angryangelabassett.jpg

I haven’t blogged in a month or so. I definitely haven’t blogged about race. Why? Well, you could say I’m suffering from racial fatigue – I’m tired of analysing, deconstructing, resisting and boycotting white supremacy in all it’s myriad manifestations. I’m sick of noticing how pervasive it is. I’m fed up of having to deal with the internalised anti-blackness within my community. I’m just sick of race.

Unfortunately, there’s no escape route.

James Baldwin said it best:

“To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time. ”

Because it’s literally everywhere. And thanks to the resurgence of more overt forms racism in the last few years and the ever reaching hand of social media, the depressing reality screams in my face every day. I can feel it’s breath on my cheek the minute I open a newspaper. I can smell the stench from the biased journalism on my TV screen. I have to exchange smiles with its passive aggression at work every morning. It even manages to invade the sacred spaces of my faith.

There have been a few times in my life where I wished I wasn’t black. Not because being black isn’t beautiful and defiantly joyous in an almost miraculous way, but because to be black and to fight to love blackness can be tiring. To be black and to love yourself and your people and to see the daily and consistent assaults on them – not the videos of black men being shot, or the MP who ‘accidentally’ uses the N-word, but the almost imperceptible drip of a system that attempts to erode at the concrete of our self-worth, is heartbreaking.

Sometimes I envy the people who don’t see it. How don’t they see it? Do they see it and don’t care?

But I’m realising that one of our greatest acts of resistance against any evil is to be able to see all of it, the ugliness, the hatred, the accidental bigotry and the calculated dismissal, and refuse to let it define our existence or steal our joy.

I’m starting to believe that although it’s necessary to understand how white supremacy affects us, our conversations about white people’s acts of overt or covert racism are far too centred on white people. Somehow, we still believe despite all the evidence, that the more information white people receive about us, the less likely they are to be racist, and we direct our conversations about race under that basis. We have become trapped in a continual cycle of outrage in which a white person or people will commit an act entirely consistent with past behaviour, and black people evrywhere (and well intentioned white people), are outraged and angry, berate the offending party, and attempt to have ‘conversations’ about said behaviour. This can’t be healthy.

Racism is literally bad for your health. It is an independent stressor linked with physical and mental illness, and it does that by placing you in a position where you are constantly forced to be aware of the fact that you and people who share the same skin as you are perceived as inferior and therefore treated as such, and subtly suggesting that you must therefore ACTUALLY be inferior. In Britain especially, it is expert at being omnipresent but simultaneously encouraging you to question whether it really exists.

If you refuse to believe the false propaganda that it’s ‘not as bad as you think’  you WILL see it and it WILL make you angry. That’s stressful.

You have a right to your anger. You have a right to sit in your righteous anger at injustice. In fact, I would even advocate claim that, as one young brave women said, if you’re not angry, it’s because you’re not paying attention. There will always be people of all races who are uncomfortable with anger directed at racism. They will frame it as concern about the angry party, when for most of them, their concern is about their own comfort, their own sense of guilt and their own love of white supremacy in its various forms – whether that be Charlottesville style or “light skin is just my preference” style.

But love in its right season is just as defiant as anger. Black love is rebellious and obstinate in its refusal to give in to a system that claims that blackness is unlovable.

Black lust is everywhere – dissecting, carving and reselling bits of blackness to be consumed by the highest or lowest bidder. The objectification of blackness in the form of caricatured celebrities or funny viral videos is not black love. Black love can’t be reduced to learning how to twerk or reading one Maya Angelou book.

Real black love gives birth to black joy and it is being confident, so confident, that existing in this skin is as Divinely willed as any other act of God. Black love isn’t limited to romance between black people, it’s loving black people and black culture despite being subtly told that blackness is undeserving of love.

So while I can and will be angry, and reserve my right to,  I’m trying to be more invested in finding the love and the joy that exists in my community as much as possible. I’m laughing out loud at the woman in the Caribbean takeaway. I’m dancing in my room to Lauryn Hill. I’m letting my favourite gospel song carry me into my prayer time. I’m reading black authors that make me think and cry and giggle. I’m hugging my friends and family. I’m appreciating the good-looking black men in their suits at London Bridge (don’t judge me). I’m being joyful.

