As Well

I get it. I really do. I am a black man and it has been wearying, even for me, the worldwide movement that is Black Lives Matters. That is not to say I am sick of hearing about it. It is, unfortunately, a necessary movement but like the Me Too movement of recent years, a movement that was adopted by Hollywood but in truth was created a decade before to highlight sexual abuse and harassment, something related to half of the world’s population, it has become bloated.

I would be lying if I said I did not feel a twinge of irritation when seeing the perennially raging Rose McGowan, her public pain even shooting down those who belatedly support her. It is the disruption, more pertinently, it is a disruption that I do not, emotionally, recognise. I understand it, logically, but I do not feel it.

The Me Too movement was started by Tarana Burke back in 2006 to try and highlight sexual abuse and harassment suffered by women. The phrase was adopted some decade-plus later by Alyssa Milano who used it as a hashtag around the time of the Weinstein sexual abuse allegations. With the Weinstein case, there was a focus, a target for all of the ills suffered by women the world over. That he happened to be a super abuser just amplified everything.

That did not stop it from becoming exhausting for those who are not affected by it. Another voice that many have found wearisome is that of the child-adult planet saver, Greta Thunberg. Her relentless rants at world leaders whilst understandable, have had the opposite effect and made many ignore that which she wanted to bring to light.

A football game in Manchester was marred by a banner being flown over the ground brandishing the words ’white lives matter Burnley’. This is one of the more overt expressions, the beginning of the backlash against Black Lives Matter. I can only imagine how attacked some must feel over the movement if I am feeling overwhelmed by it.

The thing is, there is so much. There are so many injustices that have happened, are happening or have not been acknowledged. Black Lives Matters sprung up in America after years of unlawful killings of black people by law enforcement. As well as the deaths, the disproportionate amount of incarcerations, with harsher sentencing in relation to their white counterparts, keeping them imprisoned for longer.

In the UK, racism has always been more subtle. Though we only make up three percent of the population, like any minority, black people are mostly in the cities and large towns, where the work is. Black people have been coming to these shores, post-Windrush, for the past sixty-plus years. The stories of ‘no blacks, no Irish, no dogs’ are rife and are of my parents’ generation.

The white view over here has always seemed to be ‘it’s not so bad’ as if not getting shot should be the aim of every black person, not every person. There is a perception that ‘we’ should be grateful to be accepted, forgetting that most of the West Indies were under British rule into the latter part of the twentieth century and a vast majority of the black people at the present day protest were born in the UK.

There is a perception of ‘us’ showing unconscionable ingratitude for the life we have in the UK. What does it matter that so few of us are represented at board level or even management level in the work environment? Why should it matter that there are very few British black television programmes or films? Black Lives Matter, though about the mistreatment of black people, is also about so much more.

All lives matter. Of course they do, but what is a life? How many white people actually think about how they might be received in another country? Or even worry about going to another country? I remember before my trip to Australia many years ago, being warned about their attitude towards black people. I, thankfully, did not encounter any bad blood whilst down under but it was still considered enough of a thing to be mentioned.

What has any of this got to do with the UK? I pointed out that minorities tend to migrate to the cities, so outside of the cities it becomes a game of spot the blackface. Outside of the city borders, being a black person can feel like a curiosity.

When I was at school in the late seventies/early eighties, the student body was over ninety percent black. The teachers were all white except for two. In a predominantly black school, in a time when there was a dedicated class to history, there was no reference to British involvement in the slave trade. I learned more about slavery from Alex Haley’s Roots than I did in school.

In my working life, of more than thirty years, I have had less than five black managers, this includes beginning my working life with London Underground when most of the staff was still black. Now in my fifties, I know a lot of black people who are managers or run their own businesses and it is a nice thing to see.

They are mostly around my age group and when they attend management meetings, they are not only in a minority race wise, they tend to be in a minority age-wise. In management, black people tend to get their chance at management later and only once.

Perhaps the problem is the slogan – Black Lives Matter – maybe it should be All Lives Matter, after all, I would have to admit that black people are not killed regularly in the UK and because of that fact, the Black Lives Matter rhetoric has made many uncomfortable. They do not get the complaining; all lives matter.

The debate becomes semantics, the overriding message lost. It is about an expectation of fairness, not worrying that your ‘look’ is not what is expected. Prejudices will always exist, that is just human nature but having to fight stereotypes and ingrained beliefs is tiring in the extreme.

We live under a government that has, from the leader downwards, shown an impressive disregard for the plight of black people. With the idiotic Home Secretary prepared to instigated the sort of rules that would impact her own parents to the even more foolish Health Secretary who, when asked to name a black cabinet minister, was left floundering, babbling about a ‘diverse’ cabinet.

It is not a case of getting more than white people or taking away from them, as some seem to think. It is about seeing the truth and a different perspective. It is not about statues – even if some are rightly removed – it is even less about long-forgotten television programmes that nobody watches or even care about.

The majority of black people are not scanning the social medias of famous people looking for some racial indiscretion and we are definitely not checking film archives in the hope they are not doing a special showing of Birth of a Nation – original racist version, not the acclaimed film of a few years back that was torpedoed by scandal.

Black Lives Matter is a statement. It is not stating that our lives matter more, it is stating that they do not matter less and as such, society should not treat us as though they do. All lives matter, of course they do, but Black Lives Matter as well.

The Best Choice You Can Make

To some extent, every young man, or not so young man, has gone through the disapproving glare of a would-be, significant other’s parent or parents. It does not happen with every partner of course. Sometimes the families are very nice, normal. When the parent or parents are less than welcoming, there can be different reasons.

