning, comfort levels, fears and aspirations) forms our beliefs which then dictates our values and our identity. We perceive, therefore we are! That is why it is so difficult to share the views of people who are radically different from us because the absence of familiar aspects encourages us to perceive a barrier in communication and in customs, even before we actually see any. We then act accordingly as dictated by our fears.
From that moment on, it makes it even harder for the one on the receiving end of negative perception to actually overcome that imaginary obstacle. Hence why stereotypes and discrimination of any form tend to take such firm hold in a mixed community. The powerless minorities are always at the mercy of the perceptions of the privileged majority, whoever they happen to be - whether men against women, abled against disabled, White against Black or heterosexuals against gays, for example.
Our perceptions dictate how we feel, how we see ourselves and, above all, how we see others. It is the only reality we know. We cannot share the reality of others until we are convinced of the merit, legality or the benefit to do so! For that reason colour and gender, in particular, define perceptions on many significant issues, of which 'Empire' is one of them. If some visible minorities, and even White members of our population, perceive that the word Empire is disparaging or even insulting, that is their reality and should be acknowledged and accepted, not dismissed because it does not conform to the view of the majority.
Labels and Their Effects
The words and labels we choose to describe us are tied into our identity. They define who we are, emphasise what we stand for and infer where we are going. This word with its negative past is also integrated into our recognition and reward system. A word clearly giving mixed messages of value and discomfort to a significant section of our community. As it stands, the word Empire to the White victors of yesteryear is a constant reminder of a perceived lost age of glory; defining people of power, conquest, cultural superiority and colonisation; emphasising affluent living and a license to be racist, oppressive and to kill with impunity those deemed to be inferior, ignorant and rebellious. Something to celebrate with pride as they revel in the past rather than welcome the future.
However many younger visible minority citizens, our future role models, perceive themselves to be part of one nation, not part of a repressive and discriminatory regime. They do not wish to be reminded of images of racism, cultural negation, cultural imposition, exploitation and total disrespect which the Empire conjures up. So this is really a Black and White issue dominated by different perceptions. Naturally, if you hark back to those unequal days (while spouting hot air about equality and diversity) very few people can really take you seriously. For the obvious reason that 99% of the Government is White, with its positive perception of the value of Empire, while the main refusniks of the word are Black or Asians, it stands to reason that the Government will perceive no adequate case to have been made for changing anything! But we cannot drive looking longingly through our rearview mirror at the past scenery. That will set us on a definite collision course with the road ahead. We have to look ahead through our windscreen of the future, whether we like it or not, to ensure our survival.
A Question of Respect
We need a system which recognises the diversity and different perspectives inherent in any mixed community - an honours system which is entirely inclusive. Not one dictated by one main group while meant for all. Not one lauding the recipient while simultaneously reminding him/her of how inferior/superior they used to be! A system which reflects our present and future is the only one which can send an inclusive message of value and worth to every member of society; a strong message of a celebration of the present and its potential not a glorification of the past. The true essence of respect are: personal value, being heard and being included. The refusal to remove the word Empire, or to reform the honours system radically, suggests the opposite to every one of its recipients.
Being a creative nation, with tremendous talent, we can do better in reforming these outdated awards, but only if we really want to go forward as ONE nation. Or perhaps we prefer to regress backwards as two distinct and opposing sides. It is our choice. The Government sees no case for change and has lost countless opportunities to make a real difference and to take us firmly into the 21st century. Here we are in 2008 and still the old system persists. But change will happen regardless, because only the people can give credibility to such honours and, increasingly, it is proving embarrassing to many people to publicly accept these honours, that are rapidly losing credibility, and with any real pride.
As the founder of Diversity Leaders UK, I get a lot of post from various groups who are keen to change perceptions and lessen racism. The leader of one Muslim group, in particular, keeps sending these emails about the inequalities in the British system, especially for Muslim children, and many times, his points are quite valid. But most times they are rather vitriolic especially against British women and their low morals, provocative clothes and binge drinking. Some times it gets so bad I have been tempted to unsubscribe, but I did not wish to lose his voice or perspective.
