I’m a Native.
Conversations about racism #sociologymatters
Do we live in a post-racial world? Have the key identity signifiers of Modernity vanished? I want to refer to Akala’s – Natives to critically assess this vantage point. Both relevant & well-researched, this excellent book is a must read.
There simply aren’t enough superlatives to describe this man. A genius.
Dialogue about race & identity politics remains controversial & open to challenge. Many believe we live in a ‘post’ world. Post-racist, Post-Sexist & Post-Modern universe whereby the power dynamics of modernity, namely, social class, ethnicity, race, gender, age, sexuality & age have all disintegrated. A friend of mine even rather naively said “In 2008 when Obama became President, racism died”. Is this the case? Through my personal lived experience, modernity’s discriminative structures are alive & well. This dialogue at a time where prejudice in its many forms has somehow received an ‘intellectual veneer’, well, it’s necessary, it’s political & it’s sociological.
As a clenched up, screw faced, alienated, angry, agitated & socially conscious teen, racism rolled off the tip of my tongue instantaneously as soon as I saw injustice. Growing up in the 90s & 2000s, I wanted to integrate, assimilate, work & live in ‘Mother England’. The riots in the Northern towns, even 9/11 & 7/7 terror attacks, they filled me with shock & fierce patriotism. I was happy-go-lucky, never once thought I was ‘different’ from my White British peers at school. Yes, I encountered racism growing up but I assumed, as many children do, that as I got older everything would be okay. My Grandad (Bless his soul) assured me that if I, “Say yes, nod along & didn’t rock the boat” I’d be fine. What if I didn’t like the direction the boat was sailing in?
Who is Akala?
Kingslee Daley, also known as Akala is an award winning Hip-Hop artist. After extensive global tours & soul searches, as well as appearances in our mainstream media, Akala’s conversations about race, colonialism, identity, politics & social structures permeates from & into his music. I would throughly recommend his Ted Talks, Oxford Union lectures & also his poetic & powerful Fire in the Booth performances. Akala is a revolutionary thinker, someone who brings truth & realism into dialogue as well as integrity & empirical evidence into his work.
Days after the passing of my Grandad, a close friend sent me this. Still in awe, the best present ever. Thank you Danii.
Natives: Interlude, a guide to denial & the significance of Natives.
Yet, I know as a British Muslim of Pakistani heritage that there is a taboo, an unspoken truth & dare I even say, a dangerous set of misconceptions about us. Grandad in his grace always suggested that we have ‘selective amnesia’, that our social mobility in the UK was enough for us to subtly accept some level of racism. But I’m a third generation kid! I wanted to be treated equally to my peers, I had the same aspirations to them as we grew up on the same street. I didn’t want to be chased through town centres by the NF, confronted by the BNP, justify my citizenship rights to Britain First & stand up to UKIP. I didn’t want to fight racism, I just wanted to fit into the country that I always knew as my home. Racism needs confronting & despite my reservations on the past, it’s remained an important elephant in the room. The elephant that Akala’s – Natives challenges, the elephant I want to tackle through my personal lived experience.
The Twelve Big Questions
1. If we just stop talking about it ‘racism’ it will go away – I used to think this also. But just imagine any menial issue, for example, not doing the dishes. You avoid the dishes & day after day they pile up. The kitchen looks Dante-esque, eventually leading to you have no dish ware to dine with. Racism isn’t something we can dodge like the dishes. For many BAME people, it’s a part of our daily experience. I remember voting at the 2010 election, I was so fiercely proud of being British but minutes later, I overheard a lady say “I better not walk around here alone, there’s P**** on every corner”. She then clenched her purse really tight & headed towards the voting booth. Racism doesn’t go away without dialogue. Ignorance of prejudice is at the heart of racism. Both of these prosper when we begin to condemning racism or elevate one form prejudice as more condemn-worthy than another.