Everybody has prejudices and when it comes to one’s offspring, every parent hopes for the best for their child. Obviously, the hope is that their child – to a parent their offspring will always be a child – does not make any decision they feel could negatively impact their life. That includes who they pick as a potential partner.

As a black man north of fifty, I have encountered this prejudice many times. In my life experience, dating outside of my race has shown that for every other race dating a black person is seen as detrimental. This does not always come across as racial prejudice or even a particular dislike of black people. It is more an ingrained belief that to partner with a black person, a black man, is not a good idea.

There is, of course, racism. Every black friend of mine, who dates outside of their race, has experienced this. There are different levels. I and many friends I know, have had partners sheepishly tell us that they cannot introduce us to their parents because, ‘they would go mad’, or, “it’s difficult for them.’.

When one is young and the hormones and lust are stronger than the ethics, you allow that sort of nonsense. You only want to see her anyway. As you get older, more worldly, such things irk, offend. Staying in such a union is more difficult, especially as those closest to you tend to know about it.

The subject of black men, dating outside of their race is an especially emotive one and goes to the heart of a lot of the problems that face black people in regards to racism and the effects of slavery on a people.

Time is a strange thing. Many are wholly unaffected by the notion of slavery, thinking of it as something that happened hundreds of centuries ago. It was abolished less than two hundred years ago but…semantics. Why should it be impacting anybody now, three and four generations later? The Roman Empire happened before that yet its influence is still visible to this day.

Back to slavery. One of the foundations of enslavement is breaking the spirit. The vast majority of slaves were, due to the nature of the work they were required to do, male. A man, regardless of race, is subject to his ego. In the traditional sense, he wants to be seen as able to provide for his family or a potential mate, to be able to protect his family or a potential mate. This is not a thing of logic, it is a sociological and intrinsic drive.

A slave is not a person with rights. There is no need for me to list the treatment or mistreatment of slaves, suffice to say it did not imbue the slaves with confidence for their lot in life. Even within the confines of enslavement, there were still black families. The thought of having to be a parent whilst showing subservience to your white masters, in front of your child, is something that would break even the hardiest spirit.

Slavery ends here, 1836 in the UK, but no one will employ a black person and the former slaves are still required to work forty-five hours a week for their former bosses, unpaid. These men cannot provide for their families, cannot get any sort of paid work and are shunned by society.

Fast forward one hundred and twenty years and Britain wants to rebuild after the second world war. They needed people to do the lowly, low paid work that kept the country moving; transportation and the national health service. As a lot of the Caribbean was still under the Empire – part of the Windrush scandal comes from the fact that Jamaica became independent in 1962, in effect making all of the people who came over no longer British subjects – black people came from all over the West Indies to help the ‘Mother’ country get back on its feet.

Unfortunately, the “Mother’ country was not overly welcoming, with the large section of the white, working-class, residence threatened by the influx of blacks. Unlike the post-slavery years, black people were able to take up some sort of roots in the UK.

Moving into the sixties, the civil rights movement, mirroring today, was in the news. In the states, because of slavery and the way it was dissolved in the US, as well as it being a youthful country, black roots over there were deeper. As it is a bigger country, they had many more slaves. So when slavery was abolished, they created a ready-made community and businesses.

In the UK, with the fifties and sixties influx a second wave, there were no roots to build on and the challenges that their US counterparts faced, whilst difficult, were backed with a community. As the decades have gone by and black people have assimilated into society, the overt racism and prejudices hidden from the every day, there are still things that remind one that black people are viewed as a negative.

The likes of Barack Obama, Mariah Carey, the late Prince, these shores Shirley Bassey, Bob Marley and Lenny Kravitz, to name a few, would never have brought their various gifts and talents to the world had it not been for a black man or woman facing the backlash for love outside of their race.

To have the burden of the thought, that being black is seen as such a negative that to be associated with can harm the life prospects of your potential partner, is both saddening and frustrating. When we, black people, talk about racism and how it is difficult to explain or understand, this is the sort of thing we are talking about.

The Man On The Left

I laid in my bed with tears streaming down my face. It has been an emotional week. Struck down by some seasonal bug or – shoutout to Covid19! – the plague of the moment, along with the never-ending lockdown, I found myself mostly bed-ridden this week as the fallout from the George Floyd murder gained and maintained worldwide traction.

There are so many soundbites and stories and anecdotes surrounding the BlackLivesMatter movement and with all the extra time I had on my hands, I have been reading many of them. There are raging black voices, pleading black voices, even dissenting black voices. There are raging white voices and pleading white voices. In the United States, a country built on change, the movement is having a noticeable impact.

Here in the UK, where a younger generation can proudly say they stood up when it mattered, not so much. The current Home Secretary, Priti Patel, is a woman who barely hides her disdain of black people. Though she is of Asian descent, I am not too sure she likes them either. As this movement has gathered pace, she has condemned the fracases that have taken place – less than one percent of the people who demonstrated were arrested – and also felt the need to denounce the tearing down of former slaver Edward Colston’s statue in Bristol, as well as frowning on the lack of ‘social distancing’. When people were flooding to the beaches during the bank holiday period, she had no comment.

I have read about again how former slave owners benefited from the loss of their slaves. I read about Trump refusing to unveil portraits of the former president and first lady and seen people defend the actions of the man, who has proved himself on many an occasion to be obnoxious and narcissistic.

The stories of undercover police infiltrating demonstrations to start trouble, keep appearing, something that goes back to seventies and eighties. I have seen ‘influencers’ observe the #blackouttuesday and then immediately return to selling whatever they can.

John Boyega, Anthony Joshua and the ever-present Raheem Sterling have been amongst the prominent black voices to speak on the subject of racism. The speeches have been impassioned and articulate and have galvanised some minds.

