Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Revenge of the Bounty – The Acting ( Insert Race ) Debate

I was having an interesting conversation with my aunts the other day, of which one of them seemed pleasantly surprised when her sister commented on the fact that her intelligence is quite superior in comparison to other members of the family. I can’t understand how she couldn’t see it however. The woman was selected for one of twelve positions to attend university back in the day when all you had to do to get into university was to work damn hard. She’s the kind of person that talks a lot of sense and has a lot of wisdom; she has a first degree; she was an accountant and now she’s well on her way to becoming a judge. I have never met anyone who is quite that extraordinary and she’s to be admired really.

The conversation soon swayed to education and upbringing to which it was commented that she must have received a lot of stick at school for being so smart. But no – this was not the case. People had generally liked my aunt in school – they flocked to her – and I was suddenly reminded of my school days where I was considered smart, but at the cost of comfortably integrating socially. It was not cool to be smart. It was cool to be face-ty. And even if you were smart, if you were rude on the side, than you managed to save yourself from social damnation. But I wasn’t rude. I wasn’t confrontation. And for that – as I mentioned in a previous entry – I was dubbed a bounty.

As a woman now however, and with a lot more sense, I tend look at this as nonsense. People dubbed me a bounty because I wanted to persevere and kept my nose out of trouble. However, forty years prior, our grandparents were encouraging our parents to keep their noses in their books. They wanted them to get a good education and to make something of themselves because back then, the societal encouragement for minority groups to progress was little. They would point our parents into the direction of unskilled manual jobs or secretarial work. Forget moving into the corporate world. Forget earning that six figure salary. Back then, you had to really work for it, but nowadays, there are more opportunities for all of us.

Nevertheless, doing certain things makes others think you’re a sellout. Because, let’s face it – the world caters to this thing called “stereotypes”; people buy into these stereotypes and even though, I believe that in every stereotype, there is a hint of truth (they don’t just derive out of thin air), it doesn’t mean that we must all fall in line just because we’re Black, White or Asian. Therefore, I don’t particularly understand when people talk about ‘acting white” or acting in such a way that is race specific. Because the last time I checked, I didn’t think that all members of a certain race, religion or what have you, behaved in strict accordance with each other. It just seems stupid.

It was David Starkey who foolishly stated the following on BBCs Newsnight back in 2011:

“The whites have become black. A particular sort of violent destructive, nihilistic gangster culture has become the fashion and black and white boys and girls operate in this language together. This language is wholly false, which is this Jamaican patois that has been intruded in England and that is why so many of us have this sense of literally of a foreign country”

He was talking in conjunction with the 2011 riots and while I don’t’ dispute that gang culture is prevalent in areas where there happen to be a lot of minority groups living, gang culture has always been active - and not just in the UK, but on an international scale. Organised crime syndicates like the Mafia or the Triads have existed for eons. And in the UK, before the arrival of large minority groups, gangs like the Mims, the Dead Boys and the Hectors were active in the 17th century. So is being Black really interchangeable with being a gang member? And is it White to be smart and to want to do well in life?

But when it comes to race and issues like this, it is generally a “black” thing. We accuse the Asians of ‘acting white’ because they own so many of their own businesses and push their children to greatness. We accuse those of mixed origin for ‘acting white’ by making potent references to that very ‘mixed’ nature – especially if one parent just happens to be white. And more than that, we accuse each other of ‘acting white’ for a variety of reasons. Take this article about Nikki Minaj. Heck, even the President of America himself gets stick.

But I don’t buy it. As people of colour (and maybe even those who are not), we can't seem to look at the bigger picture. People are individuals irrespective of whatever racial background or culture they derive from and just because some Asian guy wants to cornrow his hair or some African girl wants to wear blue contacts, it does not mean that he or she is letting down one’s entire racial community as a whole. In London, in particular, we are one of the most multi-ethnic and multicultural cities on the planet. We don’t live in perfect harmony, but there is tolerance and intrigue here. We are exposed to so many different walks of life that we cannot help but desire to feed our curiosity. And there's nothing wrong with this. I refuse to believe that stepping outside one's cultural bubble is selling out.

So to those who look at celebrities or people around them and think that just because of the way someone speaks, looks or dresses, that they're bringing down some form of torrential shame on an entire racial community, I ask you to think again. Because what is "acting [insert race here]" really? Is it possible to say that 'all [insert race here] are [insert behaviour here]'? Is it physically possible to have met all members of that community to form those generalisations? And is it logical to link an entire community based on that hearsay alone? I ask you to step outside yourself for a moment.

Think.

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