The Souls of Black Folk

As the year draws to a close it seems a good moment to reflect on the condition of the Souls of Black Folk.; in the words of W.E.B Dubois. The great man reminds us that Black people need to be aware of this thing called “Double Consciousness”. Essentially this is the view that Black people are required toalways have two fields of vision; how they view themselves and how the world views them.

How Black people view themselves is very much influenced by the impact of western culture not only in their countries of origin but all over the world, especially in the manner in which they have assimilated themselves into those cultures….and let us not be fooled by cosmetic trappings of ethnic cultures which sometimes still mask colonial mentalities and very much inflate the notion of Diversity; with scant regard to issues of equality. Of course, the delicious irony is that no matter how far a Black person may want to distance themselves from their Blackness it is how the world sees them that may have a greater impact.

Of course, how Black people view themselves is wholly dependent on the information they have access to and some are infected by an educational environment steeped in a biased colonial history. Conversley,The fact that many aspects of Western culture are much influenced positively by Black cultures is something that has been vastly diminished from education systems and is one of those open secrets that many pay lip service to but do very little to convert that into action. Sadly, efforts to correct this are very often interpreted as “political” and those efforts to integrate Southampton’s Black History, in our own city, is left to the enthusiasm of individual teaching professionals poorly supported by our liberally inclined local politicians who run for cover so as not to offend the populist vote.

Equally, we also need to be highly conscious of how the world sees us. Despite the suggestion that this country is soaked in so called “multiculturalism”. Black people are the only ethnic group that are internationally vilified by the same set of stereotypes. We are even condemned by those who we assumed were as “Black” as we are. We have seen that recently in Tunisia where the Tunisian president’s racist speech incited a wave of violence against Black Africans. He is quoted as saying  “hordes of irregular migrants from Sub-Saharan Africa had come to Tunisia with all the violence, crime, and unacceptable practices that entails”. He went on to say that this was an “unnatural” situation and part of a criminal plan designed to “change the demographic make-up” and turn Tunisia into “just another African country that doesn’t belong to the Arab and Islamic nations anymore”.

We have also seen that when Black Ukrainians were racially abused during the Ukraine/Russia conflict and were at the back of the queue when trying to get on the last trains out of the country.

In the UK the similar stereotypes have consigned Black people to the top of the charts in Stop & Search, admittance to mental health services and incarceration in our prison services. Wake up Black people we still have a long way to go and because we are not being chased on the streets does not mean that all is well!. We have witnessed more recently Black people recruited to defend those unacceptable policies and practices that militate against Black peoples. Some are silent witnesses; some are willing participants, and some are human shields allowing the original architects to slip into the shadows while they take the flak.

The duality of our consciousness is a real problem for us as Black people. Partly because some of us have been conditioned into believing the myths about who we are. Some of you are aware of those moments when you have to “Code Switch” which basically is all about adjusting your normal behaviour to fit into your environment and as a Black person you try to act more White…… and sometimes as a Black person in a black cultural environment you may not be familiar with you make the mistake of acting too Black. I have seen many examples of this where things has gone dramatically wrong.

It was not unusual in the 70s and 80s that Black people themselves absorbed some aspects of these stereotypes. We were good at sports and even now football commentaries overly emphasise the athletic nature of Black footballers as if they have some inherent advantage that is unfairly used against White people, and of course there are very few Black people in football management where athleticism is not a requirement!….same old story after all these years We were also good at music and dancing with a natural sense of rhythm and God help any Black kid who did not have those skills as they questioned themselves as to how Black they really are.

Once upon a time we used to have a thing called Black Workers group in the workplace. This was a time when white organisations were not so threatened by Black people coming together and talking about White people, as this showed how liberal they were. This was also a time when the broad terminology of Black people was less contentious and ‘Black people” in some circumstances chose to opt out.

I am old school in recognising that if you are not White you are Black. However, I do understand the need for some peoples who wish to define themselves more specifically or choose not to be “labelled” with a definition that they are not comfortable with. Nonetheless, as “Black” people, we need to find ways to generate discussions about our commonality amongst and between ourselves or others will find ways to exploit our differences further.

Notwithstanding all of that, have a great festive season and keep on keeping on!