However, he recently sent an email complaining about the difference in treatment between Polish children and Muslim ones, especially in the provisions for them. He was quite aggrieved at the differences in approach to the Poles simply because they were Catholics. I agreed with him on many points, until I read the following, and that's where we parted company. It was my turn to be aggrieved. My reply to him follows after that.
If life in Britain is so 'barbaric', and some Muslims have no intention of being a part of such life, why do they stay in the country? This questions haunts me regularly. Surely it is much better to go to another Muslim country which can provide the kind of cultural background and validation they seek without such barbarity? Why do they continue to live here to be exposed to such actions while merely criticising it all the time?
I ask that because we are all citizens of the same country and unless we join together to make it better, we will always be a divided nation fighting one another and casting accusations. There is nothing wrong with Britain that is so different from other countries. Every country in the world has some problem or other.
Britain is a wonderful place, which gives a lot of freedoms which other countries don't give. I was reading only the other day how women are planning to ask for the right to drive a car in Saudia Arabia. For goodness' sake, a car that I take for granted as a woman, having been driving for 27 years now in the UK, yet women there are not allowed to drive yet?
So I will not knock Britain, I would rather leave it and go to my Utopia, wherever that is, because we cannot knock a country and be uplifted by it. Such negativity merely drags it down and ourselves with it too.
I wanted to say that because we are both on the same side fighting prejudice and bigotry. Judging others badly while we pretend we are better than they are is uncharitable and makes us no different. Negativity against another for our own benefit never does any good. It simply shows how limited we are, too, in our vision, perception, compassion and common humanity.
Now that the new Coalition government seems to be sweeping the country with their reforms of one kind or another, will they also be tackling the last vestige of white supremacy while they are at it? The last insult to a multicultural society?
Last June, the usual crop of public honours recipients was announced in London. The Queen's Birthday and New Years' Honours Lists "reflect and pay tribute to outstanding achievement and service right across the community" says the blurb, but often one wonders which community it's dealing with, because the people who do receive the very top honours are seldom the ones who would be recognised by the general community.
The awards system, which still carries the obnoxious tag of 'Empire', and glory in its colonial legacy and traditions, is still alive and well when it should have been pensioned off years ago. With whiffs of honours for sale, it is about time this particular heritage is retired gracefully and something more reflective of modern society and true merit introduced in its place. Britain prides itself on its equal opportunities and diverse multicultural society, yet, just casting a glance at the Knights and Dames honours, as in every past year, men outnumber women by nearly 3 to 1 and very few minorities achieve the very highest ranks like Commanders of Knights. From the spread of honours, one can assume that men are more deserving than women and Whites more deserving than Blacks. Nothing that has lasted so many years can still serve a different society today in an efficient way, and in the same form, when we have advanced in amazing ways and with constantly changing persoectives.
I mean, a lady running her business successfully for over 50 years gets a mere OBE. Yet still active in her nineties! What on earth does she have to do to get the CBE or Damehood? Another 50 years?
I would scrap this outdated and exclusive honours system if I were David Cameron. It is getting really tired and irrelevant now in the way they are still awarded on class lines and still refer to that great 'Empire' which has an invisible location to the British public. Where exactly do we find this British Empire? Perhaps if we stopped hanging on to the past and looked to our future we would be even greater than before. To award a member of a minority group with a reminder of a discriminatory, racist and repressive colonial regime is disrespectful and offensive in this global age.
We are now desperate for an inclusive MODERN awards system that one does not have to pay money for, which will apply right across the board to everyone in our multicultural society; one which will reflect the national pride we should feel for Britain TODAY, not yesterday. An award system to help bind the country together as one in a spirit of achievement and togetherness, not keep people artificially apart and stuck in yesteryear! Is that the best we can do now to recognise our people?
These awards are an anachronism in today's technological 21st century world. The quicker that is realised and acted upon, the more the credibility of the British honours system will be restored and the more reflective of its multicultural society it will gradually become.
The wedding of Prince William to Kate Middleton might propel her family into the privileged aristocratic band of Britain, but it might not do much for the main family she is joining, the Royals, due to apathy and a sense of increasing irrelevance by the public. This new couple would have to do something dramatic to change its approach and direction and, as William’s father will be king before him, and the Queen has settled in for a long haul, don’t expect any changes soon. Expect business as usual after the novelty of the wedding has passed.
