Black People don’t need Positivity. We need meaning
It moved me
The title hits you before you’ve even opened the article. I was moved, yet also left in disagreement.
I am Jamaican-British. I descend from freedom fighters and revolutionaries. My family fought with Sam Sharpe against the British in 1831. The Africans were emancipated the following year from the chains of slavery. I comforted myself, as I am sure you have, with the legacies of Queen Nanny, Marcus Garvey, Muhammad Ali, Nelson Mandela and more.
More souls have perished for the future of black people than saints have for Christendom. Yet Tee leaves me with the unavoidable question which many of us have had to answer…
“What if life is one big worry spiral and your “The Catastrophe Scale” is always on 100 due to systemic racism? How do you positively think your way out of systemic problems you didn’t create or can control?”
Let me take you back 4 years ago. I am depressed, but it is unbeknown to me. My business is expanding but I’m breaking. It takes for me to collapse at work for me to realise that the sole thing which has kept me going is the intention to prove that I’m not the black piece of s**t that many have labeled me as. I am incredibly fortunate that through therapy with Tyrone Osbourne, a new dawn emerged and the days became brighter and more positive.
Poverty, oppression, shame… they shape us.
They mould our DNA and our personalities. For those of us in the UK, black Caribbeans and Africans are the poorest ethnic group in the country despite high schooling achievements. In the US, African Americans encounter the same fate.
In Behave, Robert Sapolsky provides clear data as to how this affects us.
Children born into poorer households
- Are more likely to be given lectures on toughness, protection, safety as opposed privileged children who are more likely to receive lectures on happiness, self actualisation etc
- The Amygdala (the primitive protective, emotional brain) is often larger in children born into poverty. The frontal cortex which dampens the effects of the amygdala and provides us with logic, cognition etc is often smaller
Both of these adaptations move us closer to a protective state than a state of maximising success. Dr Joy Degruy’s work shows that the trauma lived by our ancestors over hundreds of years has morphed their DNA and left its signature within our own genetic code.
And throughout Tee’s beautifully written piece, “The Privilege of Peace of Mind”, I too knew that the odds are stacked against us. I explain in “Black History, the good the bad and the ugly” that black people across the western world are less rewarded for the same work and punished more severely for the same crimes. In the UK, we have to send twice as many CVs to receive the same number of interviews. All that effort just to be paid, on average 17% less than our white counterparts.
As George Orwell stated almost 100 years ago
“A man with £3 a week and a man with £1,500 a year can feel themselves fellow creatures, which the Duke of Westminster and the sleepers on the Embankment benches cannot…”
Orwell, George. The Lion and the Unicorn (Penguin Modern Classics) (p. 67).
The wider the societal gap, the less a poor man looks like a brother. The parable of the good samaritan ceases to come into fruition. Civil collapse is near.
So where is the hope? And as Tee asked, what is the use of positive thinking?
Amongst this hurt I can’t help but think that something is missing
In 1993, London, Stephen Lawrence was murdered by a gang of racists. The police wrongly assumed his murder to be gang related and somehow related to black on black violence. Evidence was contaminated. Stephen Lawrence’s murderers were found not-guilty. The aspiring architect died without justice.
However the people fought. Black people fought for justice.
The 1999 Stephen Lawrence inquiry found the police to be institutionally racist. The police were restructured and forced to change. My dad, a police constable at the time, had been in the police for over 10 years at the time and saw how this changed police brutality, stop and search etc.
In 2012, after reopening the case, my dad worked to successfully imprison Stephen Lawrence’s murders. Justice was served.
I asked my dad about this. “Why should we be the ones to continue to fight, to educate, to tire ourselves again and again and again for the world to see the light. For the world to see the darkness of oppression in our experience. Why must we suffer as we do?”
“Because we have to…” he replied “we have no choice”
“We have to be martyrs?” I asked
“Yes…” he replied
This is our reality
So I guess, Tee, this is our reality. This is our cross to bear. The only consolidation I can offer myself or anyone else is hope for the coming of a new dawn for us and our children, and our children’s children.
There has been immense sacrifice paid by our people, and it wasn’t for them. It has always been for us.
When visiting Montego Bay, I read 5 family names on the Sam Sharpe memorial. All had received at least 300 lashes to the back for their participation in the Baptist War of 1831. Others were sentenced to death. Nat Turner was hung drawn and quartered. Harriet Tubman denied her privilege of freedom to instead turn back to free the others. Toussaint Louverture died from pneumonia in a tower, thousands of miles from the democracy he founded in Haiti.
And none of it was for them. Not one revolutionary thought that they would live to see the day when they would see the fruits of their labour. Like Moses, they died before they reached the promised land.
But they passed the torch to us.
So what I’m trying to say is that, maybe positive thinking isn’t what we need. Maybe its meaning in our suffrage that we need. Not this superficial, soulless, yucky positivity that the self-help gurus bang on about.
History provides the meaning and the direction.
I find solace in our ancestors. Inspiration in their fight. To learn about them I have created some resources for you. Go to www.blackhistory.school to see what I have created