The prominent figures are important. For them, in their chosen professions, they have a lot to lose. They tend to be the face of brands and project an acceptable face of ‘blackness’. They are, potentially, hurting themselves for a cause.

There is a backlash beginning. Of course, there is. In the States, the backlash will be violent. It always is. That is not to say that everything that is being done will be undone but the rich, white, majority are not about to lay down and give what they feel they have worked for to black people, which is how they see it. It is an attack on their way of life.

Nobody thinks they are a bad person. Most of us believe we are decent human beings with worthwhile values. At a time like this, even black people are struggling to express themselves truthfully. Not every black person wants to rage. They may feel rage but that does not mean that they want to express it as such.

Many believe that rioting is entirely acceptable, especially in the context of black people having very little in wealth those businesses or buildings bring. There is an argument to made for saying that anarchy forces some sort of action. Does that mean that the marches and demonstrations should turn into all-out warfare? No, but the videos of peaceful demonstrations, with even people dancing, distracts from the message. It does not worry or scare anyone.

As a black person, who believes there are issues to address in this country, there is always the notion of how far are you willing to go? With most people still only working partially or not at all, time is not an issue. There is also peer pressure. The most radical of black people will always try to pull you into their anger and indignation.

White people, especially the men, are not wanting to have this conversation for the most part. Does that mean they’re bad people? No. Men of a certain generation, regardless of race, just see their role differently. The male of the species is driven by his ego and, for the most part, it is fragile.

We all want to be the ‘John McClane’ of our life movie, the person whose decisiveness has the best outcome. We all feel that we would sacrifice for that but there are sacrifices and sacrifices. Colin Kaepernick made a sacrifice. Yes, he was already wealthy and he could ‘afford’ to take a knee but it still derailed his career for the best part of two years.

Muhammad Ali made a sacrifice, refusing to go to war against Vietnam, losing his world title and three years of his career. Once again, though it was a very different time, a time of civil rights mirroring our own present, Ali was a world champion and could afford the upheaval. Both Ali and Kaepernick, though lambasted by the right-leaning press, were supported in their stances.

So what was my Rosa Parks’ moment, the moment that made me think that this is too much? It was reading about another athlete. A white athlete. There has been some pushback against the #BlackLivesMatter movement, with some irritated individuals pointing out that all lives matter. Of course all lives matter but unless you are prepared to sacrifice it all in the manner that Peter Norman did, you have no true concept of what matters.

Peter Norman was the third guy on the podium for the 200metres in 1968. A white Australian, he is the sombre face, eyes cast downward as the gold medalist, Tommie Smith and bronze medalist, John Carlos give a black power salute. They were always committed to making a stand against injustices that were being suffered by black people back in the States. Norman had to decide on the spot.

Norman made a decision that effectively ended his career. He was vilified in Australia and even his family turned their backs on him. What did he do that was so bad? He supported what he recognised as a human rights issue. That one decision impacted the rest of his life, his ability as a world-class sprinter overlooked even up to the legendary Sydney Olympics, where Cathy Freeman was held up as a symbol of Australia’s progressive attitude. Norman, long since retired, was not even invited to the games.

Norman could have made his life easier by denouncing Smith and Carlos, especially as he lived on the other side of the planet. He never did which is why he was never embraced by the Australian Olympic Committee.

Peter Norman was a white man, in a white world, who understood that all lives matter, including black ones.

What’s In a name

Most of us were given our names. Before the age of understanding, your parents or guardians and anybody else who was old enough to utilise language would address you by your given name. Some people change their name when they reach a legal age and have the power to do so. Some do it for personal reasons – they never liked their name – others for business reasons.

Reg Dwight – Royston Edward Dwight – changed his name to two surnames and went on to achieve great acclaim as the doubled surnamed Elton John. Similarly, Gordon Sumner, whilst still probably using that name on his passport, will always be known as Sting.

Most relevantly, in these times, Cassius Clay Jr changed his name, a name that was already gaining notoriety in his chosen profession, to Muhammad Ali. As well as his religious beliefs, Islam, Ali had, before publicly changing his name, dropped Clay and referred to himself as Cassius X in the same manner Malcolm X had. Malcolm X, whose given surname had been Little, replaced his surname with an X because his given name was a slave name he said.

The question is: what’s in a name? I had a girlfriend who insisted that if we ever got married she would keep her name. She was very proud of her family name and could trace its history back several centuries through its various European phases. People take a lot of pride in their name. One of my sisters has kept her name for professional purposes even though she is married.

Another name: William Wilberforce. Wilberforce was a leading light in the abolishment of slavery throughout the majority of the British Empire. The act was passed in 1833, some thirty-two years before it would happen in the USA. Simple maths calculates that it was less than two hundred years ago or three generations.

Most British families can trace or have their family traced back more than three generations. It is all in the name and a matter of record. They can even find out the origin of their name and perhaps what their family was doing in the fifteenth century. For a lot of Africans, it is the same. They can trace their roots through their name as long as their family were not all displaced during the slave trade.

For many of West Indian descent and a western name, tracing one’s roots is an entirely different proposition. My surname – Betton – is thought to be Scottish in origin. I have no Scottish relatives that I know of and the name itself is quite rare on these shores. My grandfather on my father’s side surname was Blake. My mother’s maiden name was Coppin but her father’s name was Walker. No African names there then. I could not even tell you what a West Indian name would be. The names I have listed are all European in origin and probably handed down from former slave masters.