The Royal Family is rapidly becoming an anachronism in today’s classless world of high tech reactions, individual expressiveness and instant soundbites. The Queen still gives out medals and public honours based on the ‘British Empire’, yet where that empire exists these days is entirely beyond anyone to fathom. Paradoxically, she is head of a commonwealth which is highly multi-racial, yet there is not a single Black person in her entourage, no Black advisers and certainly no Black staff in her palace. In fact, if you wish to test the invisibility of minorities in Britain, the way they are treated as second class-citizens, have a close look in Westminister Abbey on April 29th 2011.
The Royal wedding gave the clearest indication of just how multicultural this nation is because the event was practically all-white in representation, apart from the Commonwealth Heads of State who have been invited. Furthermore, this Commonwealth is weighed down under the oppressive symbolism of an unjust ‘empire’ that obstinately continues to take pride of place in our language, no matter how offensive it is to certain sections of the British community. There is no move to get rid of the archaic, divisive and racist symbolisms which divide her subjects, despite her important role in the Commonwealth she rules over.
In the dark ages
The problem with the royal Family is that it has not changed with the times. Members are still trying to apply traditional, unequal ways of behaving to a situation which has long dispensed with tradition and inequality. Diana offered a golden chance of bringing the monarchy up to date with current expectations, but her demise meant that her sons offer the best hope of change.
In a world where blog is king, there is no place for silence from our Royal Family anymore on the issues of the day, otherwise they rule themselves out of our rapidly advancing world simply by omission. That could explain why, except for the Queen, William and Harry, their popularity has dramatically declined and only a few people turn up to see them at events. We need a caring, expressive Royal family who is not just there for the tourists, but one who, through its own lead, will begin to justify the millions of pounds per year the public purse has to supply to keep them in the dark ages.
In its present form, the Royal Family is definitely irrelevant, having the trappings without the substance. As a strong Royalist who has no desire to see Britain become a republic, to me it would be nice to see a leading Family which is more in tune with our modern, multicultural age, more approachable, more inclusive and far more appreciative of their changing role in a diverse age. A Family that is no longer guided by an invisible and outdated colonial empire, but reflecting a modern society based on respect for the individual, regardless of class, race, creed or birth.
In 2001, the writer and academic, Tim Wise, made history in the UK by taking one of the top prizes in the annual British Diversity Awards(7th) held in London - see Wikipedia.
Founded by myself, these unique and prestigious awards recognised and publicly rewarded organisations and individuals in Britain and internationally who were making a significant difference in their establishments and personal efforts to celebrate diversity, promote harmony between cultures, encourage social understanding and to bring people together. The 28 of the 38 judges nationwide, who never met to prevent being influenced by one another, awarded Tim the Best Diversity Article for enabling greater understanding and appreciation of diversity issues. Until then, the title had only been won by Britons.
Colour Conscious, White Blindness, was a powerful treatise on how minorities were perceived in the 1990s relating to crime. Using numerous examples on both sides of the colour divide, Wise left readers in no doubt as to the biased perception of people of colour, and how majority ‘white privilege’ ensured they were always viewed and treated unfairly.
A short excerpt of his award-winning article read: By racializing danger, we lend legitimacy to what D’Souza calls “rational discrimination.” Thus, if certain types of people seem more dangerous, then it’s O.K. to refuse to pick up anyone of their race in your cab, or refuse to hire them, or keep them out of your neighborhood or for the cops to rough them up a bit. It’s rational. Far from mere rhetorical excess this logic has been utilized by a California judge to justify murder. In the 1991 trial of Soon Ja Du, charged with shooting and killing Black teen, Latasha Harlans, the judge handed down only a nominal fine, explaining that the event should be viewed in the context of Du’s family’s “history of being victimized and terrorized by gang members.” Not victimized and terrorized by Harlans, mind you, but by people who looked like Harlans. One can only wonder how this kind of argument would hold up if used by a Black man to justify his killing a white cop because of his prior experiences with police brutality.
