Amongst many other things, my gripe with the recently appointed Chancellor of the Exchequer, Kwasi Kwarteng stems from 2018 when he downplayed the Windrush Scandal on Channel 4 News . He appeared to be a mouthpiece for the draconian measures that the government had and continues to implement; which is tantamount to what psychologist, Dr Amos Wilson would say is ”Putting Black face on White power.” Despite my dissonance with Kwasi Kwarteng and his politics, I was astounded when MP Rupa Huq said: ”Superficially he [Kwasi Kwarteng] is a Black man.”
I am not going to lie. Upon first seeing this quote, I was thinking serves him right, but I had only done a cursory look at the remarks that Rupa Huq had made and what the media chose to sensationalise. Once I had read the full content of what the MP for Ealing Central and Acton had said, I was disappointed.
According to Rupa Huq ”He’s [Kwasi Kwarteng] superficially, he’s, a Black man but again he’s got more in common […] he went to Eton, he went to a very expensive prep school, all the way through top schools in the country.” She added ”If you hear him [Kwasi Kwarteng] on the Today programme you wouldn’t know he’s black.”
The problem with comments such as those uttered by Huq is that they imply that a Black person going to a lavish prep school is somehow less Black. I know Black people who were afforded the opportunity to go to prep school. Some due to their parents’ economic capital made it possible with relative ease, while in other cases their parents made strenuous sacrifices to ensure their children could attend such schools.
My ex-girlfriend did not attend a prep school, but did attend an independent secondary school. Her parents were adamant that she would not endure the grave injustices that many Caribbean children experienced in the 60s and 70s by being placed often wrongfully in ‘educationally subnormal’ schools or fall victim to the low expectations that some teachers hold of Black children inside state schools. Her grandparents were included in the causalities of the horrendous segregation that hindered many Caribbean children’s life chances and left everlasting unhealed wounds that if still alive torment them to this day and arguably generations afterwards through Pupil Referral Units (PRUs) and school exclusions. Of course, private schools do not shield a child from systemic racism, but many Black children have excelled academically in such institutions. Does this make them ‘’superficially Black’’ for going to public (private in North America) schools?
The same ex-girlfriend loved authors Octavia Butler, Sister Souljah, Toni Morrison and Ayi Kwei Armah, but was also fond of writers such as JC Rowling and Margaret Atwood. And while she would dance to the latest Soca and Afrobeats songs accompanied by the likes of Beyoncé, TLC, Ledisi, Jah 9, Beres Hammond, Little Simz and Stormzy, she could also be found listening to Christina Aguilera and Taylor Swift. She would play The Paragons The Tide is High, but would insist Atomic Kitten’s version was good. It should be an arrestable offence to have such a view. Perhaps, the latter is a nostalgic childhood attachment that she never outgrew? whatever the case, I wouldn’t say it made her ”artificially Black” though.
After prep school Kwasi Kwarteng attended Eton one of the most elite and expensive schools in the western hemisphere. What Rupa Huq’s comments fail to mention is that Kwarteng won a scholarship to attend Eton. Let’s be clear. Eton is not just any private school. Across the three terms in a year, school fees are approximately £46,000. Even with Kwarteng’s father being a economist and mother serving as a barrister when he was a child, such fees could still be a challenge to pay.
Black supplementary schools were established in the 60s by concerned Black teachers, parents and activists to counter the underachievement of African Caribbean children. The legacy of Black supplementary schools can be seen with institutions such as Westside Young Leaders Academy (WSYLA). The school which prides itself on building leaders of the future teaches Black History (pre-colonial African and more recent world history), English, Science and Coding operates predominantly on Saturdays and school holidays. Several students from WSYLA have won scholarships to attend the likes of Eton. Would this qualify the students to be considered ‘’superficially Black’’?
Rupa Huq’s also claimed “If you hear him [Kwasi Kwarteng] on the Today programme you wouldn’t know he’s black.” These remarks remind me of what Professor of History David Starkey controversially claimed following the England 2011 uprisings – “Listen to David Lammy, an archetypal successful black man. If you turn the screen off so that you are listening to him on radio, you would think he was white.” The then Honorary Fellow at Cambridge University also claimed ‘’The whites have become black..’’