So why give a slave your name? You might ask. It is the easiest way to show ownership and to identify them. Also, it was easier – some would argue – to pronounce the European names. So why wouldn’t they just revert to their African names when they were freed? A few reasons. Some were generational slaves so they knew no other family name other than the given one and bureaucracy.

It was easier to register oneself with a full name to get work – ha! – and permits in the US anyway. Here in the UK, the abolishment of slavery was a boon for the slave owners, who were compensated handsomely for their loss of labour and the ‘freed’ slave were then required to work forty-five hours a week, unpaid, for their former masters. For the former slave owners, it was the equivalent of winning big on the lottery having never bought a ticket.

Not only did they prosper from their loss of enslaved labour, but their ancestors also continue to prosper to this day. What happened to the freed slaves? Most died out. There were no jobs and nobody wanted to pay them, not after not having to pay them for the previous two hundred years. This is something that is spoken about in the UK.

For black people over here, all our knowledge and images of slavery are from an American perspective. Few realise that slavery was not only common in the British Isles but throughout the empire. As ever, history is written by the victors and the Empire won.

Now in 2020, like a revelation in a telenovela, the truth is coming to light. Information is everywhere and only the willfully ignorant choose to ignore the dark past of these shores. Though it is unlikely that we – black people – will be rushing en masse to change our surnames to an X, seeing a change in the world and how it views us is a good start.

Not Seeing The Same Things

It gets tiring sometimes. I began writing this at three in the morning. It might meander in places and seem emotive. It is an emotive time, a troubled time. There are stereotypes and expectations. There is reason and rhetoric. Most of all there is emotion, a lot of emotion. Black lives matter…as well is the appendage some seem to need to hear. For some, the eyes are rolling at seeing that three-word mantra. All lives matter don’t they? They do. They absolutely do but not all lives are equal. It is not always easy to explain or articulate racism.

If it is overt, it’s easy. An insult or an attack is a definitive thing, something one can point to and say this is unacceptable because of. It is the subtle things that are more difficult to explain, to highlight. The looks, the body language of others, the unconscious prejudices rooted in stereotypes, these things are difficult to articulate in a way that allows understanding and/or credibility.

It is akin to be in a relationship with someone you do not quite trust. You know or suspect they are doing something wrong or seeing someone else, yet they use your doubt against you, telling you that you are paranoid or making stuff up. If you do actually catch them in a lie, they turn it around and blame your paranoia. There is no winning.

This is the life of a black person. That may seem like a ridiculous statement. Let me explain. There are stereotypes that follow black people around. The angry, aggressive black man is one, as is the angry black woman. There is also the perpetuation of those who do not display those traits of being ‘alright, no trouble”, an implicit subservience.

The fact that a person, a black person, could be appropriately angry does not matter. A flash of anger, raising of the voice, is seen as aggression. Think about that. Nobody thinks of their white colleague as aggressive if he/she raises his/her voice. They are having a bad day or they are moody. A different perception.

Here in the UK, where there is a misguided belief that the racism is not as bad as Stateside, there are red flags that we see as black people, that others feel are progressive. A black family joining a long-running soap, even though the characters were obviously written by white writers, was seen as newsworthy. It should not have been.

Every time there is a notion of a change of actor for the role of Bond, there are countless, pointless, column inches about the possibility of the character becoming a black man. This all seems quite progressive, a British character, that has always been white, being played by a black man? Wouldn’t that be brilliant? No.

Interestingly, the Bond franchise is owned by an American producer and has been for decades. A more relevant British character that is prone to change and is a wholly British product is Doctor Who. Doctor Who is a character that has been played by multiple actors since the sixties. It has always been played by a white man until recently when the decision to have a woman play the character for the first time was heralded as some sort of watershed.

Doctor Who is a character created for television with the defining characteristic of being reborn in a different form. It is actually built into the scope of the premise to include an actor of any hue in the role, yet the actor has always been white.

There is a lot of tokenism but it is almost ‘just enough’. There is and has always been a paucity of black shows and films in British media and black music has been taken over by the white masses over here, to the point that the former MOBO – music of black origin – awards have become a farce in the last few years awarding the likes of Sam Smith.

There are very few black restaurants even though black people have been on these shores for centuries. Caribbean food, a staple of many West Indian households and not vastly different between the islands is given such little credence in society that Jamie Oliver felt embolden enough to invent a Caribbean dish – Jerk rice – that does not even exist. He could have just asked somebody. A black person perhaps.

The music matters. There is an expectation that one will know certain artists; Rolling Stones, U2, Elton John, Queen, Abba, David Bowie. If you are of a certain age, black, white or other, one would expect that you know these artists. The likes of Take That, Wham, New Kids on the Block, Britney even Taylor Swift, are well known. White artist who fame cover every decade from the sixties to modern-day.

Everybody has heard of Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Bob Marley and probably Diana Ross but the likes of Luther Vandross, Maze, David Joseph, Dennis Brown, New Edition, En Vogue, Mica Paris and Dave, unless one is into music, probably not. Black artists who inform and continue to inform our history.

A friend of mine wrote a book some years ago, a book of poetry. I am not a great fan of poetry but I bought the book because that is what friends do and I wanted to support him. Similarly, another friend release a music track and I purchased that in support. Both friends are black. That is not to say I wouldn’t do that for a white friend, I would and I have, but for myself, the anger is temporary and difficult to maintain. Yes it flares up and the blood pressure rises with indignation but it does not help anything. It does not help move the needle one way or the other. When the anger dies down and the protests have passed and the world returns to normal, what will change?

That is not to say that protest is pointless, not at all, this article would not exist without current events. There are small things that we can do for ourselves as black people. One of the main ones is to support one another’s businesses. Not just the hair shops and barbers or the deejays who get you free entry to clubs, but those who create and produce products and things.

