The Green Book

In 1936, Victor Hugo Green, a black postal worker, created a guide that would allow African Americans to embrace the adventure of road trips enjoyed by their white counterparts. The result was The Negro Motorist Green Book, the most popular guide for black travellers for three decades. In production from the mid-1930s to the mid-1960s, the book offered a road map for African Americans navigating roads across the country, showing where black drivers and their families could eat, find lodgings, and enjoy themselves without concerns of experiencing racism or humiliation.

Although the Green book stopped publishing in 1966, I wonder sometimes whether those rules are still there but not simply confined to the pages of a publication. With the recent high-profile cases of George Floyd & Tyre Nichols not withstanding the countless examples on a daily basis all over America….. and dare I say this country is not too far behind….. I guess the big question is where can we go without experiencing some kind of racism or humiliation or am I being paranoid. I am not talking about the crude and sometimes not so subtle expressions of racist language, but the more insidious variety. It is more about what is not said as opposed to what is said and sometimes about what doesn’t happen as opposed to what happens.…..the kind of racism that do not allow many of us  “to embrace the adventure of road trips enjoyed by our white counterparts” to coin the phrase used by “The Negro Motorist Green Book”

Now…Southampton is not London or Birmingham, and notwithstanding certain parts of the central area Southampton is a very White conurbation…. and even now there are many events and gatherings that I attend where I am the only Black person and I sometimes wonder what is it about these occasions that operate as “kryptonite” to people who are not White. Are there secret signals that Black people see as a code for “No Blacks” or are we as black people sensitive to the fact that we are tired of being exposed to subtle forms of racism that take on other forms and as I write this, I imagine self-declared liberals saying we are damned if we do and damned if we don’t.

When I was the only Black kid in the classroom,  I thought at that time that it will not always be like that….and then I went to work and again I was one of a very few in HM Treasury Whitehall and you could do one of two things…either become more White….or stay Black and risk relative isolation or be the “resident” Black representing the Race amongst the White people and perhaps inadvertently becoming more Black than you ordinarily are…….such as being the best dancer in the room when you are all out together on a night out or excelling in some sporting activity or both….. an athlete who could sing would be the perfect combination…a credit to the race!....and one thing a Black person must never do in White company is to talk about the dreaded “R” word….Racism….yes that thing that used to be characterised as having a “Chip on Your Shoulder” A new publication by Colin Grant “I’m Black So You Don’t Have To Be” is an observation that the Windrush Generation fought for the right of their children and grandchildren not to have to be as “Black” as their parents were….a chilling thought!

One of the biggest areas for discriminatory treatment is “Driving While Black” and the figures speak for themselves and contribute considerably to “Stop & Search”……and I will guarantee that most Black person who catches sight of a police car in their rear view mirror have a secret fear that they may pulled over; even though most times they are not and more recent troubling incidents have made me start to think whether we have travelled back to 1966….and I don’t mean the World Cup!

There’s the tragic story of the Black teacher who was accused of “playing the Race card” and was humiliated by the staff at Havant and South Downs College in Havant Hampshire and was subjected to an ‘intimidating, hostile and offensive’ working environment. She was awarded £70 000 damages which did little to compensate for the hurt and damage to her confidence and self-esteem. The ultimate irony is that the college alleged that she had failed in her 'promotion of equality and diversity'…… No wonder many Black people are hesitant to call out Racism when it happens to them!!!

Also, let’s not forget the attack on an 11-year-old Black girl in Surrey. The attack happened outside Thomas Knyvett College at the intersection of Stanwell Road and Salcombe Road around 2:30 PM. The victim, the Black schoolgirl, was both verbally and physically assaulted; she was punched, kicked, dragged, and had her hair pulled by a group of white girls and adults. Meanwhile, the headteacher failed to intervene and provide protection for the child….. Yes this does not happen just in Surrey and Havant but also in the Southampton area where I have been called in to investigate similar incidents in “well respected” schools in Hampshire.

The recent report ‘I can’t breathe’: Race, Death and British Policing by INQUEST is quoted as saying, that Black people are seven times more likely to die than White people following the use of restraint by police, and that no death of a Black person following police custody or contact has led to officers being disciplined for racism, at a conduct or criminal level.

Some of you may be familiar with stories of the talk that every Black father gives or should give to their sons, and I don’t mean the birds and the bees, but the talk given to Black males to make them aware of how they will be seen by White society…even if some of them may not see themselves as Black…..and how as young Black males they will be seen as a threat and treated accordingly.

Finally let us not forget that Friday 22 April is Stephen Lawrence Day - an annual event held on the date of Stephen's death as a celebration of Stephen's life and legacy. Stephen Lawrence was murdered in an unprovoked, racially motivated attack on 22 April 1993 at the age of just 18. The big question is what has really changed? Stop & Search is as bad as it always was, and these figures are true for Southampton where one in every 5 people stopped and searched are either Black or Asian….and mostly Black!....and where the Police Commissioner for Hampshire publicly stated that there is a direct link between lawlessness and migrant communities, and this was not refuted by Hampshire Constabulary!

A recent report found Metropolitan police to be institutionally racist, sexist, and homophobic and in need of radical reform……and here in Hampshire Three members of a "toxic" police unit were sacked for gross misconduct after their "offensive" conversations were secretly bugged. The devices picked up "homophobic, racist and sexist" conversations in the offices of Hampshire's Serious and Organised Crime Unit in Basingstoke in 2018. Sometimes we like to look elsewhere with righteous condemnation whilst we ignore the issues in our own backyard.

Well….The Green Book is no more, and the piano player does not stop playing when we enter the room….but let us not pretend that the eyes of the cameras are not upon us and that mental calculations are not being made about who we are….. fuelled by the myths and stories that we are forever burdened by and that we sometimes unknowingly adopt ourselves. There are many institutions in the city that do not reflect the needs of Black people either by its composition or its works and these institutions should not be deluded by their adoption of one or two individuals that may not necessarily represent the condition of the communities that they want to include. Black people as individuals do not necessarily represent the interests of Black communities and there should be a clarity about that; lest those who are inducted are chosen as to how far their view accords with the organisation that seeks to adopt them.

Don John