I find such comments problematic because they homogenise Black people into a circumference with little room to manoeuvre. I have been in environments where White people (though not exclusively) say ‘’Oh he/she thinks they’re Black’’. Being a person who would unpack common sense rhetoric, I would usually respond with ‘’What do you mean?’’ which tends to be followed by ”You know. They have their trousers/pants sagging, listen to rap music” and [feel in the blanks].
Depending on my mood I would let them continue until either they abruptly stop and realise what they have described is based on profound stereotypes of Black people they have been inculcated with. On quite a few occasions they would continue with their misguided commentary. By this time, I would already have metaphorically dug a grave and prepared to push them six foot deep to burry them alive. Often, I would use sarcasm to empathise my point. Typically, ‘’I never realised all Black people do that’’ would end the discussion.
There is another unfortune side to this social conditioning. ‘’He/She thinks they are White’’. I have and continue to say this, but I make such remarks within a specific context. When I make a statement like the aforementioned, I am referring to the ideology of White supremacy (I call it White extremism) which places proximity to Whiteness on a pedal stool and regulates anything that deviates from Whiteness as inferior. The consequences can be devastating as demonstrated in psychiatrist, Franz Fanon’s popular book Black Skin, White Masks.
As far as I am concerned, the context of ‘’acting white’’ is akin to when Martin Luther King said: ‘’Somebody told a lie one day. They couched it in language. They made everything Black ugly and evil. Look in your dictionaries and see the synonyms of the word Black. It’s always something degrading and low and sinister. Look at the word White, it’s always something pure, high and clean’’.
In this rulebook White is the opposite to Black. If White is intelligent, Black must be unintelligent. If White is pretty, sophisticated, benevolent and whole, then Black must be unattractive, dull, callous and deficient.
Rupa Huq’s comments reinforce the idea that Black people who are educated, well-versed in the English language and are not poor equates to them being ‘’superficially Black’’. Is Kwasi Kwarteng’s accent why he sounds ‘White’? or does being articulate single him out as ‘’superficially Black’’? if he were articulate in a distinctive Ghanaian dialect, would Rupa Huq have claimed that Kwarteng sounds White on radio? Possibly not. Where Kwarteng was born, socialised, and educated, are the ingredients to how his accent sounds. This does not make one less Black as a result.
Is Rupa Huq also ‘’specifically Asian’’ for going to an independent school in Notting Hill and attending the same university as Kwarteng? (Cambridge University). Black people are presented as monolithic in ways that others are exempt from.
Black people as poor
In terms of Black people’s presence on earth, it is relatively recently that Black populations domiciled across various countries and continents were impoverished through the maangamizi (Kiswahili word for the annihilation of African personhood through genocide, ecocide, nutricide, enslavement, colonialism and neo-colonialism).
To find the wealthiest person even by todays standards, one would have to go back to the era of the fourteenth century with Mansa Musa who ruled the medieval Mali empire.
Despite, being the first child in her family to be born into ‘freedom’ after the Emancipation Proclamation and being born into the racist Jim Crow regime, Madam C.J. walker became the first female ‘self-made millionaire’. It does make one wonder if there was not a socially engineered system to deliberately keep Black people impoverished how many more Black wealthy individuals would have been produced?
‘’And food deh down a country just a drop off a di [the] trees dem, you see say proverty nuh [poverty not] real den, is what the reasoning revealing’’ – Protoje (featuring Chronixx) ‘Who Knows’.
Rastafari and Black Music
The influence of Reggae songs such as To Be Poor is a Crime by Still Cool (and Freddie McGregor’s popular rendition) had a profound impact on me growing up despite being released before I was even born. Growing up in a Caribbean household, I would routinely be exposed to Studio One, early Ska, Rock Steady, Blues, Gospel, Soul, Jazz and what Johnny Osbourne called ‘Truth and Rights’ songs. Being poor is not natural and it certainly should not be perceived as hereditary for Black people to be poor. As Jamaican Reggae artist Protoje rightfully says: ‘’And food deh down a country just a drop off a di [the] trees dem, you see say proverty nuh [poverty not] real den, is what the reasoning revealing.”
Other genres such as Rare Grooves, Neo Soul, Hip Hop, Kaiso/Calypso, and Highlife would be learnt from listening to DJ Destiny, Deva Brandy and Ozzy Dollars from Juice FM, AfroGrooves and DJ Mastakut from Genesis Radio, Nico The Most Royal from Galaxy Afiwe station, Power Jam, Unique Radio, and Lightning Radio. All of which would play an instrumental role in broadening my musical knowledge.