Every business has to start somewhere and every business needs customers. Our money is good enough for Apple, Samsung, Gap, Nike, Adidas and any numbers of well-known brands and one can keep shopping with those brands and others – except on July 7th, 2020 – but also try and find black creators, try and support black business. It is the foundation for the future and only we can build it.

Everyday Alien

SO many thoughts. I had wanted to write about Star Wars, one of the worlds biggest films and franchises. I had thought about how it encompasses a fictional world, that many accept, with various species all getting along. It was not always an easy alliance – Star Wars humour – but race was never an issue. Then I remembered the furore that followed John Boyega being cast as a stormtrooper.

Unless you live under a rock or hate sci-fi, you know what a stormtrooper is. The foot soldiers of the alliance, clad in white armour head to toe, plus helmets that make them indistinguishable from one another. Terrible shots. Their presence, for some, in Star Wars, apparently represented some sort of white power, even though they spent most of their time dying.

Boyega being cast as a stormtrooper was wrong. Stormtroopers were white. Really? How did these people know that? A very strange complaint. Racism is a thing and truthfully, a mind made up is a difficult thing to change. Emotion tends to trump logic.

Across the pond, in the US of A, it is June 2020 and the world is in a sort of chaos. In the west, there are tentative signs of emergence from the global pandemic of the Coronavirus, a virus that has taken lives all over the world yet, unlike other deadly diseases, has no definitive signs. Without being tested it is difficult to distinguish from influenza in its symptoms.

Here, in the UK, over the past month, there has been a revelation that the virus has been particularly virulent amongst people of colour – black, Asian, other. It has somewhat emboldened the indigenous populace, especially with the fine weather – not a normality in Blighty – so the parks and beaches have been overrun with families, friends and couples.

It is still a time of caution and nervousness but, with the developed world’s governments needing to get economies moving, the world is trying to return to some sort of normality. In the US, that normality, unfortunately, includes killing black people. On May 25th, a forty-six-year-old black man, George Floyd, was stopped by the police Minneapolis. He had been flagged as a person who used allegedly counterfeit twenty-dollar bill.

He was taken from his vehicle, handcuffed and sat on the sidewalk. Another police vehicle arrived. So now, there are four police officers. The first two officers take him to their nearby vehicle. Floyd does not want to get into the vehicle. Two more officers arrive. Floyd was bundled into the vehicle but one of the officers, Derek Chauvin, who had been warned multiple times for excessive force during his career, pulls him out of the car and onto the road.

Floyd, whose hands are still cuffed, is face down on the pavement. Chauvin kneels on his neck and two other officers, Thomas Lane and J. Alexander Kueng, hold down his torso and legs. Another officer, Tou Thao, stands idly by as this is going on. Floyd tries to tell Chauvin that he cannot breathe.

Chauvin tells him that he needs to get into the car. Floyd says he will comply but he cannot breathe. Chauvin does not ease up from his position, maintaining pressure on Floyd’s neck. Floyd is pleading for his life. He cannot breathe. Floyd becomes unconscious, with even passersby pointing out that he is not moving. Chauvin keeps pressure on his neck. Floyd died later that evening, never regaining consciousness.

In the US, it has been the straw. In the UK, almost forty years ago now, confusion and rising tensions between blacks and the police also proved an explosive cocktail and the Brixton riots were the result. Forty years on, Brixton, once an enclave of Caribbean culture and an urban hub has been increasingly gentrified, housing prices beyond many of the people who grew up around the area. It is a different kind of societal destruction.

In the US, Floyd’s death has shocked the nation. Perhaps it is a mixture of Trump’s right-winged rhetoric and isolation, the focus of so many being on their newsfeeds and media. The killing of seventeen-year-old Trayvon Martin shocked the world but it was an interruption for most, though it was a tragic one, it was still that. Floyd’s death, the manner of his killing, had nothing to detract from it.

Most are still not at work or thinking about work. Many of us have only been watching the news waiting, hoping, for some news that will tell us that we can return to our normality. Then Floyd got killed and everybody knew. Social media which has been vilified, rightly sometimes, for its detrimental effect on the world, on society.

In this instance, social media has united like never before. The information is available for everybody and anybody. The murder of George Floyd – and it was a murder – has shocked so many out of their slumber. That argument of ‘if he wasn’t doing anything wrong, they would not have stopped him.’ Will not wash. Unless the world is going to go back to a time where justice is meted out ad-hoc, on the spot. We do not live in a world where Judge Dredd is a reality. Unless you are black in America.

Those who have watched the videos of the incident and still want to defend Chauvin’s actions may as well sign up for the KKK. At no point was he or any of the other officers in any sort of danger. Apologisers point to Floyd’s alleged sketchy past as some sort of reasoning for his inhumane treatment, yet give their less than exemplary ‘leader of the free world’ a pass for his many documented misdemeanours.

It has been, for too long, okay to treat certain sections of society poorly. Too long has been a subject for the chattering classes to lament about but take no action over. Vegan zealots weep over animals being used as food, LBGTQ are relentless in their efforts to be heard and accepted and every religious fanatic believes their god is the right one.

Being black has always been seen as an acceptable burden, as though it is something one chooses or feels. There is no escaping being black. One just is. One can hang around and associate with as many ‘woke’, colourblind, unaffected people as you want. More power to you but at some point, in some way, one is always reminded of one’s blackness and the trials that belonging to the black race can carry with it. RIP George Floyd.

Embracing Reality

(first published May 15th, 2019 on Vocal.Media)

Everyone is wise after the event. Of course, there will always be the few who claim to have known that something was wrong or would end badly if the circumstances did not change. An observer can always feign wisdom, whilst remaining unaffected.

