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In a rare, but frankly predictable moment, the police chief of the Minneapolis police force stepped down in the wake of the death of Justine Damond, an unarmed white woman killed by a black police officer. Speaking of Justine, her attorney stated that she was the ‘most innocent victim of a police shooting”.

The statement was shocking in its disregard for the black children who have been fatally shot by police officers – Aiyana Jones was 7 when she was killed by a police officers in a raid, Tamir Rice only 12, not least for the countless innocent black men and women who have been killed by police.  Shocking, but predictable.

White women are always innocent.

In the case of Justine she truly was, and as with any other victim of police brutality her and her family deserve justice.

But white women are innocent even when they’re not innocent.

A recent study on perceptions of black girls that was widely reported on gave evidence to the fact that “adultification” of black girls begins as young as 5*. Black girls are perceived as having less need for nurturing and protection compared with white girls. Stereotypes of black women as angry, more masculine and difficult to deal with are projected onto young black girls.

But this as much about stereotypes of black women as it is about entrenched beliefs about white womanhood.

Since before slavery, white womanhood has carefully crafted a propaganda of innocence, supported by white men initially for their own sexist purposes (which I won’t detail here) but often used by white women to absolve themselves of responsibility in a myriad of situations. White European women are perceived as delicate, fragile, pure, kind and well intentioned despite historically being wholly complicit in some of the greatest atrocities against other humans, many of them black or brown.

White feminism has tried with some level of success to rewrite modern history as a story in which all women are united in a struggle against the evils of a white male patriarchal system, when the truth is that white women have often used this system to their benefit to abuse black men and women. Slavery was not a white male institution. Colonialism was not a white male institution. White women stood alongside white men during slavery, during colonialism and during segregation. In England, white women posted signs on their doors saying “No coloureds, No Irish, No dogs”. More white women who voted, voted for Trump than Clinton – yes, at least half of white women voters were more committed to upholding a white supremacist narrative than a seemingly feminist one.

But white women are always innocent.

A younger friend of mine recently told me of situation in which she was called defensive and aggressive by a supervisor who has been bullying her at work. She didn’t have to tell me what happened. “Let me guess”, I said, “She called you aggressive and said you were intimidating”. More than several black women have had the experience in the work place of being constantly goaded by passive aggressive white women who employ racial micro-agressions and bullying as a form of emotional abuse, and then, when the black woman finally gets angry she is told that she is being ‘hostile’. Because inherent in white womanhoods propaganda of innocence is the idea that black women are the antithesis of it. Even when we are the victims, we are the aggressors. Our inherent masculinity in the white imagination positions us as the constant perpetrators. Even during slavery when white men were raping black women in droves, black women were accused tempting white men away from their wives. Even rape was not enough to make us victims.

The propaganda has been so successful that even in the black community we associate white femininity or proximity to it, as innocence.

The idea that white men are the ‘enemy’ but that white woman are desirable, innocent, even potential  ‘allies’ to black men in their struggle against ‘the man’ often plays out in the ease with which black men partner with white women but historically have recoiled at the idea of black women doing the same with white men.

But white women have always known that the combination of their presumed innocence and black men’s presumed sexual deviancy could be used as a weapon against black men and women. Littered throughout history are the bodies of black men who have been lynched both literally and figuratively by white women who have accused them of being abusive, often sexually. (It goes without saying that not every accusation of rape by a white women against a black man is or was false). Alongside them are the black women who have had to mourn the loss of sons, brothers, fathers, friends not only through death but undeserved prison time.

The rape of black women during slavery is well documented, but less well known are the stories of black male slaves who were coerced into sexual acts by their white female masters. Rape isn’t always about physical strength but it is always about power. Despite white women’s protestations that they are victims of misogyny, it is completely ludicrous to ignore the fact that not only have they historically occupied a position of privilege and power in comparison to black men as well as black women, but that they have used white men’s misogyny as a form of deflection from their own complicity in racial violence. Just as black men can endure racism at the hands of a racist society and still practice misogyny in their own communities, white women have proven time and time again that their supposed innocence is simply a facade when it comes to their  racism.