2. Stop playing the race card – This is a card that can be misused or misplayed. History tells us that racism was a process of labelling, institutionally engraining a deep discrimination, alienating the ‘ethnic other’. The race card isn’t something that people want to throw around willy-nilly but rather a mechanism to identify racial inequality. It shouldn’t be ridiculed. Yet in instances where race is a major factor or the only factor, can we simply ignore it? The race card doesn’t sit in the wallets & purses of BAME citizens. It’s an intangible but significant part of our daily experience. I’ve never heard someone say “stop playing the gender card”. The race card shouldn’t be used without context but denying its use at all, that’s subtly accepting responsibility for racial injustice.
3. Why can’t you just get over it, it’s all in the past – When do we reset our memory clocks? Earlier this year our PM was calling Muslim women ‘bank robbers’ & ‘letterboxes’. The year before, the Labour Party was being accused of anti-Semitism. We saw spates of shooting of unarmed African-Americans in the States by law enforcement. 2011, during the Riots? The 90s with the murder of Stephen Lawrence? 80s Rushdie affair? This idea of ‘forgetting the past’ is asking for the development of selective amnesia. We cannot travel back in time but we can learn from history. It may be in the past but giving racism & it’s allies either immunity or a lack of scrutiny, that feeds into the idea that racism of some form is ‘acceptable’. We learn from the past by studying the past. Ignorance of history is leaving us doomed to repeat the barbaric, genocidal & wicked atrocities of the past.
4. You have a chip on your shoulder – tell that to an inner-City youth who has been stopped & searched dozens of times, with few legitimate opportunities to be socially mobile. Why is it that people who stand up against injustice are accused of this? Do I have a chip on my shoulder or is it as sack of potatoes? I’m just going to refer to a social media post by Aleesha (@a_leesha1). This young lady receives death & rape threats, messages from trolls & all sorts for her activism. She is trying to give voice to British Muslim women growing up on a patriarchal, Islamophobic society that vastly simplifies their existence. Why is there such fear that a Muslim woman can be empowered & liberated? I’ve been accused of ‘creating animosity’ when I spoke about the role of the Hijab for a Muslim woman’s identity. I was simply trying to explain that we’re unable to conceptualise the lived experience of a Hijab-wearing female as males. Again, when we hold conversation about any taboo topic, we will inevitably hit some nerves. Yet claiming this projects negativity onto those in such dialogue, that’s absurd.
5. Why don’t you just go back to where you came from? I’m a third generation immigrant child. Britain is my home. I have little or no experience of my Grandparents motherland, how can I return somewhere I’ve never actually experienced beyond a fortnight long vacation? My aspirations as a child were similar if not greater than my White British peers. I wanted to wear the branded clothes, live in the big house with the white picket fence. Britain is my home. My parents, Grandparents & ancestors contributed to making Britain ‘Great’. As a sharp-tongues uni friend once said “I’ll go back when you leave my country”. Touché?
6. You should be grateful you have free speech – social media has definitely given everyone a voice, even the idiots! I am grateful that I’m not living in China or North Korea where my freedom of expression is totally suppressed. But having free speech doesn’t mean I can use it as a medium to attack others? I’m not Anjum Choudary who was poster-boy for Islam for so long. Free speech has more to do with protecting the rights of suppressed groups in supporting them to overcome their suppressor. Freedom of speech gives power to voices, even the hateful ones. I’m absolutely grateful of free speech but I just wish others would use their to educate & liberate, not condemn & spread hate.
7. You just hate Britain, you are anti-British – why can’t we critique OUR own policies without being branded ‘anti-British’. Growing up watching the tanks & military steamroll Afghanistan & Iraq, then reading about arms deals between the UK & Syria, why can’t we say “excuse me, this is wrong”. I’m a teacher & I’ll criticise, for example, Ofsted. May be Ofsted should be scrapped or frameworks should be changed to support teachers & not chastise them. That’s my opinion & inviting health opinion is important for any dialogue to gain direction & guidance. So the BIG questions, you know, Brexit, immigration, racism etc, why aren’t we allowed to offer an alternative opinion. No one labels me ‘anti-British’ if I criticise the government schools watchdog, so why am I anti-British if I don’t agree with other policies?
