Posted by: griot | 24 August, 2011

Black Is Not The New White…It Is The New Islam

What a difference a week makes.  I wasn’t scared by the rioters, I went to a picnic in Wood Green last Sunday and to a club in the West End on Tuesday, I was not going to give them the power of stopping me living my life.   It was sad to see the fear spread across the country because of the actions of relatively small groups of young people, who were taking advantage of a temporarily passive policing approach.  Working amongst young people who have done even more terrible things, I know that they are not demons or super villains, so once the authorities decided to take control I knew the unrest would quickly fizzle out.  The riots caused enormous damage, lives were lost, homes were burned and businesses were destroyed, and people understandably want to see the perpetrators brought to justice, which is happening.  As is usual after terrible events, the humanity of the great British public was quickly displayed, a positive reclaiming of the streets, people coming together to clean up and donations and support given to those who lost everything.

Ironically, it was around this time that I started to feel uneasy, there was a trickle of posts on a football message board I use that laid the blame full square on “the Blacks”, it’s not the first time that I’ve seen such sentiments expressed there, but more people seemed to be saying it without being challenged. “Enoch Powell has been proven right”, they claimed.  Some of the comments on articles on the websites of reputable newspapers were overtly racist. Then it was Twitter and Facebook, where even people on my Friends list were laying the blame in part, on immigration.  I didn’t get it, the riots were clearly multi-ethnic, and though in London many of those involved were Black, there weren’t that many Black faces in the riots over student fees last year or over the G20 summit in 2009.  It reached a peak, that it has not yet come down from, with David Starkey’s hand grenade on Newsnight and every platform that he has been given since.  The problems, he says with surety, are that “large group of Whites have started to behave like Blacks” and speak like Blacks.  While his words have been condemned by many, there a lot of people who agree with his sentiments. So what do I behave and speak like? Answers on a post card, please.

Factors such as the reported higher degree of absentee fathers in the Black community are being trotted out, but if those figures are not broken down to take into account socioeconomic factors, they give a very distorted picture and suggest a view that I strongly dispute that Black men are either genetically predisposed or have programming that causes them to be more likely to abandon their children than other races.  At my office there are 7 Black men, 5 of whom are fathers, 2 of the fathers are in happy marriages, 2 are full-time single fathers and the other has equal custody of his children, that’s the template for Black fatherhood I use.  Why are the actions of few thousand rioters, not all of whom are Black, being used to negatively stereotype the 1.2 million Black people in Britain?  It’s lazy and unhelpful.  Like every other community, Black people are heterogeneous, we originate from different countries, have different religions, have different class backgrounds, you name it.  What we do share, along with other ethnic minorities, is an “ethnic penalty”, which is that compared to a white person of the same age, with the same skills and qualifications and living in the same area, we were more likely to be unemployed, more likely to be in a more junior position and more likely earn less than our white equivalent.

We’ve seen this widespread vilification of a minority community in Britain, based on the actions of a few, before.  One of the stand out things of the Blair years was how prevalent Islamophobia became, the worlds “muslim” and “terrorist” were so often put together that they became almost interchangeable.  Just a few short weeks ago, the early reports here of the Norwegian massacres led many to think that the perpetrator must be a muslim, fortunately self-proclaimed Christian Fundamentalist Anders Behring Breivik was caught, before an innocent community faced another onslaught.   Does anyone really think the treatment of muslims over the last decade has helped reduce the alienation they feel?   Will the Cameron years see “gangs” be used as shorthand for “Black young people from the inner city” and so we then just write them off and seek only to punish and control them?   We must not allow it.  This is a great country, but the life chances of a significant minority of our population are determined by where and to whom they are born, their access to a good education limited and likelihood of unemployment high.  If we tackle that, address the social inequality that is a growing blot on our copybook, we make things better not just for the dispossessed, but for all of us.

Posted by: griot | 24 August, 2011

The Nihilism Is Not New

As I watched the events sparked by the death of Mark Duggan spiral out of control so spectacularly across London and other inner cities, like many people I experienced a range of emotions. Sadness…dismay…horror…, but the thing that struck me the most was how familiar it all seemed. Now obviously such widespread rioting doesn’t happen often and many would say that the last week’s events have been unprecedented in both their ferocity and in terms of damage done, still for me seeing young people act with disregard for societal norms is common place.