Reality television is the modern equivalent of a gladiatorial arena. It has an audience baying for entertainment, the more outlandish, the better. Those who participate, the successful ones, understand that their life will end, in some form, within that arena. The lucky ones, mostly those who were early to the reality party, just get forgotten, a name for a pub quiz, ever to suffer the question; “didn’t you used to….?”

Though they might be long forgotten, both the gladiators and the fleeting television stars, reality entertainment remains. It is a guilty pleasure, even an actual pleasure, to watch people make fools of themselves, over-emotes and, if truth be told, destroy themselves, for our entertainment.

There are many who view reality television with disdain, seeing it as an inferior product, adding nothing to society or art. Whilst this might be true, what makes reality television so compelling and addictive is the thought of watching others make decisions that you feel you yourself would never make. It makes one feel a little smug, superior of intelligence. There is also the voyeur in all of us that wants to know about the minute of lives different from our own.

A better class of people you’ll not find..!

 

The Jeremy Kyle Show was cancelled this week after fourteen years on television. It was dropped due to a former guest, Steve Dymond, committing suicide a week after being subjected to a lie detector test on the show. The episode, which never aired, was about infidelity. On the show, Dymond was given a lie detector test, a common occurrence on the show when tackling this sort of subject matter, and the results were not favourable. A week after the taping of the show, Dymond committed suicide.

For those who do not know the show, it was one of the many shows influenced by the original show to expose the lower working classes and their ilk to the masses, The Jerry Springer Show. Springer’s show, aired from 1991 to 2018, was akin to a staged wrestling match, with guests regularly coming to blows during the tapings. Springer always seemed mildly amused by the proceedings unfolding in front of him, generally watching on in bemusement as the guests’ tempers flared and situations escalated.

Kyle, by contrast, seemed to view his guest with barely concealed disgust. Snarling and goading them, he would regularly shout guests down. The show aims for the lowest common denominator and unfortunately hits it. When, as is always the risk with anything that pushes the boundaries, something goes wrong, as it did as a result of the Kyle show, people want an explanation and they want someone to blame.

The tabloid press, swiftly followed by the main press, jumped all over the Dymond tragedy. The connection to The Jeremy Kyle Show was just too juicy a story, too emotive a headline, to ignore. A man killed himself because of a reality show and everybody was suddenly up in arms. The show goes too far, they said, the guest needs to be better supported after the shows, the guest needs to be better screened, to be more prepared for television and/or fame.

Ministers make pronouncements denouncing the sensationalism of certain reality shows, the “exploitation” of those who cannot perhaps deal with the negative impact and scrutiny that can come from being suddenly well known. The column inches created from such a tragedy, bemoaning the acceptance of such shows and regurgitating the same faux sadness at the tragic loss of life when with, perhaps, a little forethought, it could be avoided.

Um, do I have to?

 

The truth is, especially these days, television simply exists to attract potential customers for the companies that advertise around the programmes. The Jeremy Kyle Show did not run on television for fourteen consecutive years because it was a high brow, fine quality product. It ran for so long because it attracted viewers, a lot of them.

As distasteful as the show was, people enjoyed it. They enjoyed watching people, many of whom were from the lower social classes, make buffoons of themselves and prove themselves to be no better than their standing in society suggested. Shows such as The Jerry Springer Show and The Jeremy Kyle Show exist only because the masses allow them to.

Television companies show what people want to see—that is a fact. There are a plethora of reality shows on television, not all as extreme as the likes of the aforementioned, but The Real Housewives series and the likes of Jersey Shore, and TOWIE and Made in Chelsea in the UK, the appetite for this type of television shows no sign of abating.

Just like a prisoner getting thrown into the gladiatorial arena all those centuries back for the entertainment of an audience divested of personal involvement, reality television allows us to watch, judge, and comment without compassion or consequence. Because of this, the tragedy of someone like Dymond is unlikely to be the last of its kind.

The Reality Is.

I must admit, right out of the gate, that I am not a fan of reality television. That is not to say it has no merit, or even that all reality television is terrible—though a lot of it is—it is just that, as an aspiring writer, looking at it from a purely selfish point of view, it is lazy television. When I say ‘reality television’, I am not referring to talent shows.

The likes of X-Factor, Britain’s Got Talent, The Voice, and other similar talent spotting, reality shows, though manipulated for emotive pull and viewers, they ask that the participants do something other than being pretty. It is still lazy television, but not in the same way, and talent shows are as old as television.

Not that laziness, in itself, is a reason not to make a show. If that were the case, here in the United Kingdom, we would not be subjected to ‘Indian/The Empire’ dramas every year on the BBC and Channel Four.

No, the issue with reality television is not originality or laziness, it is popularity. With the ever-increasing influence of social media, with popularity almost being more valuable to a business or client than quality or talent, being an ‘influencer’ is, unfortunately, an aspiration.

The likes of Love Island, with young, lithe-bodied, attractive individuals, engaging in soap opera-esque japes, proving wildly popular, and making celebrities out of those who would appear in it or similar programmes, such entities are an advertiser’s dream. With its youthful cast, Love Island attracts a similarly youthful, and, more pertinently, impressionable demographic.

For the more worldly-wise among us, the likes of Love Island and its ilk, are just harmless, frivolous, amusing time-wasters, after a day of dealing with real-life and relationships. We can watch smugly as those blessed with better looks than ourselves, a commodity coveted in western culture, struggle with the complexities of basic communication.