8. You are obsessed with identity politics – I am. The dynamics of social class, gender, age, ethnicity, sexuality, race & disability are a part of my daily experience. I’m not a blank canvas, I’m not objective in every conversation I hold. I can’t be! From birth I was assigned a gender, later on birth certificates; a gender. Eventually I was placed under an ‘ethnic’ category & by the time I started school, I was already seeing visible differences in size & ability to my peers. We are all obsessed with identity politics. Looking back at the early to mid 20th century, social class was the key identity signifier. People were social class demarcate them from one another. It was life. Looking back at the Tudor days or even ancient history in ALL societies, there was a clear division between the have & have nots. In our more late/post modern times, social class, albeit declining in social conversation, remains an identity signifier. But the dynamics of race, ethnicity & sexuality are taking greater presidency. Our identity is shaped by societies power dynamics, all of which mean we’re all engaged in identity politics at some level.
9. You are trying to blame me for what my ancestors did – I’ve heard this, almost word for word by someone I was talking colonialism with. She was seething that I said “the world is shaped by post-colonial ideas” in relation to her thesis on Muslim women in western society. I wasn’t blaming her, I was pointing out that history shapes the present & detaching any social conversation from their context & history is dangerous. Her ancestors were probably lovely people. They never enslaved me or hurt my family. When we discuss race, there’s a deep fear that we are ‘passive victims’ of racism in society. By holding dialogue & considering alternative ideas, we are delving into what once divided us. Once we’ve touched upon this sensitive note, we can move forward. It’s an absurd idea that I’m blaming anyone for their ancestors misdemeanours. I’m not. As Akala tells us, let’s stop looking at the negatives of our ancestry but rather the positives of our forefathers. Like the millions of Indian soldiers that died in both World Wars.
10. Stop making excuses – personally, I’ve never accused anyone of racism. I’ve received looks, threats & had the feeling ‘you don’t belong here’. I’ve never used race as a barrier to anything in my life. Whether it be an interaction with a Teacher who called my group of friends “wild Hobbesian beasts that need civilising”, to the promotion I was denied because my “image was not the one the school wished to project”. I’m a Sociologist & I know that institutional racism exists. Is it an excuse when, in the context of education, BAME pupils are: more likely to be excluded, less likely to achieve good GCSEs or go to university. Issues within with & employment need their own blog entirely. Excuses? There are facts. Of course, when I heard young people from my community saying “society is racist”, I understand their sentiments. Yet, are they actively seeking to be a part of society or is society actively & institutionally seeking to cut them out of society? That’s the question.
11. I don’t see colour – if it doesn’t exist in my eyes, I won’t believe it exists at all. Colour blindness is something that has extensively been written about in race academia. No one is born innately racist. Race & our distinctions on any identity power dynamics are a by-product of socialisation. Not seeing colour is nigh-on impossible as race is deeply engrained into our psyche. Seeing colour doesn’t make you racist, it’s a natural curiosity to know about others, their heritage & culture. Not seeing colour perhaps homogenises the experiences of everyone, dare I say unintentionally.
12. It’s not about race – ‘This isn’t about race Shuaib’. Those words were muttered to me after a dispute about my employment contract that was not made permanent despite EVERY other member of staff attaining permanent posts. If it isn’t about race, that is it about? Someone even said to me “I don’t think Boris Johnson is racist, he just wants Brexit done”. So calling Muslim women ‘bank robbers’ or claiming black people have ‘watermelon smiles’, that isn’t racist? Race should never be used tactically to gain ground in an argument but denying racism is about race? If you want to cover your own back & not be labelled ‘racist’, eradicate the racist overtones in your interactions, words & actions.
For anyone interested in Sociology, History, Politics, Race Relations or simply humanity, this is a must read.
Doing Akala any sort of justice in tackling race is impossible. The intellectual genius is simply incredible & to even be able to create a forum with his ideals, that’s a privilege in itself.
My lived experience of race is somewhat sheltered compared to many who suffer from horrific experiences on a daily basis. Yet, lived experience alone has allowed me to confront the elephant in the room.
Finally, I truly hope we can carry on discourses about all power dynamics in unity as in isolation, they don’t exist.
Thank you for reading.
Thank you to Akala, Danii & Liam. Love to you ♥️