“So in just a few short years, comments about the pathology of people of color have gone from the margins of political discourse to the center. Discussions of crime have become increasingly racialized and our dialogue on race increasingly criminalized, such that deviance is now seen by many as synonymous with melanin, or Black culture. Meanwhile whites, no matter how criminal or “deviant” our behaviors may be, are allowed the privilege of individualization. We’re allowed to be “just bad persons,” unlike non-whites who come to be seen collectively as bad people....
Fast forward to today, and I was amazed to receive his latest article relating to the American elections in my mailbox and gives some real insights into white privilege and the 2008 elections.
Entitled This is Your Nation on White Privilege, the blog lists various ways white privilege is still manifesting itself in this election year and begins:
“For those who still can’t grasp the concept of white privilege, or who are constantly looking for some easy-to-understand examples of it, perhaps this list will help.
White privilege is when you can get pregnant at seventeen like Bristol Palin and everyone is quick to insist that your life and that of your family is a personal matter, and that no one has a right to judge you or your parents, because “every family has challenges,” even as black and Latino families with similar “challenges” are regularly typified as irresponsible, pathological and arbiters of social decay.....
So is America still denying the existence of white privilege which automatically allows one section ofits community to be treated better than the others? Decide for yourself with the rest of the article.
This is Your Nation on White Privilege (The Red Room Blog)
Some time ago the British government said that schools can ban students from wearing Muslim veils, if teachers believed they affected safety, security or pupils' learning. School administrators now have the right to ban students from covering their faces under a new uniform policy, but educators should speak with parents before introducing such a ban. Some leading Muslims objected to the ban, but I welcomed the government's leadership on this issue.
As both a former education manager, and a keen promoter of diversity and a multicultural society, I agree wholeheartedly with it because it is all about human respect, inclusion and value. We use the word respect regularly in our daily lives, but very few people understand what it really means. It is not a singular cure-all for worthy intentions, but a very powerful 6-dimensional word which goes to the heart of diversity, human worth and appreciation.
Genuine respect is all embracing. It carries much compassion, little judgment and is entirely non-selective. It sees positivity before negativity, strength before weakness and possibility before judgement. Above all, it is mutually reinforcing, not one way. So respect is never present where only one party claims the need to be respected for their values and traditions through appeasement or bullying. That expectation would reflect mere power and a lack of respect, making it an extremely good pointer to interpersonal interactions. At the heart of respect is sensitivity through compromise. If we are not prepared to compromise with another, there is no respect.
Consequences of Emigrating
The minute we leave our homeland, the need for compromise becomes essential because nothing will be as we left it. Our new life will need negotiation, adjustment and embracing change in a massive way. It will be pretty scary but very rewarding. We cannot impose our values on the new country of residence. It is bound to change us over time because that is the natural law of change. We can never resist it, no matter how long it takes, otherwise we will be fossilised in a time warp while everything briskly moves on around us, as shown by the conflict between the older generation of immigrants who are stuck back there and the new generation born in the UK. Furthermore, only oppressors and colonists seek to impose their language and customs on the new countries they inhabit.
For me personally, as a former education manager, the ban is appropriate and well overdue. We cannot have equality for some women in Britain and not for others. I would also NOT employ someone veiled to teach young children, or have them wear the veil in school either, for one single important reason. The greatest encouragement to anyone, let alone a young child, is a SMILE. It is at the heart of inclusion and belonging. It is very powerful, it costs nothing and can move mountains when everything else fails because of its inclusiveness and reassurance.
The Power of a Smile
Teachers are there to teach but children do not learn just from what they actually say. Children learn from example, from expressions, from a sense of being valued and wanted; from a simple smile of encouragement to improve their efforts. Boys do not cover their faces in a classroom. In a land striving for equality, girls should not cover their faces either. It is important that children communicate with each other from as early as possible, if we are to reduce prejudice, ignorance and bigotry.
A smile is one of the most powerful forms of communicating in any language, especially when other communication isn't possible. Covered faces in a classroom do nothing to bridge the cultural gap, to aid understanding of others, or to enhance self-worth, self-esteem and belonging. Neither do they communicate anything about the joy and positivity of being a vibrant and exciting part of a true multicultural society. They simply breed suspicion and mistrust, continually reinforcing them and us.
