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Learning to love thy new neighbour

Deep down, I’ve always been a bit of a bigot.

That’s not an easy thing for a ranting lefty to admit, but I can only change what I accept exists so it’s time for my ego to face the music and do the dance of contrition.

Gentrify This billboard at the Cans Festival, Leake Street, London

Gentrify This billboard at the Cans Festival, Leake Street, London

If we are being truly open minded, our beliefs evolve, nurtured by experiences – both ours and those of other people, throughout our lives. Over the years, I’ve faced down my sexism, become comfortable with diverse religious doctrines and got over my homophobia.

There is a minority group, though, that I regularly let myself socially discriminate against, either with snide remarks on social media or just casual everyday bigotry. I’ve been pulled up for mocking the way they speak and dress.

I’ve caught myself tutting loudly when stuck behind them at the local supermarket as they squeal with delight because it now stocks some exotic produce or other.

I guess on some level I just doubted their intentions.

Read the rest of this feature on the Guardian’s website

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Should we forget about slavery?

The following debate first appeared in the Voice NewspaperEach week, I chair a debate with members of the Writers of Colour collective.

DF-03057.CR2 DF-03057.CR2

Even before he won Best Picture at this week’s 86th Oscar’s ceremony, British director, Steve McQueen’s mantelpiece was straining under the weight of awards including a Golden Globe and a Bafta.

12 Years a Slave, his presentation of Solomon Northup’s harrowing memoir of brutality under slavery, has everyone talking about this horrific period of human history again.

But is remembering slavery a vital part of understanding the world we live in now or a damaging ball-and-chain which keeps us stuck in the past? (more…)

The ugly underbelly of private renting

When my mum first came to Britain from Jamaica in the 60s, overt racism was just a normal part of her day-to-day experience.

She never tires of telling me about the famous ‘no blacks, no Irish, no dogs’ signs that landlords put up on properties.

pic by Paul Joseph

pic by Paul Joseph

In those pre-equality regulation days, bigotry didn’t need to hide behind plastic smiles, it was allowed to roam free and unashamed.

The  Race Relations Act 1976 was supposed to put an end to all that and the Equalities Act 2010 seemed to reinforce the message that discriminating against someone because of the amount of melanin in their skin was simply not acceptable.

Among other measures, the Act made it:

“unlawful for a person who has the authority to dispose of premises to discriminate against or victimise someone else …by not letting or selling the premises to them.”

An undercover investigation by the BBC’s Inside Out London programme into discrimination in London’s private lettings industry aired last night. It showed that, for some letting agents, these laws are just obstacles to be navigated….

Read the rest of this article on the Guardian, Comment is Free

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Black history gets the Hollywood treatment

Hollywood has a very dubious history when it comes to telling the stories from Black history.
For years America’s guilt at the way it has treated it’s Black population saw Hollywood airbrush Black people out of many of the stories it told.

12-years-a-slave-poster

If Native Americans were vilified in many Westerns, Black people were pretty much ignored. The almost all-white Wild West presented in these films bore little resemblance to the reality in which almost a quarter of cowboys were Black and even more were Hispanic.

Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained (2012) was widely credited with giving a more realistic view of the Wild West, and while it was a hugely entertaining and successful film, Django’s tale still had the familiar ring of the poor Black man being liberated by the kindly white man.

The ‘white saviour’ narrative has been repeated over and over again and has allowed stories that America finds difficult to tell seem more palatable.

For a film to work for mainstream audiences the perceived wisdom seemed to be that the stories of ethnic minorities need to be told through the lens of a character white audiences can relate to. Using the white saviour ploy allows a white audience to watch a film about oppression, even with white oppressors, and align themselves with the good white person and Black ‘victims’.

Read the rest of this feature on the TV Collective.

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Drugs and the aggravating circumstance of being black

Following the release of figures showing huge disparities in the way drug laws impact black and white people, I wrote an article for Independent Voices thanks to Writers of Colour. I argued that not only is the war on drugs a flawed concept, it’s not even working well. Although black communities are the collateral damage in this war, the shrapnel hits everyone.

Drugs and the aggravating circumstance of being black

Indydrugs

Despite taking fewer illegal drugs than their white peers, black people are six times more likely to be stopped and searched for drugs in the UK, according to a report by Release and the London School for Economics (LSE) this month.

This is just a national average though and in some areas the discrepancy is much higher. If you live in Dorset, for example, you are 17 times more likely to stopped in the street and searched for drugs if you happen to be black.

The inequality doesn’t stop there, because if found with drugs, black people are then twice as likely to be charged as white offenders.

You might hope that once you are in court, justice will be blind and treat you equally, but black people are jailed at six times the rate of white offenders.

While it might be over-egging the pudding to say being black in the UK is a criminal offence, it seems it is at least an aggravating circumstance…

Read the entire article on IndyVoices

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I am proud to be part of Writers of Colour, – a collective of black and Asian writers challenging the lack of diversity in Britain’s mainstream media.

Oprah Winfrey and travelling while black

Oprah Winfrey is one of the world’s richest women but it didn’t stop a Zurich shop assistant from assuming she couldn’t afford the bag she wanted to buy. I talk about the real risks of travelling when black and sadly, they are more troublesome than having trouble buying a £24,000 bag.

Oprah Guardian

Oprah Guardian

 

There was a depressing familiarity to Oprah Winfrey’s tale of racism in an upmarket Swiss boutique.

Billionaire TV presenter Oprah is a household name around the world but this didn’t stop the staff in an Zurich handbag shop from assuming she couldn’t afford the expensive bag she wanted to buy.

In Oprah’s case, she decided not to make a scene or to play the ‘do you know who I am?’ card, instead choosing to leave the shop and spend her money elsewhere.

Oprah knew just mentioning her experience would be pay back enough and already the owner of the boutique has apologised and tried to explain away the incident as a ‘misunderstanding’.

While £25k handbags are not normally on my shopping list, being made acutely aware of your race when you leave the safety of home is all too familiar…

Read the Guardian article

This article was originally published in the Guardian with thanks to Writers of Colour

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Dark girls and slavery’s lingering fingerprints

When my beautiful daughter was just eight, she corrected me when I described her to a friend as ‘black’.

“Dad, I’m brown”, she explained. “You’re black, mum’s white and I’m brown”.

While I couldn’t fault her logic, her words caused a strong emotional reaction in me.
It was a mini panic, unexpected and violent. I caught my breath and tried to explain that:

“Although races don’t really exist, the world we live in has conjured them up and the shared life experience you will have with your darker skinned cousins and friends defines you all as black, regardless of skin tone.”

Good luck explaining that to an eight year old.

No argument I came up with, would convince her she was anything other than brown and so I gave up.

Jess and I

Now she’s 22 and would define herself as mixed-race. (more…)