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Diversity and Respect



The True Meaning of RESPECT

 

flowers

Whatever new resolutions we make, there is one thing we will seek every day in our lives without fail and that is RESPECT because it is tied up with our self-esteem and feeling of value. We talk about it a lot, we yearn for it, we expect it automatically and we notice when we haven't been given it by others. But this word is not really understood by many people.

For example, respect is demonstrated by our actions, not our words. And when those actions are absent, especially at a trivial or simple level, there is also a distinct lack of respect. In every relationship respect goes hand-in-hand with love and commitment. You cannot love someone you don't respect or are not prepared to commit to, even for a short time. Otherwise you will resent the time spent with them, or spent doing things on their behalf, when you could be doing something else or be with someone else. Neither can you love someone you really do not trust. Once trust is gone, the feelings become superficial as the relationship shifts in terms of both emotion and power. You would no longer respect that person, tending to be suspicious of their actions instead of celebrating and enjoying their presence.

The Six Dimensions of Respect
Often a lack of respect comes from a misunderstanding of the word. We throw around the word 'respect' very glibly, as a single cure-all for our feelings. But respect is not just a simple term. It carries six other dimensions within it:

1. curiosity

2. attention

3. dialogue

4. sensitivity

5. empowerment

6. healing

If we are not really demonstrating those six concepts in various ways, with regards to the one we say we respect, we are not showing them much respect at all.


Curiosity

Respect starts with curiosity. We have an interest in that person. We want to know as much about them as possible, or at least a few key things to start with. In the dating process we engineer all kinds of opportunities to satisfy that curiosity and are often mortified when we get no response from our interest because are unable to fulfil our curiosity in any way and to give our attention. We feel frustrated, rejected and insignificant.


Attention

If curiosity is satisfied, we move to give that person our full attention. Indeed, our curiosity grows too, because that person begins to assume value in our eyes. The amount of value will depend on the way they satisfy our curiosity and attention. If the information we get is weak, unappealing or non-reinforcing, we lose interest rapidly, our attention wanes and we move towards another. However, if we perceive that the new interest aligns with us and matches us in major ways, excitement and interest both quicken. We then lavish even more attention on that person, going out of our way to attract their attention and interest.


Dialogue

Lots of attention inevitably leads to dialogue because that is the only way we can learn about our new interest. We communicate verbally as much as possible because we respect that person enough to want to hear what they have to say. We also take the greatest pleasure in conversing for its own sake. Hence much money will be spent on dates and phone calls, in particular. Where there is little respect, we are not in the least bit interested in that person and won't even talk to them. If there is also disrespect, for example, we made assumptions about them based upon their gender, colour, sexuality etc., we will go so far as to treat them negatively. We might have a dialogue at such times but it will express our anxieties, prejudices or anger, not our respect.


Sensitivity
This is at the core of respect. Accepting the person as they are without wanting to change them to suit us; fully acknowledging their values, culture, identity and who they want to be; valuing their contributions, opinions and inputs and genuinely listening to them and sharing their concerns. These are all essential elements of showing sensitivity to the person they are, and wish to be. When we put ourself and our needs first, and can only see our values, cultures and opinions, we are lacking great sensitivity to those we care for and are actually denying them respect, no matter what we say to the contrary.


Empowerment

Being curious about someone, giving our attention to, having a dialogue with, him or her, and being sensitive to their needs represent the greatest form of empowerment we can grant to another human being. It shows we value them greatly if we are willing to give them our attention and time, and also care about what they value. Anything else lacks respect. For example, if someone is trying to talk to you but you are busy playing on your computer, or talking to someone else on the phone, that shows little reciprocity for the respect they might be giving to you, or sensitivity to their presence and needs.


Healing
Respect has the capacity to heal, especially when we have had past experiences that have been very hurtful or traumatic, so this last dimension is important. When we have had a bad time it is very affirming to be respected and valued by the new person we are attracted to, or the people we interact with, and it is effective in speeding up the healing process. For example, if someone felt really inadequate because her man went off with a younger, more beautiful woman, a new lover in her life demonstrating how wonderful she is would give her much-needed respect and reinforcement. This would heal her pain even quicker than if she had to overcome it by herself. Respect heals because it affirms and reinforces who we are and wish to be. It also puts past hurt into perspective, or even negates it, and restores our confidence.