One of my favourite passages of scripture, Nehemiah 8:10 says “The Joy of the Lord, is your strength”. I’m holding on to the promise that we are at our strongest when we are at our most joyful.

What things do you do that bring you joy?

Copyright: Creative commons

The horrific events in Charleston that happened over a week ago are another line in the painful story that is the Black experience in America. In Europe we mourn with those in America, and we sadly recognise that although their experience is different from ours in the overtness of brutality and numbers of lives lost, the face of white supremacy does not disappear, it only changes its mask .

The predictability of the media portrayal of the terrorist who committed these acts is boring. We are tired of the endless questioning of whether racism was the motivating factor. We are tired of white society pretending that the perpetrator is a ‘lone soldier’ in a culture that otherwise is largely tolerant (whatever that means), of black people. We are tired of the fact that grown white men are treated as misguided boys whenever they unleash mass acts of terror, but black boys are killed in cold blood as if they were grown men for simply playing in parks. We are tired of the lies. We are tired of the white liberals who are more concerned with  making sure that we understand that ‘not all white people are racist’, as if their fragile emotions and self-centred need to be seen as one of the “good white folk”  are supposed to be our priority or concern at this time. We are tired.

I personally, am even more tired of the unrelenting focus on the forgiveness that the victims of this atrocity have offered to the attacker. This might seem strange. Yes, I am a Christian. Yes, I believe wholeheartedly that forgiveness is something that all Christians are commanded, not requested to freely give. Yes, I believe that forgiveness is healing for those who experience it.

But I’m sick and tired of black people being dehumanised by the expectation of forgiveness in the place of anger. My first reaction when I heard the news in Charleston was shock, sadness and very quickly, rage. Yes, rage. Anger. Blazing, red hot, singe you if you come at me, anger. I make no apology for it and I will make no repentance for it. My anger was entirely justifiable, healthy and dare I say it, God ordained.

Some black people think that Christianity is slave religion. I think there’s a huge difference between the gospel of the Bible and slave religion.

Slave religion selectively quotes text from the New Testament about turning the other cheek while conveniently ignoring the texts in the Old Testament where God commands death on those who harm innocent children.  Slave religion ignores Jesus with a whip in hand overturning the tables at the temple, angry at the money changers who used a sacred place for profit, and instead targets poor, disenfranchised communities on Sunday mornings, assuring them that they must line preacher’s pockets in order to receive a blessing. Slave religion demonises anger at injustice and tells communities that are being terrorised to focus on praying and pearly gates instead of solutions to their oppression. Slave religion completely rewrites the Bible story of a God who in the side of the poor, the oppressed, the widows, the orphans and the outcasts, and instead puts him on the side of big business, church institutions, deceitful police departments, and racist government.

Slave religion is convenient to masters and that is why it was forced down our throats with such relish.

Thankfully, our ancestors were able to read between the lines and  understood that the story of Pharaoh’s army being drowned in the sea could apply to them also. That when Daniel saw the stone being carved from the mountain and smashing an ungodly earthly kingdom to pieces, that maybe, just maybe, God could smash the earthly kingdom that was oppressing them also.  That when God said “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?” * that He was willing to do this both physically and spiritually.

Let us not dishonour them by regressing into a reading of the text that only facilitates forgiveness but never anger that can be galvanised into action. Let us not dishonour those in America, the Caribbean, Africa, South America and here in Europe who protested on the streets, who were hung, who were shot, and who were fiercely committed to the gospel of Jesus Christ by saying that the rights we now enjoy were ill gotten. Let us not dishonour them by saying that we have no time for racial issues because of the gospel, while we enjoy the legacy of relative freedom they have handed down to us.

Who the Son sets free is free indeed, and I will not be a slave to a warped version of the gospel that tells me that although I am created in the image of God who became so angry that the earth shook, that that emotion is denied me. That when 9 innocent people entered their safe, scared space and were gunned down mercilessly by a man (not a boy) who maliciously and coldly watched them while they petitioned the almighty God, that my only reaction must be forgiveness and not anger.

Forgiveness is Godly and it is good. And so is our anger.