But in a society that is increasingly trying to embrace media would have you believe, a more equal, tolerant and balanced existence, where the conventional rom-com is frowned upon as selling and promoting a vision of life that is not only untrue but difficult or impossible to find, such notions are almost considered a type of propaganda, pushing a heteronormative ideal that many feel does not reflect the world that they know.

Astronaut, scientist, physicist, brain surgeon, professor….

 

The Bechdel test—a scene in a film or television show where two women communicate about something other than men—is routinely touted as a standard to aim for, not only as an expression of women not needing a man for significance, but also to indicate that there is more to life than pining for love. If it is to be believed that media saturation is impactful, a notion bared out by advertisers, how can Love island, or its ilk be considered harmless?

If supposedly sensible, mature adults can be offended and influenced by advertising, buying the latest phones or gadgets, or irked by a lack of representation and stereotypical depictions, how are the younger, more malleable of society expected to remain unaffected by the shenanigans of such programmes?

The whole premise of Love Island, the selling point and attraction of such programmes, are the interactions between the contestants. Though many of us may know, even the younger viewers, that some sections are scripted and edited to heighten the emotional impact and shock factor, it is still ’reality’, so one tends to, intrinsically, believe it.

Like, the now easily accessible, pornographic sexual images and films that are said to be warping the way some men view carnal encounters, such reality shows inform those who know no better, contorting how to communicate when courting.

The tantrums and rhetoric might make for compelling television, but as unwitting role models, regardless of whether they realise it or not, their antics and actions are absorbed and copied by those who see people whom they identify with on some level.

It might not necessarily be through their utterances on television, it could be via social media, and the commentary they put out in their feeds, it could be a shared experience that makes them connect.

Whatever it might be, these young people who populate these reality shows, displaying no other talent beyond being attractive and perhaps personable, give license to others to display the same improbable and extreme behaviours.

Unfortunately, with the seeming rewards on offer; fame, popularity, and riches, all things that with the modern world’s obsession with social media and rapid popularity are coveted, reality television has become an acceptable ogre.

As the world increasingly becomes digital and media consumed, the ability to interact with your fellow man may become one of the most sought after skills. If the youth of today, the Fortnite loving, social media perfect, conversation avoiding youth that are the future, are learning and taking their interpersonal cues from reality television, are we not, in the wake of ‘#me too’ and the ever-widening embrace of LBGTQ, taking one step forward and two steps back?

Reality television is obviously not going to disappear, as entertainment is something that the majority of society seek, and reality shows are proven entertainment. As long as advertisers feel that they will benefit and the programme-makers are attracting the advertisers, we will keep seeing vacuous, easy entertainment such as Love Island.

Oh Danny Boy, the racism is calling.

     Full disclosure. I am an Arsenal fan. For those who are not into football – soccer to our American cousins, even though the game here is played predominantly with the feet! – Arsenal football club and team, like any team in sport worldwide, has a nemesis. That nemesis is their near neighbours, Tottenham Hotspurs.

    The animosity between the clubs goes back to 1913 when then Woolwich Arsenal crossed London to become neighbours and frenemies of Tottenham. The fact that Arsenal has also been far more successful has been a sore subject for more than a century. 

    As much as I am a fan and, as is the way with any sort of tribalism, only wishing the worst for Tottenham Hotspurs as a team, as a devout Arsenal fan, I am a black man before a football fan. Race trumps tribalism. 

    One of their rank, Danny Rose, an accomplished left back, has been in the news recently. Never afraid to be outspoken, Rose spoke of his desire to end his playing days, as he is sick of the football authorities lack of action when it comes to racist abuse from fans. 

    Rose was, only a few years back, one of Europe’s, if not the world’s, best left backs. Both in terms of attacking and defending. Playing for Tottenham, a team considered to be just below the big boys of the two Manchester teams, City and United, Liverpool, Arsenal and in the past decade or so, Chelsea, Rose’s wage reflects that of a player playing at a club that is not quite top tier. 

    Turning twenty-nine in July, Rose is in the midst of his peak years. After a mentally challenging, injury-hit 2016-17 season, Rose found himself playing catch up, his career stalling as the team flourished.

    The recent spate of racial abuse toward black players in football, rearing its ugly head once more, against the backdrop of a pre-Brexit Britain and with far-right sentiment on the rise across Europe, Rose’s latest comments are those of a man tired of dealing with the politics of the game and disillusioned with it all.   

     Though reaction to Roses comments has been mostly positive, there has, predictably, been some backlash. The argument, misguided and foolish as it is, is that as Rose is handsomely paid for his work, he should be able to – no –  put up with, the abuse of fans. 

    What I would say is, would the same people who believe such be prepared to put up with personal abuse, in their daily work life? Do they really believe that, even with a vast wage hike, that they would be happy to suffer abuse and insult over a period of years? I don’t believe so.

    Rose is not alone in suffering racial abuse. Raheem Sterling has highlighted the issue and in the same week as Rose’s comments, Italian footballer Leonardo Bonucci, the defender a long time stalwart at Juventus, suggested his own teammate, Moise Kean, an Italian born to Ivorian parents, was complicit in fuelling racial abuse from fans because of his celebration. The fact that Moise had been getting racial abuse before his goal, seemed to have bypassed Bonucci. 

   In all the rhetoric and column inches covering racial abuse and the various football authorities inertia with regard to it, no one seems to remember that these are young men, boys really, who, for the most part, come from working-class backgrounds to become a commodity in a multi-billion pound industry. 

   That is not to say one should feel pity for them. For many a young boy and old man, these youngsters are living the dream. They, for the most part, get to do what they love doing and get paid for it. They hang out with a group of people in the same predicament as themselves, who intrinsically understand what they are going through. 