Respect and trust can never be taken for granted. They are attributes that have to be proven. They are also directly reciprocal to the behaviour of others. For example, when we feel that we have had no respect from other people we care about, it is likely that we have given them very little respect ourselves. Most of us are sensitive to when we are not being treated with respect and are then unable to give any in its absence.

If you feel disrespected, what are you doing in the process? There is always a connection. You are either accepting substandard behaviour in order to gain approval, allowing yourself to be treated like a doormat, or you are not treating someone well enough. Once you sort out the root cause, mutual respect and trust are usually assured.

Altogether these six dimensions add up to the powerful concept of respect. When we show another human being that respect, we add an even greater experience to their life and perspectives while we too are empowered by its effects.




The 7 Most Important Words in Human Existence
(Virtual Keys to The Quality of Life)

 

flowers

We all have words that are of special meaning to us, and some will have greater resonance and relevance than others, depending on their positive or negative associations with our experiences. However, in a global and collective consciousness, there are certain words that unite us all. They soar way above others in what they mean for the quality, success and actual purpose of our lives; words that are like beacons in guiding us to our destinations and keeping us focused. They are above all other words we use because of their power to affect our lives, to give us what we desire and to add sheer enjoyment, satisfaction and fulfilment to our existence.

These seven words have no equal. Taken individually or together they are in a class of their own because they embrace other key words within them. Imagine these words as the building blocks of your personal house, and this is how they would be used in the construction:


1. SELF-LOVE
Self love is the foundation of your house. Everything else grows or falls on it. Armed with this word in your daily existence you just cannot go wrong. It is the essential basis for love, compassion and respect. It is the key to successful relationships and the quality of our interactions. It dictates the perception of our world, the attitude we have toward others, the empathy we feel for them, the forgiveness we are able to make and the love we freely give. If we do not love ourselves we find it hard to love and respect others too. Wherever someone is looking outward to the negative things in life, being quick to judge others rather than seeing their goodness, or to criticise rather than to nurture and love, there’s huge self love missing from that person’s experience. This results in a lack of confidence, lack of self-appeciation and value and a whole lot of fear.

We do not see the world as we think it is, we see the world as we are, based on the amount of self love we have. This dictates whether we feel good or bad, happy or sad, isolated or befriended, positive or negative. If we are happy and full of self love the world seems an enriching and wonderful place, no matter how terrible some situations might be. If we lack self love, we also lack trust in others, and love and empathy for others; the world seems a crap place to be. Quite simply, we can only give to others what we have to share within us. If we have no self love, we have no love to give and that has a marked effect on four main areas of our lives: our sense of belonging, the security we feel, our level of trust in others and the relationships we have.


2. BELIEF
Without belief, especially in ourselves, we are doomed. We might as well pack it in and take an early departure. If self-love is the foundation of our personal house, belief forms the pillars of it, the blocks that will hold up everything else. Belief engenders trust and faith, key words that underpin it. When we believe in anything, we trust what we know, we have faith in people’s ability to deliver and we surrender to forces we might not understand but which have the power to take us farther in life than we can do by ourselves. We know that there is no limit on what we can do and achieve except what is inside our heads; we control less and enjoy life more; we can be patient as well as enthusiastic and impulsive and we can respect others too for their beliefs.

Belief liberates us from fear and insecurity because we know that whatever we believe in – whether God or little green men – it has the power to help us make things magical. That belief, and faith in our belief, bind us all together in a shared purpose of living. Life ceases to be a drudgery and becomes joyful and fulfilling because we know, and believe, that we have the power to make our life what we want it to be. No one else is responsible but us. We do our best, believe in ourselves, trust in others (and even a higher power) to do the rest and with the faith to motivate us! The results can often be miraculous.