Names should be positive terms, but they can be cultural baggage. If you belong to a 'minority' group, what do you call yourself? The choice is easy if it has a definite historical, geographical or religious base. However, what if you are from the Caribbean but insist on being called African? Or an Asian who left your birthplace decades ago but still hark back to it as 'home'? Does all that really matter?
Take any name we call ourself: man, woman, doctor, priest, African, Caucasian, Asian. They all have one thing in common. They represent a specific persona as an individual, a member of a social and cultural group, and set us apart from everyone else who does not share the same background or characteristics. Names and titles are important for establishing individual identity, maintaining tradition, emphasising a particular skill or lineage, marking our place, unmistakably, in a historical and geographical context. Names are usually positive. We are meant to be proud of who we are and what we call ourselves. However, for Black people outside of Africa (like African Caribbeans) that is not always the case.
Black people living abroad have been desperately trying to come to terms with themselves for a very long time because of their chequered past and broken links with their countries of origin. Judged by their colour first, before anything else, it has been a painful demoralising process which some have managed to overcome but to which others have helplessly succumbed. Yet the answer to their anxieties lie in their eventful past. Whether they call themselves Melangian, African, Afro-Caribbean, African American or simply Black, there is a continuous search for a lost childhood, a huge gap in their past when everything happened but very little was spoken about it. Black people everywhere share this unique history.
It is not easy to appreciate, or empathise with, this legacy of slavery, because it is a legacy of displacement, not only in purely physical terms, but also in emotional, historical and psychological ones. For Black people of the African Diaspora there is a continuous sense of statelessness, of not belonging; of lacking the roots and experience of a promising childhood which was rudely torn apart, summarily dispensed with and utterly destroyed by slavers; cut short by something vastly alien, bewildering and shocking.
As a consequence of this brutal act there has been a marked absence of glory in anything black. No Black heroes, no great victories or inventions (those have been kept hidden). I was really surprised to learn, through the musical Black Heroes in the Hall of Fame, that the traffic lights were invented by someone Black! All my life, robbed of role models, I naturally assumed the inventor was White, my childhood having taught me that only White colonists did great things.
Serving and Obeying
For a long time, devoid of ancestral role models and any sense of self, the lost children of Africa looked to the White race for inspiration, as well as guidance in decorum, style of dress, hair care and general behaviour. They did learn how to assimilate a different culture, in their desire to be recognised and to belong, but they lost something valuable in the process - their own identity, sense of worth and sense of direction. Black people saw the White aura and tried to capture it. They admired White inventiveness and tried to emulate it. But these White role models saw only their colour and forever damned it, especially through their language. This has left many Black people confused about their roots: stateless, nameless and, at times, unwanted caricatures of another race.
When Britain commemoratied the 200th anniversary of the Abolition of the Slave Trade, it got me thinking about the real legacy of slavery on Black people, particularly how we perceive ourselves and the names we use.
Even today, every word in the English language connected with the word 'black' is full of nastiness, darkness and foreboding, and I won't even quote Shakespeare to prove it. Courtesy of my thesaurus, the colour white is 'virginal, unblemished, immaculate, innocent, pure'. Black is 'dark, murky, funereal, evil, villainous, wicked!' They may be just words on a page but they reflect the anxiety of the people who gave them meaning and demarcated human beings into roses and rejects. Worse still, constant daily usage ensures their transformation into lethal psychological weapons for those affected by it.
With enlightenment and time, that instant identification with past masters has begun to fade among Black people. Admiration and hero-worship have gradually given way to suspicion and anger through the gradual acknowledgements of painful truths. For the first time ever, the full horror of the slave trade and Britain's part in it, and its financial benefits from it is being openly discussed, not from a sanitised blameless corner but through education of man's inhumanity to man. African Caribbeans, or African Americans, are fighting back, actively seeking that lost childhood to recapture their worth, self-esteem and true identity. But it is an uphill task because of its entrenchment in our psyche. We may have lost too much too quickly and are in danger of leaping too far to the other side to compensate.
Under the guise of 'discovering' themselves, there has been a definite slide towards aligning with Africa, where many Black Britons have never been, and with which they have little incommon except the colour of their skin, instead of the country of their birth or residence; the one that nurtures them and protects their interests. Asians do the same by refusing to let go, even when they know that they are never going back 'home'. Scared of losing their roots and traditions, they trap themselves and their families in a cultural time warp which eventually stunts their growth, slows their evolution and heightens their feeling of insecurity. In this way we all label ourselves like useless packages which are being knocked from pillar to post in a wilderness of denial.