While I don’t believe that the riots were a race issue, the socioeconomic disadvantage experienced by some of our communities did have a role to play. High unemployment for black and Asian youths is twice that of their white counterparts. Poor job prospects and a dearth of youth services are a lethal cocktail that lead to a low sense of attachment to Britain and mainstream society. In it’s place has been constructed a bond with the local area; the estates that they are from, the gangs to which they belong and they have scant regard for anyone or anywhere else. Such young people commit acts of violence towards each other with frightening regularity, a lot of which goes unreported and, where for most of the country such things are rare, for our inner city young people it is a regular occurrence. Even those that don’t succumb to it as perpetrator or victim are very aware of it and accept it as part of their daily life.

I have worked with such young people for almost two decades. We run an employment and training centre and a youth club (that we are only able to open one evening a week), and being so close to them I have had a close insight into their world. When we ran a programme in schools and asked a group of 15 year olds what other uses than the obvious there could be for a toothbrush, we were greeted with myriad names for a weapon, such as “shank” and “borer”. For those a few years older it is even more stark, they all know someone who has stabbed or been stabbed, can access a gun by making a quick phone call, risk life and limb if they travel to a red/blue area (which can be 10 minutes down the road) and have to adopt behaviours that stop them from being a perennial victim. There is a real lack of empathy for anyone outside their family or friends and no understanding of the consequences of their actions. It is as if their lives are a boot camp, where they become desensitised to other human beings and so can go forward with lives in which the best they aspire to is to be a big time drug dealer. That said, they are still youths and are not demons, even though in particular circumstances they are capable of evil things, as Donnell Carty and Sanchez Santre Gayle, who both attended our youth club have done.

Now that they have been so dramatically thrust upon an unsuspecting public, we should not be scared of these young people, they were amongst us before these dreadful riots and will be around afterwards. The rioting has thankfully now stopped and now the criminal justice system must play its part, but I hope it does not end there. Even if we cannot be empathetic towards them, we must now acknowledge that we have a vested interest in tackling the causes of their alienation. As Martin Luther King said: “There is nothing more dangerous than to build a society, with a large segment of people in that society, who feel that they have no stake in it; who feel that they have nothing to lose. People who have a stake in their society, protect that society, but when they don’t have it, they unconsciously want to destroy it.” At a time when we all accept that there must be a reduction in public spending, the money that is spent must be done wisely, an organisation like ours that manages to get such young people through our doors every day and engages them, they even tell us that “when we are here, we are not causing trouble,” cannot access any public money and were it not for our reserves would have ceased to operate. In the absence of the right familial influences, we have the choice of these young people only exposed to the mores of the street or to be embraced by professionals in the community that can help them navigate into mainstream society. What would you rather have?

Posted by: griot | 14 March, 2009


I’ve been such a lazy blogger.  I said blogger!!  It’s been nearly two years since I last posted a blog entry and boy does that seem like long time ago now.   Tony Blair was Prime Minister, bankers were revered and celebrated and Jose Mourinho and Martin Jol were respectively the managers of Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur.  So much has happened in the last 20 months, in the world and in my own life, that it’s hard to take in.  The biggest thing undoubtedly has to be the election of Barack Obama as President of the United States.  So much has been said about that historic decision of the American people that I will not add to it here, but back in June 2007 I did not in my wildest dreams believe it was possible.

The highlight in the Griot’s life has to be being awarded an OBE in the 2008 Queen’s Birthday Honours List.  People’s reactions were very interesting, most were absolutely overjoyed for me and to be honest I found the out-pouring of joy and congratulations overwhelming.  So many people said so many wonderful things, mainly along the lines of how richly deserved it was, that I spent the majority of June 14 in tears (yes, I cried).  I received excited phone calls from all over the place, including Nigeria, the US and Acton.   There were a few alternative reactions however, one was a fella who said that as far as he was concerned OBE stood for “Other Buggars Efforts” and there are two people I considered close who have still yet to acknowledge the award in any way.  Then there was my own reaction to the fact that I had been nominated to become an Officer of the Order of the British Empire.  I loathe the idea of empires, the vast majority of people that are absorbed into them suffer.  So how was I to reconcile myself to it?  The first thing was to recognise that it was not just an award for me, but also for my magnificent colleagues who have worked so hard to create a truly exemplary organisation.  LEAP is special, I have not yet learnt how to describe it to do it justice and it is a place that you have to visit to understand.    I often tell my colleagues that they are heroes and I wanted them to know that I knew that they contributed to all the charity’s achievements, so in a way,  the “Other Buggars Efforts” man was right.  The other thing I did was to make an adjustment in my mind, to the title.  By considering it the Order of British Excellence as opposed to Empire, I was comfortable with it and then wished only that my mother was alive to see it.  The whole thing was the culmination of quite some turnaround.  Here was the man formerly known as Darkie Duper (4th choice MC of Danny King Hi-Power sound system), Stretch from Acton and someone who as a teenager was once told by a foaming at the mouth Policeman that I was “nothing and would always be nothing,” up for a gong.  All of this preamble leads me to my main point which is my life has changed from back in the day, I’ve moved forward, not in turns of financial attainment necessarily, but amongst other things in terms of circles that I am able to access.  I have gone from moving with the “man dem” to having met the last 2 Prime Ministers, more Ministers of State than I can remember and his HRH Prince Charles 3 times.

