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I don’t need to give a summary of the events of the last few days. It is a recurring theme in the past 400 or so years of black history. Of brutalisation, of violence, of unanswered questions. Of being painted as the aggressors whilst being the victims. Of hope almost enveloped in rage and helplessness. Of fighting with all the heart we have to not extend the same hatred that has been shown to us.

But I am not in Ferguson. My son will not likely be a black man in America. My brother is less likely to get shot by a policeman in London than on a cold American sidewalk. It is winter now, and the coldness is a fitting background for the events of the past few days. And what do we do here, in England? We cannot claim that police brutality is on the same level as it is for those  across the pond. We watch, and we Facebook post, and we tweet in solidarity. We mourn with them. We are angry with them. We are angry for them. We remember that we too have similar gripes with the police force here. We too have black men who have died in police custody. We have our Mark Duggan and our Christopher Alder.

British racism has always operated differently from American racism. The nature of the beast is the same, but it wears a more genteel, aloof face here. Even the practice of slavery by the British gives an insight into how they would deal with the racism that trickled down from it. Most slaves were not kept in British houses, whipped in the back yard, raped in the house. American slavery got right up in your face. American whites looked their slaves in the face every day.

Britain has always kept a polite distance from its slaves. Islands in the Caribbean full of African bodies, working under a beating sun to fuel an industrial revolution, to provide sugar for British tea parties, were oceans away from those who drank the tea. Victorian ladies would be uncomfortable with the torture and rape needed to provide the perfect cup of earl grey being thrust in front of their face. The stiff upper lip is too delicate. So occasional reports from a Barbadian plantation were better.

This is British racism.

It thrives on denial. It thrives on lack of open conversation. It thrives on middle class bubbles with token middle class black people who don’t want to discuss race with their white friends because it would make dinner parties uncomfortable. It thrives on farmers markets in Brixton where white hipsters enjoy the ‘culture’ but segregate themselves from the people who provide the ‘culture’. It thrives on fairy tale ideas of multi culturalism. It thrives on using the coded language of ‘immigration’, ‘thug’ and ‘hoodies’ instead of nigger. It thrives on the pseudo racism of UKIP. It thrives on black professionals mysteriously being made redundant or passive aggressively bullied in the work place, and told they’re playing the ‘race card’  if they dare to mention it. It thrives on acting like racism, just like Caribbean slaves, is an ocean away – out of sight and out of mind.

This is why Britain needs to talk about race. But especially black people in Britain. We need to keep affirming each other that it is not all ‘in our heads’. We need to give ourselves spaces where we can emotionally release the frustration that comes from being marginalised. It’s not natural to internalise everything. Do not be placated by claims that Britain is  much more progressive than America. It isn’t. The racism is less overt and less violent, and we are fortunate for that, but it is just as insidious. If anything, it’s just more intelligent. The social and economic disparities in England are vast. The structural racism is strong.

It’s ok to just have a space to vent and be angry and be frustrated. It’s human to need that. It’s ok. It’s ok to do that without having the onus of finding a solution to the problem being placed on you. It’s ok.

My heart and my prayers are with the families of those young men tonight. Every single one of them. The ones that died before and the ones that will die in the months and years to come, because there will be more. That they will find a space in their hearts for forgiveness, but that most of all they will find a modicum of justice and peace.

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So I’ve already hinted in previous posts that I find the way that non-whites are often objectified, even in relationships where their partner should see them as equal, scary. The idea of Asian women being fetishised by white men is nothing new (the stereotype of the submissive Asian woman lives on), and some Black women are also wary of being an exotic thrill for a White man who wants to journey into a moving, breathing African jungle, but we don’t seem to like to talk about the objectification of black men by white women. It’s awkward, isn’t it? Because the majority of interracial couplings we see are black male- white female pairings, and you’re supposed to not speak about it unless your commentary is wholly positive, otherwise you are labelled as a black racist, a bitter, manless, hating black women, an enemy of societal progress. But if we are going to move in any way towards some type of real progressive healing of the wounds of racism, we have to do better than these superficial conversations where we ignore widespread discrimination, structural racism, and deep seated stereotyping and objectification because “la la la people are having mixed race babies so obviously they are not racist”. (See Donald Sterling and the Clippers fiasco as a textbook example of why romantic and sexual relations with a black person tell me absolutely nothing about your level of racism).