3. VALUES
Values are the roof of our house. They protect us when the rains of adversity are raining down upon us; they remind us of our identity and purpose and keep us focused on our priorities in life. If you know what your key values are, you will always feel a sense of peace, security and contentment because you will be living to them. In a recent survey, some executives were asked for their top priorities in life. Without hesitation most of them said ‘my family’, which one would expect. However, when they were asked to itemise all the major activities in their week to see how that value was put into action, hardly any activity related to their family! They all related to money, success, achievements and status – career concerns. Family was something that sounded good when they said it.

The words might have made them feel good about themselves but the actions to match it were sorely lacking. Money doesn’t make a family, though it might provide some comfort. However, money and other concerns tend to destroy a family when the focus on them is too much. In fact, many of those executives would be living with perennial guilt because they were not living according to their top values. They would be trapped emotionally between the gap of their intention and continued lack of action. Until they really put family first by aligning their actions with it, they would be fooling themselves.

Values are the things that define us, the priorities we make in life, the codes we live by. Some secondary values will always change, according to what is happening in our life at that time, but the core ones (like justice, fair play, honesty, integrity and valuing life) will never change. They stay with us forever. When we are not living to our core values (like married spouses who declare their undying love for partners but are having affairs, or someone who does something just to please someone else even though they hate it) we get a lot of frustration, worry, stress, resentment and emotional pain. We find it difficult to be happy, contented and at peace because there is a dissonance between our intentions of good faith and our actual actions. We are then tempted to look outwards and blame others than to look inwards to address what is making us unhappy and how we can alleviate it.


4. CREATIVITY
Our creativity is what makes the human race as a whole survive from one day to the next. It is like the walls of a house that surround us from day to day, to keep out the elements and ensure our survival. Creativity keeps our species going by turning our desires into material things that give us artistic beauty, personal comfort, improved health, prolonged life and stretches us intellectually. Desires are not accidental things. Thanks to our natural curiosity and our ability to keep wanting and expecting, we have developed our world over the centuries to the amazing one we now live in. Creativity is about how proactive we are; our willingness to fulfil our desires without fear, to use our imagination (the most powerful tool we possess), the knowledge gained through curiosity and the motivation we feel to continually forge our existence for the benefit of ourselves and others.

Creativity allows us to leave a legacy for the next generation, to prolong the chain of life itself. People who are reluctant to use their own creativity and prefer to depend on that of others tend to be takers, not contributors. They make use of the creative flow of others without realising their own dreams for others to benefit too (like the people who daily use the Internet just for their own gain without adding something to it for others to share). They are not fully utilising their own skills and talents in order to give life to their creativity, while helping mankind as a whole.


5. VISION
The windows of our house give the vision we need to see what is possible for us. Our vision allows us a much wider view of life, but it is usually blocked by the curtains of fear: the fear of where we are heading and the inadequacy we feel. Vision gives us clarity and boosts our motivation. Vision provides a panoramic view of life, while hope, faith and trust help us to cover the terrain. Without vision, we have no confidence in our abilities and our potential. A lack of personal vision feels debilitating because it keeps us in limbo, there is no real purpose in life and it robs us of the motivation to even get up out of bed each day and the real excitement of living. Without vision we simply exist because we are likely to be physically and emotionally drained of the joy of living.

With a clear view through your own windows, there is a sense of urgency and vibrancy in your life – an impatience for action and a need to get on. There is much anticipation and self confidence in what you can enable through your own efforts. All things are possible.


6. CHOICES
Choices are the doors of our personal house. We either use them regularly by keeping those doors open to possibilities and moving briskly on in our lives, or we fear to exercise those choices, hark back to the past with regret, and remain in a rut. At the heart of our choices are the decisions we make. If we make no decisions regularly nothing happens. Even worse, others are likely to make those decisions for us. The choices we make are about how we exercise free will, how we deal with the consequences of our actions, the responsibility we take for them, the expectations we have of ourselves and others and how we exercise those choices once they are made.

Many people are afraid to make choices. They lack the maturity to face the consequences of their actions and so live in fear instead. Or they want everything to be so perfect, and lack self-belief so much, they do not believe they have the power to turn their choices into great decisions which will magically affect their lives. Instead they keep their emotional doors firmly shut, fearing to open them even an inch, and then wonder why they are stuck in the same places, doing the same things and feeling the same inadequacy, failure and pain for months and perhaps years.