Say their names:

Cynthia Hurd

Susie Jackson

Ethel Lance

Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor

The Honorable Rev. Clementa Pinckney

Tywanza Sanders

Rev. Daniel Simmons Sr

Rev. Sharonda Singleton

Myra Thompson

R.I.P

N.B. Speaking of action, please consider donating to a charity or fund that provides support to the victims of Charleston, families of victims of police brutality here in the UK, or any other charity of your choosing be that church or other that facilitates healing.

*Isaiah 58:6

slavery.jpg.CROP.rtstory-large

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?

asian prejudice

On Saturday evening, I stretched my legs out after a long day (it was communion at church – beautiful, essential, but well over 2 hours), and decided that I was going to braid my hair. So I threw on the new Zara coat that I’d fought off the animals at Westfield for (Boxing Day sales – don’t do it, save yourself), and ambled down the road to my local hair shop.

I browsed through the different varieties of afro-kinky hair, and settled on one that for some reason was called ‘Cuban Twist’. I snorted at the hair companies that are suddenly touting five different curl creams for natural hair, when a year ago they only sold relaxers, paid for my hair, and left.

On the way home, I started thinking about a conversation I’d had with an Asian friend of mine where we’d briefly spoken about anti-blackness in the Asian community. I thought about my trip to Nepal and the overt prejudice I’d encountered there. And I thought about solidarity.

The relationship between the black and Asian community in the UK has always been somewhat complicated. On the one hand, when my grandparents first came to this country, every brown person, regardless of whether they came from the East or the West Indies, or the African continent was termed ‘black’. Black became a political identity, a supposedly unifying term in the face of rather overt and clearly institutionalized racism. Over time, Asians no longer ‘needed’ black people in order to progress. They developed more economic power than the black community as a whole, and the term black became reserved more or less for those with African descent. As racism became less overt, the need for solidarity diminished.

I remember a few years ago, the tensions between the Black and Asian communities in Birmingham erupted. Some Asian owned shops were damaged, people shouted at each other in the street, there was a public spotlight on something that had been festering for some time. Around that time, a documentary came out, part of which used secret camera to film conversations in the Asian community where they discussed black people. Some people were shocked at the level of prejudice within the Asian community.

Really, there should be no surprise. There are probably a number of reasons as to why there is such a high level of anti-blackness in the Asian community.

Historically, many countries in Asia operate on a caste system, in which skin tone plays a partial role. I was shocked by the level of skin bleaching when I was in Nepal – major brands like L’oreal, Garnier and Vaseline plastered slogans like ‘fair and white’ ‘intense whitening cream’ ‘white beauty’ all over their products. Watch most Bollywood movies and you would swear that Indians exist in one shade of extremely light brown, although any visit to India would tell you the complete opposite. Although there are many black people who are light skinned, and lighter than some Asians – there are more black people who are darker skinned. It’s not surprising then, that the self hatred in terms of skin tone that plagues the Asian community expresses itself in anti-blackness.

Additionally, the images of black people exported to many Asian countries are dominated by white mainstream images. There are of course exceptions, but hip hop culture, ‘oppression’ films (slavery, poor people, black kids being ‘saved’ by the middle class white teacher/person), and skewed depictions of black sexuality probably aren’t helpful in fostering any kind of positivity towards black people.

Not to mention the fact that White supremacy, by nature, is hierarchical.  South Asians have become in the UK, and in America (along with other Asian communities), a ‘model minority’. Ignoring the completely different history of how Europeans operated in Asia in comparison to Africa and the Caribbean, and the overwhelming effort to dehumanise Africans, the Asian community is subtly compared to the black community. The underlying tone is that if the Asian community manages a certain level of economic success, why can’t the Black community do the same? (A form of racism which also ignores the varied communities within the black community. Black Africans and Black Caribbeans have different educational outcomes and social outcomes, which in itself proves the enduring effects of slavery on Caribbean communities).

It is only natural that Asian people will seek to find a way to separate themselves from Black people in a system that rewards anti-blackness. To be Black is to be at the bottom of the pile. And who wants to be at the bottom?

It’s up to the younger generation to challenge the legacy that has been handed down to them, instead of mildly accepting the prejudice of their elders…

Thought? What are your experiences?