What was known as Choice FM, early BBC 1Xtra (which was like a legal pirate radio station) and saving my lunch money from school to purchase music from record shops such as Selectors Records in Brixton, to Moods Records when visiting Atlanta Georgia at a time when most of my peers would prefer to download music digitally also opened my ears to eclectic forms of Black expression that I was deprived of in more mainstream spaces.
Being exposed to Black people in their multidimensional characteristics, enabled me to be less prone to internalising and reinforcing insular and clumsy ideas of what is Black and what is ‘’superficially Black”.
Rare Groove songs such as Be Yourself by Debra Laws and Elevate Your Mind by Linda Williams and Hip Hop songs such as Gary Byrd and the GB Experience’s The Crown played a good template for demystifying the lies.
Comedy and its ability to deconstruct normative ideas
Although I never was a massive fan of comedy, particularly comedy that I believed denigrated Black people, I was impressed by comics that were able to masterfully mock dominant stereotypes, or racist ideologies to illustrate how preposterous the thinking behind it is.
For example, the BNP sketch from the Real McCoy – challenged our ideas of belonging, Britishness and the dominant cultures’ willingness to accept forms of Blackness to win a football game or achieve an objective in the interest of the dominant cultures’ status globally, only to dispose of the Blacks and resort to scornful verbal and physical assaults when the team loses, or the objective fails.
The Windrush Scandal is similar. Britain needed labour, so invited those from its former colonies to the ‘mother country’ for the purposes of rebuilding the country after the second world war. Once those people were no longer needed, they were disposed of.
Such behavioural attitudes were evident in the UEFA Euro 2020 Final where three young Black men consecutively missed penalties that played a decisive role in whether England would be European champions or not. The three England footballers were inundated with racist and online trolling. Racist abuse was extended to other Black people who had nothing to do with the UEFA final, except for their hyper-visible Blackness.
The witty West Midlands Reggae icon, Macka B was able to convey similar undertones in songs such as To Be Racist where he said: ‘’Now the BNP, they’ve got a plan, to kick all the black people out of England, to them it is the only solution to make England into a better nation, but what about the other side of the situation? All the English who living’ in another man’s land, to be fair, all those generations, would have to come back to England. All the English who say they’re American, would have to come back to England. All the English who say they’re Australian, would have to come back to England. All the English who say they’re African, would have to come back to England. All the English in the Caribbean, would have to come back to England. With so much people in England, stop and think. England would sink!’’
‘’You [Black people] really believe that you are the ultimate individuals, yet you are the most stereotyped people” – Psychologist, Dr Amos Wilson
‘Educated’ and Black – ”Superficially Black”?
With the exception of my father, all immediate members of my family have at least a post graduate level education, so my perception of being educated was not confined to a particular group of people. Though, I would often argue about whether many Black people were actually being educated or indoctrinated, which is another story. Furthermore, Black people are the first educators of humanity and founded some of the earliest educational institutions such as Sankoré University.
Regular trips to immensely Black populated countries in the Caribbean and even locations such as Atlanta, Florida and Rosedale (NY) as a child exposed me to Black people who were lawyers, dentists, and scientists. Occupations that were far less visible in Britain and that Black people who grow up in Black countries may take for granted until they arrive in Britain. Sadly today, although there have been improvements, there is a continuation of what is presented and perceived as Black and ‘‘superficially Black’’ in overt and insidious manifestations that are reminiscent to Rupa Huq’s remarks.
My shock at Rupa Huq’s comments is more related to the fact that at different periods in my life I have resided in the London borough of Ealing and was also part of a youth arts charity based in that region which meant that I have briefly met Huq on several occasions as she is an MP in the region.
As a former senior lecturer in Sociology, with a PhD in Cultural Studies and a person that is part of the world’s global majority and whose brilliant book Reading the Riot Act which I have been ploughing through over recent months in aid of my MA Journalism dissertation (which has been postponed due to a family illness), I naively expected better from Rupa Huq. But of course, irrespective of background many have internalised the prevailing idea of what constitutes Black and ‘‘superficially Black.”
Psychologist, Dr Amos Wilson once said: ‘’You [Black people] really believe that you are the ultimate individuals, yet you are the most stereotyped people.” Considering that less than a few days ago a popular British tabloid newspaper wrongfully used another Black person’s picture instead of Kwasi Kwarteng, only strengthens Dr Wilson’s observations and makes these comments somewhat immortal.