As adamant as I am that the idea of white womanhood being inherently innocent is mythological I am just as adamant that black women are equally if not more so deserving of being typecast as innocent. While white women wielded their presumed innocence against us, black women often fed, defended, even nursed the children of these white women at their breast. Black women, despite the constant assaults on their womanhood and families, offered and continue to offer themselves as allies in feminist movements that refused to centre them or even peripherally serve them. The role of the mammy, the big black woman forever coddling and nurturing white children while themselves being asexual, undesirable and nothing more but a facilitator of white happiness continues into adulthood – from the sage black woman being a sidechick to white women in a popular film, to black women being asked to lay aside their specific concerns because ‘we’re all women’.

Black women in America, and likely in England also are some of the most faithful church goers. It is no surprise then, that we have been taught to presume that turning the other cheek means turning a blind eye. We sit under the watchful gaze of white Madonnas, benevolent and infantile, a fitting symbol of the propaganda of white womanhood if there was any. Mary, an unwed teenage Palestinian mother of an ethnic minority child, made a pariah by her community who are themselves colonised and governed by the Romans – is ironically almost always falsely portrayed as an innocent white woman.

No human or group of humans can claim inherent innocence. But if there’s any group I had to choose, it wouldn’t be white women.

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I remember the first (and only) time I watched Roots. I was 16 years old, and there was a Roots marathon that came on one of the more obscure TV channels. My Mum told me she remembered watching it when it first came out, and that it was something every black person should see. So I sat through 10 hours of brilliant acting, of exquisite displays of terror, hope, rape, violence, calculated deceit, community spirit and the indomitability of love. I sat through 10 hours and wept through most of it. Emotionally, it felt torturous. I remember sitting in the sofa as the credits rolled, snotty wads of tissue surrounding me, shell shocked, angry, and emotionally and physically exhausted.

Some white people (and some stray blacks) like to exclaim that ‘slavery is in the past’, and that we should all move on from it. However, the turn out for films such as Roots, 12 years a slave, and Selma is generally good. (On a side note, I think the British public are more comfortable with these films because they are set in America and white Brits are under some delusion that Americans were the primary beneficiaries and promoters of slavery, and that the British slave system was far more benign and cuddly). Perhaps a lot of white people who watch these films come away thinking “Gosh, that’s awful – isn’t it great that we’re pretty much equal now and only a few people are racist”.

If I’m honest, I don’t have any control over what they think, neither do I particularly care, in the sense that it will make little difference in the grand scheme of things. I do care though, about how we as black people think about ourselves, and I do care about how emotionally useful these films are to me. There are some black people who need to see these films. They need to be shocked into the reality of how utterly destructive and malicious the system was, is and can be. They need to understand that the scenes depicted in Selma happened when my parents were both teenagers, so they are not as far back in the past as some people would want you to believe. They need to understand the connection between these events and our current condition. They need to be inspired by the courage and commitment of the leaders and ordinary people displayed in these films.

I however, from experience know that these films are not useful for me. I have an understanding of how brutal the events that happened were. I have read accounts, I have watched documentaries, although I am by no means a scholar when it comes to Black history. I know enough about the brutality. What I don’t know enough of, is my history before it intersected with Europeans in a way that was destructive. I don’t know enough about pre-slavery African trade systems or about the cultural heritage that was passed down to the Caribbean slaves, or the amazing contributions Africans made to history prior to colonialism and slavery. And I don’t think I’m the only one. I’m wondering whether constantly seeing ourselves depicted in our oppression is wholly positive?

I do not say any of this to take away from the abilities of the actors, actresses, directors and producers of films such as Selma, and their desire to tell our story in our own words. I think that is commendable and I would never say that that they should stop doing that work. Neither am I putting the onus on these talented people to inform me about other parts of our history – that’s my job.

I’m just at the point personally where I prefer to watch a film that showcases black achievement outside of overcoming some aspect of white racism. Maybe, I’m just not emotionally strong enough to deal with the brutality, and that’s ok with me.

How do you guys feel?

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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.

mixed race blog

I periodically vow to myself that I’m not going to blog about race….and then Vogue declares that derrières are de rigueur because Iggy Azalea and J-Lo have decided to parade them but only give a cursory heads up to Bey and Rhi, or some twit decides that a human zoo with half nekkid black people is a sensible idea, or another black kid gets shot. You know, the usual. To top it off, some well meaning black or mixed race (because apparently these have become entirely separate races) will say something to me like – “If everyone was mixed race, racism wouldn’t exist!”. Or “mixed race people are the future”.