7. DISCIPLINE
This forms the sturdy floor of your personal house, solid and unchanging. Without discipline, you can be distracted by triviality; you can be blown this way and that; there would be no solidity or security in your journey because you would be plagued by vagueness and ambiguity. Discipline is the foundation for our behaviour because it is about commitment and consistency, first and foremost. Commitment to the things we value, to our beliefs, to the choices we make, to the creativity we exercise, the responsibilities we assume, the priorities we have and to the sacrifices we are prepared to make to achieve what is important in our lives. And consistency in our actions, whether we can be relied upon or are simply fair-weather people, changing with the wind primarily for opportunism and results without any clear direction.

Without discipline we would be on a continual see-saw of inconsistency, perhaps starting and seldom finishing, always wishing yet never realising and often intending but not usually acting. Discipline is the glue that reinforces our actions, that takes us from one point to the next and keeps us focused on everything that is important to us.





Is respect automatic or does it have to be earned?

 

flowers

We all seek respect daily, but how does it come about? Is it automatic or does it have to be earned?

We tend to respect people for what they do, their birthright and the role they play. If we did not acknowledge and validate them as the source of that status, action or expertise, we would not show them respect. Respect is automatic during the initial first impressions, but it is never static and has to be earned afterwards to be maintained. It is difficult to respect someone even when they are being negative and hostile, so we tend to wait for people to 'earn' that respect, though it is awarded without question at the beginning. In effect, a kind of respect with probation.

Respect does not come easily either. The very act of respecting someone means putting them either on par, or above, ourselves, in estimation. We tend to respect people only when we personally recognise them as the source of something wholesome, unique, beneficial or empowering: for example, through a particular knowledge, action, expertise or leadership, not just through their work or social status. We have to feel we can trust them. That is why some people who are simply 'in charge', and have failed professional expectations, are not really respected.

We have to believe someone is responsible for some display of talent, some special activity or earned status before we are inclined to give due recognition, followed by respect through personal admiration and trust. Respect is likely to come through any, or all, of the following sources:

*Fulfilling another person's expectations (i:e making their wishes come true).

*Being better at a special task or skill.

*Being knowledgeable in a particular subject, like a media or academic 'expert'.

*Having a unique position by virtue of birth (the Queen) or for very special achievements (a great sportsperson).

*Helping others to achieve their goals (perceived as having 'power' and 'influence')

*Having a reputation for being generous and kind (rich philanthropists funding selective social projects).

*Being a successful, self-made person with the freedom of action and personal control desired by others (Richard Branson of Virgin and Bill Gates, for example).


Facing Challenges


For example, Barack Obama came out of nowhere to be a huge contender in the 2008 American elections. At first, though there was some scepticism as to his suitability, he was welcomed into the race, given due respect for what he aimed to do and who he said he was. But, from then on, he was on his own and had to earn that respect which he did in the form of winning the Democratic nomination. Enough people recognised his talent, respected him for it and voted him in. If he had lost that respect through his words not matching up with his actions or suitability, he would not have been given the opportunity to be the next president.

His being fiercely individual and non-conformist comes as no surprise. You have to believe in yourself and others to generate real confidence and commitment and be prepared to lead from a lonely position of self-belief; to take risks and face challenges, regardless of scepticism and the consequences. Not to take that respect for granted but to reinforce it at every opportunity.

Respect also has to be given for it to be received. It is quite difficult to respect someone who thinks very little of us, unless we have low self-esteem and are seeking their approval. Furthermore, without respect from others we have problems of adjustment, feelings of insignificance and alienation, loss of confidence and low expectations.

This explains why some minority groups perceive themselves to be outside of the mainstream instead of being a vital part of the action. Not recognised for their individual competence or endeavours, except in terms of their race, disability, religion, age or sexuality, they cannot contribute in the same meaningful terms to the wider society until their recognition becomes more professional and less personalised.