Tuesday this week was a perfect example.  I was invited to a dinner in a private room in an extremely expensive restaurant in Mayfair. The place was outstanding in every way but it was over-shadowed by the quality of my company for the evening.  I very much felt like the odd one out around the table.  Try and picture it.  There’s me (and if you know me you’ll know I have quite a broad London accent and have still not learnt to be completely comfortable in environments that do not see a lot of Black people), there is a brilliant 25 year old woman who is the head and founder of a foundation that is raising governance standards across a continent and has on her Board people of the quality of the former President of Ireland; there is one of the founders of the world’s first online bank , a man whose new venture has been selected as 2008 Technology Pioneer by the World Economic Forum in Davos and then there is our host, the man who is paying the really expensive tab (thank you, mate) who runs an exciting new media company that has access to the corridors of power and who is primed for real success after spending years as a journalist at national newspapers and also being an editor. 

It is so obvious why I was the odd one out, right? Absolutely, I was the only one of the three that worked for a charity. It was lovely to be around the table with them, discussing amongst other things Mr Pioneer’s plans to develop and support millions of the brightest children in Africa so that they can achieve their potential.  All of us around the table were British and, as I’m sure you guessed, all of us around the table were Black.  The strides that have been made by Black people in this country have been huge, and this dinner reminded me of that.  Yes, there is still a way to go, but we all too often focus on what we don’t have and therefore forget what we do have…many shiny examples of what hard work, talent and focus can achieve.  It is the like of my dinner companions that lead me to refuse to accept the “I can’t do that, because I’m Black” mantra that I often hear from some of the young people I encounter in the course of my work.  I refuse to collude with their belief that their hue is in and of itself a barrier to them progressing, it is not, despite the existence of racism.  Young Black people in Britain have something that we never had, which is living proof in whatever field that they may choose to think of, of Black British achievement.  A firm foundation has been laid and I both encourage and expect our young people build upon what has gone before and take the progress to new heights.  I look forward to it.


The Griot

Posted by: griot | 12 April, 2007

The Slaughter

I’ve never known a year like it.  Knife crime and gun crime are both increasing on the Britain streets with devastating consequences. Young Black males being killed by young Black males on London’s streets has now become a dreadfully common occurence.  What’s it all about? Territory? Poverty? Lack of role models or as PM Blair says “a  distinctive Black culture”?

All of the above play a role, in my opinion, although I’m uncomfortable with agreeing with the Prime Minister, because I feel we are likely to be coming from different places even if the headline may be the same.  The particular Black culture that is being glamourised and promoted on media outlets that are not Black owned, so its not just our responsibility.  The Black community has to go to Government for the resources which are necessary to address this complex issue, so the Government cannot just increase Police patrols to deal with the aftermath, the causes have to be identified and addressed by society as a whole.  Although, the vast majority of the victims are Black, it is the same madness that resulted in the senseless and brutal murder of Tom ap Rhys Pryce, so it is not just our problem.

I believe that there is one thing that should be included in any serious discourse about the destructive and violent thread running through the Black youth culture in Britain’s streets, yet is, for the most part, absent.   In my opinion, any honest discussion on the greater propensity of Black youth to kill each other than other communities, would have to consider the affects of chattel slavery on the Black psyche.   Having a common enemy, and in our case that should be racism, is usually enough to bind a community together however tenuously.  It doesn’t do that, for young Blacks, even though they share a greater likelihood of being excluded from school, being unemployed or imprisoned.  I refuse to accept that we are genetically predisposed to be this way, but instead its something we learn, we learn that our greatest enemy is someone who looks just like us and is just as low on the foodchain as we are.

I am including a link to a brilliant short film that will give you an insight in the self loathing that Black people have, that contributes to Black youth killing each other so readily.  I know this is an American piece and that it focuses on young females, but it is equally relevant to Black people (males and females) in Britain.

Lets get that discussion going.


The Griot

Posted by: griot | 12 April, 2007

Hello world!

I have a lot to say and I’m taking my opportunity to say it.  I am very interested about things that affect black people in Britain, but I am also interested about other things too.

I’m starting a journey today and its going to take me to many places.   As we say round my way, “I’m trying a ting”.  I hope some of you come along for the ride, your participation and comments will be what make this happen.


The Griot