I have deliberately delayed writing this post because I needed time to reflect on my position on this. Firstly, I will confess that this is a very painful aspect of my life. There is one thing that is used by some to decide if I am intelligent, if I deserve attention, if I should be given an opportunity, and sadly – as in the case of many around the Globe and in History – if I live or die. It boils down to the colour of my skin.
At various points in history (and current day) we have seen individuals who preached that the people they prefer, inside and outside of their sphere, are better that all others. They mobilised groups, troops and countries to conquer nations. Rules were created to keep others out. Rules based on wealth, colour or race, gender, disability and religion. In the UK and other countries, laws have been passed to create equality within society yet there are some who choose to ignore them.
When you are different, you seek ways to belong. For example, our hair define us but when I was young, my hair was not good enough. As a primary school child in the 60s, I quickly noticed that flowing long blond or brown hair was the thing. I didn’t understand why the difference, but I knew I was different. When I played with my sisters, we would put our cardigans on our head and pretend we had ‘long hair’. Later on, as a further education lecturer and manager, I straightened my hair to fit in with my colleagues. Since then, I have worked through a process of self- acceptance – colour and body. I wear my hair natural off stage and for radio interviews. I can choose to wear it straight or curly for Gigs but that’s because I want to display a particular image for the event, not because I’m struggling with my racial identity. There are articles even now of black women, men or children whose hairstyle is used by their employer or teacher as a reason to restrict their progress.
I have experienced racism. I have not, and thankfully and hopefully never, experienced racist violence towards me. George Floyd death and others has brought a Global confrontation of the issues in 2020 and the reason for my post. When I was young, I went on a walk down the road to the shops (then local shops were close by) with my mother, who was wearing a lovely coat with a fur collar. She was spat at and had to walk home to remove it, craning her neck to avoid contact.
In my twenties, I was making my way home from Church in Lozells where I saw police, people and violence. This was the Lozells Riot of 1985. At the time, I didn’t understand the level of frustration people felt or why they chose destruction to make their voices heard – not that I agree with destruction of property but Trevor Noah makes a strong case as to why that is a vehicle for change, if you are interested.
In the 90s, I was ousted from a management role – don’t worry, the Commission for Racial Equality sorted it out; and while those examples are overt, I do not have enough hands to show the amount of time I’ve experienced subtle or covert racism. For example, being overlooked when it is my turn to be served, my raised hand ignored in a meeting, being placed in the wrong learning stream at school. In new situations I wonder, how will I be treated this time? Racism or the expectation that something racist might happen is a way of life for me and for many people with a darker skin tone.
A few years ago I had lessons to improve my sax improvisation. My teacher was a white male and a very good teacher and it was through him that I learnt that Blues came from the American slaves. This was news to me. A couple of years later I visited a restaurant with my family. The Restaurant had a lounge area with a Book shelf. I noticed a bright yellow tome titled ‘New History of Jazz, Revised and Updated’ by Alyn Shipton. While flicking through it I was caught by the history of Blues and Jazz being of African descent, this was wonderful and affirming news for my identity and music development. I can embrace this Genre with open arms and own it. So my family purchased a copy of the book for my birthday.
It’s expected that I like Reggae because I’m black. I have friends who do not like Reggae and are black. I have to admit that I do like it not because of my colour but because it was part and parcel of my early years. My parents had parties at their home and played records – Ska, Reggae, Calypso, Mento from Jamaica this is why Reggae, Jazz, Blues form part of my Gigging repertoire with Gospel, Pop, Soul and a little RnB thrown in.
I am female and Black, a double whammy, I guess if I include my age (late 50s) that could be a triple whammy – lol! May be I’ll write about all that another time. Actually I have written about my experiences of being a menopausal musician for the Musicians Union . ..I wonder, does my menopausal journey make it a quadruple whammy? 🙂 Well let’s get back to race.
On the other side of the coin, I have experienced those who get me and understand the implications to Blackness. They support me and are not Black. The ‘white’ person who keeps the door open for me when I am approaching. Those who serve me in the Shop or Restaurant without blushing. Unknowingly, they help to build and maintain the message that not all people who are not my tone are racist. They see me as a human being and their equal. There are white people who are appalled at the way Black people are treated. They don’t stand for it and they make it now. These are the people who make chance happen. Chappeau!
So I want to say thank you to those people who have a lighter skin tone than me who treat me fairly. Please keep doing this. And to those who do not, please reconsider. The world is circular. We all need each other to get by. You never know when the person who is best to help you will be someone you don’t have the time of day for. We are our brother’s keeper which is beautifully shown by Patrick Hutchinson and Pierre Noah Black Lives Matter protestors who protected a white male from being hurt during a violent racial demonstration.
So where do I stand? For me Black Lives Matter but also All Lives Matter. I say Black Lives Matter because the injustices should stop, it is inhumane. I say All Lives because true equality is preferring one another, being our brother’s keeper and not letting melanin levels dictate intelligence or ability. When we accept that we are all human – born, live and die. Eat, drink, sleep and wake. Sometimes happy, sometimes sad. When we get this, then there will be true racial equality and no need for campaigning for Black Lives or All Lives matter.