It is also difficult to succeed entirely on our own because success is defined by the recognition of our action and the sense of achievement which accompanies it. We can be mad scientists creating new gadgets every day which might personally benefit us, but unless others share those advantages in some way, our genius will never be recognised. Others would get the glory and respect for our inventions. We would only be successful in our own eyes and this is not sufficient in itself to allow us to make a social impact.

It does not matter how fantastic we think we are, unless others recognise it too, we can only move forward in a limited way. With recognition comes respect for our unique selves and talents.





The Power of 'Listening' to Gain Respect

 

flowers

Everyone in the world mistakenly believes they are seeing the same reality. In one sense, reality is a static situation but how it appears to us will depend on what we read into it, and that is decided by our individual perception. With perception being a powerful invisible force in human relationships, learning how we each perceive a situation can help to improve understanding, respect and individual communication skills.

For example, what do you currently assume or take for granted in your relationship?
 Do you accept widely held stereotypes and do you base expectations of your family on them?
 Can you see your child, parent or spouse as a person in his or her own right rather than just as 'a selfish man' , 'a stupid woman' or a member of the 'younger' or 'older' generation?

Most important, do you really listen when you meet someone new or do you immediately make an assumption and impose your perception on them? Do you try to understand their perception while patiently explaining your own?

Getting to know someone better, and taking time to understand their beliefs and perspective, whether we agree with them or not, help to get rid of perceptions which are based more on fear than on fact.

Listening to someone, while communicating accurately and consistently, is essential to this process. Being a fundamental aspect of effective communication, listening affects what we perceive the situation to be, especially what we believe the other person is actually saying. We cannot note the difference between a symptom and a problem when we have not listened to the facts or perceptions of the facts. We cannot help if we do not really hear.

Early in my writing career I sent the first three pages of a chapter of one of my books to a white colleague and high flyer whom I greatly admired and respected for her feedback. But, even before I sent it, because it was only three pages long, her perception of its value was immediately negative. She assumed that it would not make sense (and told me so, before receiving the excerpt!). She advised how I needed to write so the public could understand what I was trying to say, and that she would not be able to be objective about it if she did not get the whole chapter. I wondered what else was operating here so that my perceived incompetence loomed large in this instance!

Once she got it, she understood the content perfectly, rated it 'astonishingly good' and felt sheepish at her earlier perception, anxieties and assumptions. But that's what happens when our self-esteem and self-perception is low. We project our fears and worries on to other people who are unlikely to share those insecurities. Worse still, when such anxieties are placed upon children, who are normally fearless, they become burdened by them and act accordingly.

Do you make the effort to really listen to other people, getting the real messages between the words, or do you assume what they are saying and miss those messages entirely?




Why RESPECT Cannot be Earned Through Negative Means, like Gangs

 

flowers

An 18 year old gang member who murdered someone some time ago, whom he said paid him ‘no respect’, reminded me of the way we take that precious word for granted. According to the judge, this young killer “perceived disrespect”. He feared loss of face in a challenge that he perceived from the man he killed – a challenge to the standing he felt he had in the eyes of the people whose respect he sought.

Gang members tend to talk about getting ‘respect’ from each other and others. They believe that the negative acts of wounding and killing should encourage even more ‘respect’ and save face. But they will always fail in getting the desired result because of a misunderstanding of the word respect and a lack of awareness of how it is acquired. Respect is a positive word. It has nothing to do with negativity or negative acts. So one cannot get respect through negative behaviour. One can probably get a temporary feeling of satisfaction and power, but no real respect. There are also six dimensions of the word respect.

At the heart of respect is sensitivity to others and their feelings. By demanding respect, or bullying others into showing it, that goes against the grain of earning that respect because there is no sensitivity. We are all automatically entitled to respect by virtue of being living, thinking human beings. Respect is thus automatic in the first instance for who we are and proclaim to be. However, maintaining that respect is the difficult bit because unless the six dimensions of respect are in place (curiosity, attention, dialogue, sensitivity, empowerment, healing), we are likely to withhold respect from that person and treat them with either contempt or disdain, especially through ignoring them or resisting their attempts to draw our attention or engage in dialogue.


