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AS A black child, I grew up ‘believing’ racist lies and opinions. I was metaphorically casting aside black dolls in favour of white dolls. It was not a fervent belief akin to faith in God, more an acceptance or acquiescence of our lowly place in society.
There is a profound psychological effect that being exposed to negative stereotypical images of black people has on a black child. I did not escape this and therefore a degree of self deprogramming had to occur. Hence, positive representation matters and cannot be overestimated.
Therefore, many black children require help to unlearn harmful false life negating beliefs. PSYCHE Therefore, one of the most powerfully successful effects of racism is in its success in getting black people to actually believe the lie, “we can’t succeed”, when in fact we can (given fair and equitable opportunities).
The minimum effect of racism on the black psyche is to introduce ‘black doubt’. Effective racism not only requires unfairly and inequitably racially skewing the housing, education, healthcare, employment and criminal justice playing fields, but in so doing, also seeks to successfully convince us black players, on the playing fields of life, that we are simply not good enough and that losing the game was purely down to poor individual or team performance (part of the problem is seeing black folk as a “team” — we are not monolithic).
To be more precise, the lie is that black folk are only good in certain areas; for example, music and sport performance (not music/sports management). We are performers, we are entertainers. It is fundamentally important that racism not only places obstacles in the way, but that those discriminated against, find such barriers acceptable as part of “our lot” in knowing our place in society.
‘Black doubt’ is a key and necessary part of ‘effective’ racism. However, it’s not just about black doubt, racism is also about preserving and maintaining ‘black confidence’ in what we are viewed as doing best, i.e. sports and entertainment.
I distinctly remember feeling black confidence as a teenage boy, as I popped and locked as part of a breakdance crew. I used to get the same feeling at black music events or when watching dominant black sporting performances. Call it black pride in black spaces. I call it black confidence, black confidence in staying in our lane. Yes, I do take immense pride in black artistic and sporting achievements.
However, I am acutely aware of the context — of such pride and confidence unintentionally perpetuating and cementing stereotypes (a conundrum). Historically, there have been profound scientific, ideological and political lies, theories and opinions that have been successful in portraying black people as intellectually, spiritually, morally and aesthetically inferior.
I do not use the word ‘successful’ lightly, if the truth be told we are seeking to undo the gains and ‘successes’ of racism. Some of this success found a firm foothold in the minds of black people, to such an extent that Marcus Garvey, pictured inset below, famously referred to it as ‘mental slavery’.
The notion that, even after physical liberation, there remained a potent, stubborn, illiberal threat, that of mental slavery. As a lawyer who brings claims against the police for false imprisonment, I am not lost to the imagery and symbolism, that no act of parliament has the power to emancipate the human mind.
Hence, Garvey said: “We are going to emancipate ourselves from mental slavery because whilst others might free the body, none but ourselves can free the mind.” We have the creative intellectual genius that brought jazz, gospel, blues, rock and roll, reggae, calypso, rap, soul, funk, R’n’B, rumba, and Afrobeats to the world, not to mention the countless sporting triumphs.
We also have the ability to thrive, unhindered in business, science, technology and a vast array of other key areas of human endeavour. Ironically, given the theme of this piece, many of those that have sought to suppress or stifle black progress, by restricting opportunities, have done so, not out of a fear that such opportunities would be squandered due to lack of ability, but on the contrary, that such opportunities would be fully and successfully exploited as seen on Black Wall Street, Tulsa, Oklahoma.
It started with the tactical and strategic decision not to educate slaves to read, lest they plot an uprising and liberate themselves. That fight for educational parity between black people and white people has continued for centuries.
It culminated in the most important legal case in this context, the 1954 decision in Brown v Board of Education, when the Supreme Court struck down the Jim Crow law of ‘separate but equal’ as unconstitutional (many of us would have seen the black and white photography of the little black girl entering a previously white only school under armed guard following the decision in Brown).
If you were ever under any illusion as to why phrases such as “black is beautiful”, “young, gifted and black” and “black excellence” became part of the anti-black racism lexicon, these affirmations were designed for the benefit of black people, to militate against racist lies, and for us to confidently hold our heads up high, lest we believe the lie.
They are clarion calls, rallying cries. For racism to be effective, we have to believe the lie or at least have nagging black self-doubt leading to poor self-confidence.
The fact is, there has to be room for black mediocrity (in addition to excellence), as there is room for white mediocrity. Nevertheless, these black affirmations are vitally important in fighting the lie. It is time to throw off the shackles of any lingering black self-doubt.
Black is beautiful.
This content was originally published here.