Anyway. 

It’s always interesting to me look at the way black men as a group are often perceived by general society, and the impact it has on romantic and other personal relationships. There are a few major themes when we look at how society perceives black men. The first and most obvious theme is that of the violent, aggressive and angry black man. That’s the media’s favourite. It’s why Mark Duggan’s picture was cropped so that you didn’t see him holding a heart with an inscription about his dead daughter, but instead were only shown an apparently menacing and angry face glowering at you. Closely linked to that is the theme of the hyper physical black man – all running, all dancing, all boxing, leaping over walls and gates as he runs from detectives – natural physical prowess seems to exude from his very pores. Also closely connected to physical prowess is the idea of the hyper sexual black man. The mystical large penis, and the ability to please sexually in a way white men can’t. Black men are perceived by some with a mixture of fear and curiosity.

Now I know we all want to believe that everyone lives in a bubble where their romantic and sexual inclinations are uninfluenced by media branding and historical stereotyping…well tell a lie, we’re happy to admit that people are influenced by these things, except for when it comes to race. Any suggestion that someone of another race is interested in someone of another race for reasons other than love, is frowned upon. It’s a taboo topic.

Unfortunately, from conversations I’ve heard and from experiences relayed to me by others, it’s quite obvious that for some white women, a part of their desire to be in a relationship with a black man is based on an level of intrigue which is rooted in the stereotypes I noted above. Black men are somewhat of an illicit thrill, the man that at 17 your parents would be be a bit unhappy about, the resident new ‘cool kid’, the epitome of a bad boy – complete with this mythical sexual prowess. For some women, sleeping or having a relationship with a black man is something to tick off their bucket list. 

But you already knew that. You think it’s a small but unfortunate minority of women who think like this, and they’re easily avoided by asking a few simple questions.

I’m arguing that it’s not so much a minority, but a level of sub-concious thinking that a lot of us, black, white or other have absorbed. In fact, some of the major proponents of the black male hypersexualisation theme have been black men themselves. There are quite a few black men who enjoy the idea of having larger members, being physically stronger, and having more finesse than white men and use it to their advantage on a night out on the pull. There are a few who don’t really mind being objectified or treated as a fetish by white women as long as it means they get some sexual favours. They will happily sit there as women wax lyrical about their ‘chocolate skin’ or sexual ability. In fact, more frightening to me is the fact that the stereotype of the hyper sexualised black male is being pushed via some elements of black media and promoted by some black men. A historical stereotype is somewhat out of your control, but your promotion and embodiment of it is up to you, and if you are content for someone to objectify you, then don’t be surprised when in a  moment of anger that objectification morphs into overt racism.

One very mistaken idea that has managed to seep into our thinking is that if someone objectifies or fetishises you, they will never marry you or date you long term. Therefore, people who are looking for a quickie or a short term relationship are the ones to look out for, but if someone loves you and enters into a long term relationship with you, then by virtue of that fact, they see you as equal, they are not stereotyping and will not stereotype you, and they’ve completely deconstructed any underlying racial prejudices they might have. With all due respect, that is utter rubbish. In the same way that it is very possible for a man who loves a woman to be sexist, to objectify her, and to stereotype her, it is very possible for a white woman who loves a black man to be racist, to objectify him, and to stereotype him. Anyone who suggests the contrary is just being disingenuous.

So what I am I suggesting? That every white woman who dates a black man is using him as an object for her fetish of a physically adept, sexually skilled ebony Adonis? No, of course not. 

 I am suggesting though that the media, historical and cultural stereotypes mean that there will be an element of that as the driving force as to why black men are being increasingly seen as so universally attractive (I mean, I think they’re great, but the hype is intense right now…). Black men in particular need to be aware of that, and instead of encouraging these negative and animalistic stereotypes, be more discerning with who they allow into their emotional and sexual spaces.

Thoughts?