Reasons for Joining Gangs

Most important, real respect begins from the self. If we have no respect for ourselves, we cannot expect it from others either. That would be a difficult thing to do. For example, someone being a murderer, yet expect to be treated as though he hasn’t committed a crime, is contradictory. He is a criminal. Until there has been a successful rehabilitation for his action, he will always be perceived in a negative light and denied the respect he seeks.

People also join gangs for a variety of reasons, but the key one is to foster a sense of belonging, an essential part of the confidence triangle. Most gang members will be low in self-esteem and the stronger ones will have a craving for power. Not being able to use that power in positive ways in the wider world, they will use it negatively to feel better about themselves. In such groups, where the only glue holding members together is the desire to belong and feel wanted, the achievement they crave is likely to come in deviant acts to maintain that feeling of power and desire for ‘respect’.

Yet that is not the basis to earn respect because there is no self-respect already in place. Instead, members are likely to expect others to like what they reject – themselves. They will also be expecting others to condone negative acts which are likely to be part of their rituals and affirmation process. Yet those very acts merely serve to alienate the wider public and form a dubious base for their efforts to impress other members. In such a negative situation, how could this young killer expect to get the respect that he himself denied others?

This teenager was another tragic youngster who thought he could earn respect by force through the maiming and killing of another person. But he lost respect for himself when he became a member of a deviant gang and began his reign of terror against his neighbourhood. He said he only meant to scare his victim. I am inclined to believe him. But what obviously got in the way when he pointed the gun at a  defenceless citizen, standing up to his bullying, was that feeling of power again, the sudden realisation of the heady power to snuff out a man’s life to prove a point, while momentarily forgetting that he was robbing himself of a life too.






The Enslavement of our Children Through Semantics

 

flowers

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
The notion of a home far away also harms their children's present and future. It implants a constant reminder of instability and impermanence and is one of the biggest causes of insecurity and underachievement. If their parents are going 'home' sometime in the never never, why should they bother to work here? Why bother with making real friends? With buckling down to school work if you are going to be uprooted suddenly to 'go home'? Sadly, 15 or 20 years down the line, when the parents are still in Britain clinging to their outdated memory of 'home', the children would have completely lost theirs through apathy and alienation. In the meantime, the 'home' they fondly hang on to has changed beyond recognition. Trapped in time and fossilised in their brain, the cherished perfect past is a far cry from the actual reality; one which is a vibrant, moving form of constantly changing mores; one which would be almost as alien to them as to anyone else.

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

Whether you are an African who has never been to Africa, an Asian who left your country years ago, or a Briton who is going nowhere else, here is a little challenge to tease out your true identity: Apart from mere words, what have I done for Africa lately? For Jamaica? For India? For Pakistan? For Britain? For Me...?

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 and Respect in the British Honours System

 

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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 British Government has had an obstinate stance towards changing the word 'Empire' in its public awards for its own reasons, mainly for continuity and tradition, but this is not about a simple word. It is much bigger than that. The British Empire meant two entirely different things to Blacks and Whites who shared it. One group experienced repression, oppression and major racism against their very identity. For the other it was as subjugating masters of other peoples. It is also about the labels we choose to enhance ourselves.

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

Finally, and most importantly, is the question of respect. The message of Empire to a mixed community is one of disrespect and negation of their feelings. No one is suggesting that every single Black person does not wish for these honours, but a significantly increasing number find them an anathema in their present form. People desire recognition and reward to feel appreciated and valued for their contribution to society. We also require national awards that carry integrity, credibility and prestige that we can all celebrate. For a variety of reasons, the current corrupt honours system no longer serves that purpose. The honours have lost their gloss and are rapidly losing their impact and credibility. Many of the very people who could promote them and raise their prestige, like myself, are against them. Worse still, anything which divides a country, yet is supposed to be beneficial, will only increase resentment on all sides - from the powerful who remain entrenched to the powerless who feel unheard.

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.




Why I Will Not Knock Britain

 

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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.


