December 2021 Blog: Why is it so hard to be Black!

When my parents came to this country from Sierra Leone, they were definitely Black. However, that definition was perceived by many white people here as something that we were unfortunately cursed with; and sadly this legacy of inferiority still exists for some Black people today. I guess it should not be surprising when one considers that knowledge of Black people in the UK was derived from flawed information about Slavery, negative portrayals in the media and racism stimulated by the nature of the Commonwealth experience.

This tradition of not valuing our darkness was partly a consequence of the British history that underpinned the educational systems which were a legacy of our relationship with the “The Empire”. Back in the day, some Black people seeking education and fortunes in the West resorted to the use of the term “Coloured” which was a more palatable and less threatening than that word “Black” which was associated with “aggression” and the worst aspects of human nature; and sometimes we valued each other based on the complexion of our skin. As some of us are aware the word Black has insinuated itself into the English language with many associations of negativity aided and abetted by the main religion of the empire,

The seventies came and we became “Black & Beautiful” “Young Gifted and Black” and other trendy phrases that made us feel good about ourselves, so much so that other races adopted the term “Black” as this contributed to the political position, they had chosen to place themselves in. Nonetheless, there were still some in our own Black communities who resisted their association with “Blackness”, and certainly the issue of “Colourism” assisted those who were unsure in making up their minds. As Lord Kitchener (The calypsonian) said in one of his early songs “If you’re not white you’re Black”

Black Lives Matter, which is now wrongly associated with defunding the police and Marxism by many,attracted many negative associations. There are similarities to the Black Panther Party in the States whichwas painted as something no self-respecting Black person would associate themselves with and gave some people, both Black & White, the opportunity to be “woke”; but not so woke that they became troublesome! It was tolerated because it never really challenged the systems and it faded away pretty damn quick. It also gave many, mainly White, organisations the opportunity to recruit the support of “reasonable” Black people/communities who were allowed to show defiance as long as it was not expressed too publicly and helped to showcase the “wokeness” of those institutions.

However, if we as Black people are a little unsure as to who we are then it is not surprising that others will be confused as well. I stand with Lord Kitchener(The Calypsonian) that if you are not white you’re Black….but there is strong opposition from those who strongly identify with a variety of different definitions and choose to be anything but Black. The most popular options at the moment as substitutes for Black , in no particular order, are Coloured, Mixed-Race, Muslim, West Indian, African…and let’s not forget British….and while white people of all different types have no problem in being called white, too many of us try far too hard not to be Black.


Don John