   Abuse from the terraces, whether it is from opposition fans or, if your team is going through a bad run, your fans, is par for the course. Professional sportsmen and women, especially in a team sport, expect it. It can be humourous, spiteful, inventive and even, on occasion, entertaining. 

   Of course, abuse and vitriol will never be eradicated completely from any sport. Where ever there is a crowd, especially a paying crowd, they will always make their feelings known, positive or negative, vocally. 

   The issue comes when that venting becomes racist, anti-Semitic, sexist or viciously personal. If someone was to enter your workplace and start screaming personal abuse at you, you would, if you did not attack them, have them arrested. In normal society, there are entire departments dedicated to ensuring that people can carry out their work in relative comfort. 

   Football, a generator of vast finance, is showing a distinct lack of care or foresight that an issue that affects their most precious commodity, the players, is not being properly dealt with.   

The Tiger in the Woods

Tiger never cheated. Possibly the greatest golfer the sport has ever seen, he did not fall from grace due to, like so many sportsmen before him, a desire to win by any means, regardless of the possible consequences. No, Tiger Woods was taken down because his life did not match his public image.
At the turn of the century, as the world accelerated into a new dawn and the future of sixties television was now the present, Tiger Woods was almost superhuman. A person of colour, playing and dominating a game that had formerly been the preserve of the male, white, elite, Woods made golf an everyman sport.
An erudite, engaging presence in front of the camera, with his acceptable complexion – he is of mixed heritage, his father Earl, was African-Americans and his mother, Kultida, is Thai – Woods was the perfect symbol for the American dream, showing that regardless of background, of colour, you can make it, in any field, in America.
His talent and image made him, in the early noughties, the highest-paid sportsperson on the planet. Though Woods dominated on the circuit, prize money only made up a small percentage of his earnings. It was his clean-cut image that has earned him a fortune since turning professional in 1996.
With multiple sponsors, lesser-known ones such as Upper Deck and TaylorMade and well-known brands like Nike and Rolex, Woods has made the vast majority of his fortune through endorsements.
A serial winner, he has won every major honour in the sport, most of them multiple times. It cannot be overstated how much of an impact on the sport of golf Woods had.
It was not a coincidence that Nike chose to use the tagline, ‘I am Tiger’, in one of their ad campaigns, showing children from every ethnic background and of both sexes, holding golf clubs or looking confidently into the camera as they said – I am Tiger.
The problem with having or seeming to have everything is people want to see you fail. Not only did Tiger have the looks, talent, respect and money. He also appeared to have the dream spouse. Elin Nordegren was a Swedish former model and had been an au pair to Swedish golfer, Jesper Parnevik, who would introduce the two to one another in 2001.
They married in 2004 and by 2009 were a picture-perfect family, having had two children, a girl and then a boy. By the end of 2009 cracks began to appear. Woods crashed his Cadillac SUV just outside of his home.
Varying reports came out after the crash. Some said he and Elin had been arguing, others speculated as to why she had been carrying a golf club when she went out to the car, her explanation of needing to smash the rear window to free him from the SUV not quite ringing true.
Rumours and reports of Woods’ infidelity began to surface. That a famous person should be indiscreet, sexually, is hardly a story. After all, history is littered with highly regarded, famous men whose heads were turned by the promise of sexual gratification. What made Tiger’s indiscretions newsworthy was the scale.
It was alleged that he had extramarital affairs with one-hundred-and-twenty women. The affairs, the entire number, happened in the five years he had been married. These revelations destroyed Woods’ image of a clean-living, family man. It affected not only his marital life but also his professional.
Sponsors ended their association with him and his golf, being a sport of mental focus, suffered. Tiger, who had battled through knee pain to win tournaments and seemed from another planet when it came to the game of golf, was human.
Along with his marital issues, his body began to fail as well. Having already had several operations on his left knee in 2008, over the decade following his fall from grace, his back would prove to be a problem.
From being the dominant force in the sport and having the record for having held the number one ranking for the longest time, Tiger, at one point found himself ranked outside the top one thousand at 1,005th place in the world rankings in 2017.
With an estimated fortune of over $750 million, Woods did or does not need to play golf ever again. Seemingly a shadow of the player who swept all before him, no one would begrudge him if he had decided to retire and open a harem.
He did not want to be remembered like that. Not for the scandal and an ignominious fall from grace. Tiger kept on playing. Even as his body, his back, seemed to be telling him it was time to take up residence on the nineteenth hole, requiring four operations so as he could keep playing. Displaying a bloody-mindedness that borders on the psychotic, he kept on playing.
Sunday, April 14th, 2019 and the Tiger roared again. Eleven years after his last Masters’ triumph, Woods was winning again, he was relevant in his sport once more. Though his renaissance may not last long, in terms of a legacy, this win was his most important.
People will always remember the bad stuff. That is just the nature of media and western society, people feel better knowing even the best, the greatest, can fail. The bigger the fail, the greater the smugness of those who live in safe, mediocrity. You cannot fail if you do not try.
Everyone thinks that they try, but that is not true. Very few do things to an extremely high standard. Adequate is generally considered good enough in most minds, even if they believe they are going above and beyond. That is why greatness stands out. Those that do great go above and beyond the normal standards. They push to be better, even when they are already considered the best.
Tiger Woods was already a legend in his own lifetime. He had broken most of golf’s long-standing records, changed the way the game was viewed, introduced the game to a whole section of people who had always thought it was not for them.

When his fall happened, publicly and humiliatingly, he got back up and started swinging. He refuses to be defined by his failures, that is why Tiger’s Masters’ triumph, in Augusta in April 2019, was his greatest.