HE SAID:

"Institutional racism, incivility, drug, crime, binge drinking, anti-social behaviour, high rate of abortion and an increase in teenage pregnancies are common part of life in state schools. Muslim parents do not want their children to be integrated into such barbarity."


MY REPLY:

Thank you for the posts you send because they give another perspective on social issues and I have enjoyed reading many of them. I also think you have a point about the Polish situation, but I would like to challenge something you said, which I have quoted above.

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.






Will the Coalition be Reforming the British Honours System?

 

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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.




Has the British Royal Family become irrelevant?

 

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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
Quite simply, the British Royal Family has had its day. Constant exposure in a new vulnerable way, the treatment of Diana, Charles’ long-standing affair with Camilla Parker-Bowles, the lip service paid to diversity, and the seeming uselessness of their presence when the age of deference and awe has long gone, is killing the institution slowly. We might not be too keen on a Republic, like our American neighbours, but, even with Internet publicity, they are still mainly fodder for tourism and the curious rather than any real value to the public.

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.




Is America still in denial of White Privilege?

 

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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)

http://www.timwise.org






An Essential Part of Empowering a Child

 

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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

When we settle in a different country, we choose that country because of what it offers us, at the beginning, but also what we feel we can contribute to it over time. One of the consequences of emigrating is that we lose at least 50% of what we cherish and value, unless we remain in the past, holding on to something we can never regain. Then we lose much more than that in security and self-worth. If we wanted that country to be like the place we left, why emigrate at all? Simpler to stay put and preserve the cherished customs and traditions which are reinforced by others around us.

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
Without that smile there is nothing familiar and welcoming. Children of whatever age live for that smile of approval and reinforcement. At the youngest ages they soon learn that a smile is the essential currency of love and inclusion, a reinforcement of their worth; that the simple smile takes on a life of its own and opens doors to other aspects of enjoyment. Take it away, and there is doubt, fear and insecurity in the young mind.

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.






What's in a Name?(1) The True Legacy of Slavery

 

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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.


Dirty Secret
They have been the only race, in modern times, who were forcibly ejected en masse from their place of birth and dispersed all over the world to be the slaves of another race of people. That one conscious slice of being Black, which continually haunts them, will never be understood by a White person in any number of lifetimes. It is such a powerful, pervasive and debilitating emotion, a kind of dirty secret scanning years of discrimination and entrapment, that Black strangers passing by only have to look at each other briefly in the street to share something instantly familiar, oddly binding and utterly unspeakable which hovers relentlessly through time.

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

Like a form of imprinting, White Europeans were the first 'parents' Black slave children saw, received their value from and had to serve and obey in a kind of sub-human state. This affected them not only for the rest of their lives but down the ensuing centuries through the generations that followed. How can one ever talk of true equality when one group started off being the slave of another, being deprived of basic human rights and freedoms, and their own dreams and hopes? If you start with a disadvantage, which follows you down the years, how do you recover from it to enjoy real parity with the masters who exploited you to build themselves and their fortunes? It is very difficult. That is why there has always been this desire, in the absence of anything positive about being Black, to use the White culture as a role model in all spheres. One only had to look at the way singers form the 50s presented themselves to the public, how 'White' they were made to look, or tried to be, in order to be 'acceptable'.

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.




What's in a Name?(2) The Language of Slavery

 

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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

Instead of a solidarity in being Black, acknowledging a common past and linking together for a better future, wherever we are, many eagerly turn to Africa (or Mother India) from whom they descended for their comfort and validation. Many Blacks wear their African label proudly, while turning inwards on their brothers and sisters to put them down, to revile their efforts and to mock their successes.

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
Whether I like Britain or not, this is now my home, not Jamaica, not Africa not anywhere else. My ancestors could not choose to go to Britain. They were forced to be here. But I had the choice of going to America, Canada, Europe - mostly anywhere I wanted to, and I chose the UK. I adore this country and wouldn't live anywhere else. That was a conscious choice and has remained so. This is where I live, and where I now celebrate the 40th anniversary of arriving in London from Jamaica; where I have spent many wonderful years, where my children have to live when I am dead and gone and where I wish to contribute my skills to enable us to enjoy a fulfilling life.

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