Let’s have a Kit Kat and take a break from the nonsense, shall we?

Firstly, statements like this usually come from a lack of understanding of what ‘race’ actually is. As the kumbaya crowd like to squeal at every available opportunity technically, – “we’re all mixed race, we’re all a rainbow of colours, there’s only one race, the human race!!!  (They also love other assorted distracting comments that come from a loving place, but are completely irrelevant to the situation at hand).I refuse to feed into this silly, and frankly offensive trope about people being more intelligent, beautiful, and interesting if they are mixed. Funny how no one seems to apply that to African Americans or African Caribbeans although on average we have at least 10% non-African blood. Technically we should be super smart and gorgeous right?

Race isn’t purely biological, it’s a social construct. Someone that might be considered white in India, may not be considered white in England. When I visited Chad, I wasn’t really seen as African, and I didn’t look like a Chadian. When I explained slavery to them and the whole concept of being ‘African-Caribbean’ it was probably the first time I understood a little bit of what it would be like to be seen as ‘mixed race’ – I wasn’t quite African enough to be considered one of them, and I definitely wasn’t white, so they called me ‘the black-white girl’. At the beginning of slavery in America, people with a white father were classified as white – then the system changed, and it was decided that anyone with any black blood in them was to be classified as black.

Basically, race isn’t as simple and clear cut as looking at someone’s parents and grandparents and splitting them up into halves, quarters and thirds like a pie chart. Culture, self-identification, life experiences, language barriers – all these things are thrown into the pot when we define someone’s race.

But being black is more of a political and social identity in a climate of racism as opposed to a statement about your specific ethnic mix. Malcolm X had a white grandparent, Obama’s mother is white. We all know this and acknowledge this, but we understand that both these men would have experienced life (with some nuances distinct to their shade of ‘black’)as black men. In our current society, a society dominated by white supremacy and with a historical legacy of that, one thing is fairly certain. If you don’t look white, you don’t have white privilege. A white parent will not protect you from the police. They will not make you immune to the stereotypes and social disadvantages that come from being black. Which is why although for some, the distinction between black and mixed race is important for self identification as acknowledging the totality of their heritage, from a political standpoint it’s not hugely important.

The other thing that is certain, is that the closer you look to white, within the black community (and to a limited extent with non-blacks), you will have a form of privilege that darker skinned black people don’t have.

So my point is this.

Assuming that if everyone was mixed race, racism would cease to exist makes some huge, blatantly false assumptions about the nature of white supremacy. Unless we stop stratifying people using whiteness as a standard, no matter how much mixing occurs, the negative pathology of it will still give rise to some form of racism. For example, someone who is ‘mixed race’ but who has very tightly coiled, kinky hair, is seen as having less beautiful hair than someone who has wavy, silky hair. Or, a ‘mixed race’ person with typically black features such as a widespread nose, or very big lips, will generally not be seen as universally attractive as someone who has more typically European features. In countries such as Brazil, here the vast majority of the population is mixed race, and all that happens is that within the variety of mixed race people there is a social hierarchy which places those who are lighter and closer to white at the top of the social ladder. It’s the same in the Caribbean.

Until black people see themselves as equal with white people, until we see our culture and history as of equal value, until we do not measure facial features and hair texture against whiteness, until we stop thinking that something has more credibility if the white community stamps it as such, we can never ever give the mixed race children that we parent the resources to be able see themselves outside of the lens of whiteness. If every single black person had a baby with every single white person and their kids then had babies with every single asian, but it occurred in a context where whiteness was the standard, then the offspring of those relationships would still judge themselves and others according to that standard. It’s the reason why when some mixed race children are born, people worry about whether they’re going to be unfortunate enough to get that nappy hair or not. It’s why people make under the radar comments about kids that are mixed with black and asian getting their smarts from the asian side.

Entering a romantic relationship with someone of a different race and making a baby with them is not a commentary on whether or not the parties involved have some level of racism, or in the non-white partners case, internal racism.
There are a myriad of ways we can end racism, (I’ve written a post about it), but just having babies without black people de-constructing their own internalised racism, and without white people asking themselves hard questions and having awkward conversations about the way race plays out in society, is a lazy solution and does a disservice to the the children who deserve a better legacy than the one we’re currently handing to them.
What do you guys think?