Turning to Africa for Comfort
Someone has to be blamed for the legacy of servitude and self-hate. Their peers and colleagues easily become the identifiable enemy while the real culprit (lack of self-belief, lack of self-love and lack of forgiveness) stalk wantonly inside them, eating away at their consciousness, hopes and ambitions, rendering them helpless, vulnerable and emotionally sterile. Then they wonder why, as a people, they are not more successful, they are dogged by crime and delinquency and they feel so bad within themselves. But wherever there is little self-respect, one cannot have the respect of others.
The names we choose for ourselves do matter. They are clear signs of personal confidence, self-perception, basic identity and future potential. Personally, I prefer Black Briton. I might have descended from a slave but I do not have to be one in my thoughts and mentality. As Bob Marley sang: "Emancipate yourself from mental slavery, none but ourself can free our mind."
I cannot go back in time to right any wrong, and another White person cannot do that either, but by treating myself with love and respect, I can command the respect of others too; by teaching my children to love themselves and respect themselves, they will also be able to free their thoughts from the negative past to boldly go into the future to claim their birthright. By celebrating my presence and the gift of life, I can make my own legacy and a huge difference to my world.
Being a Black Briton, is a conscious decision. I am not a member of an 'ethnic minority' because minority emphasises being out of the majority; on the periphery of the mainstream looking on longingly, but never allowed the opportunity to join that privileged majority. Being 'Black' also emphasises that, though I may not be a member of the White majority, I am equally proud of who I am and where I hope to go. I used to be a Jamaican, representing the land of my birth. Deep within me I will always have a fondness for, and a sort of wonder, that a tiny little island has had such a phenomenal impact on the rest of the world through creativity, music and sports! Jamaica represents my history, and a very proud one too. Regardless of how my ancestors got to Jamaica, someone elsewhere decreed that I should be a Jamaican and I am very proud of that roots.
Yet, at a time when racist folks continually threaten to make life uncomfortable for all Britons, and others talk of 'apology', 'repatriation' and 'compensation', there will have to be one person standing aside from all that to take a different view - me. I have no wish to return to my past because there is nothing happening back there.
The past is important for placing us in time and noting the significant moments in our history, for reference, not for residence. A concentration on the past robs us of both a present and a future. If we are busy back there, we cannot be busy here too. It is a short step from simply finding scapegoats for feelings of inadequacy which then prevent us looking at ourselves. The past is useful for changing the present and developing the future in a more enhancing way. It is not for wallowing in self-pity or harbouring futile thoughts of revenge.
Loyalty to Our Country
The fact that I am finally sure in my mind who I am, what I want and where I am going has helped me to move on to another important plain: to other essential things like future achievements, a rewarding career reflecting my purpose in life and the support I can give to my children and any grandchildren by being close at hand for them when they need me.
Importantly, I am now able to focus upon my own self development in a way which would be denied me if I had to be continually worried about who I am, where I am and where I want to go. Self knowledge comes gradually over time but if, after 15, 20 or 25 years spent in one place, those questions are still causing anxiety without a real sense of belonging, there is major psychological stress and dissonance which needs to be addressed. In fact, one thing has always fascinated me about the semantics of identity, especially in America. All the weak minority groupings attach a prefix to who they are: like Hispanic-Americans and African-Americans.
The White ruling class, the one with the power and the resources, the media and the control, have jettisoned any overt claim to their roots and simply settled for being Americans! Are they the only true Americans then? Could that be the secret of their success? I suppose if we are not serving two masters there will be only one set of instructions. European Americans have moved away from trying to prove their existence because, having proven it already, they now flaunt it proudly.
Black Britons, and to a large extent, African Americans, are still trying to prove themselves and it will carry on in this new millennium for a very long time. This could explain the deep divisions among them, the basic lack of self-respect reflected in the language they use for their women, the obsession with the 'right words' and clothing labels, an even stronger obsession with things African - but from a distance - and a negative, inward looking perspective which helps to rob their children of their birthright and the security needed for them to belong