Brexit and black people outside of the Northern ‘big cities’

Often enough I’ve been told that race isn’t an issue here and that a focus on the racial aspect of Brexit itself is somehow racist towards white people.  Of course the whole issue is incredibly complex but facts cannot be ignored.  What the British media often miss is that the ‘other’ biggest divide other than age was race: 53% of White voters wanted out and 73% of Black voters wanted to stay in the EU.

Myself, I voted to stay in the EU, but was my vote really about the EU?  Not really.  I’m no expert on the EU though I recognise that there are many benefits to membership and that Britain is in no position to leave.  I recognise that a lot of funding my area gets is through EU money which should be a big push towards staying, though I also recognise there are a lot of problems with the EU also.  The benefits I recognise the most from the EU are with regards to policy (such as worker’s rights), freedom of movement and economics (funding for projects in my area).  A lot of my decision to remain came from the fact that racism and xenophobia was a huge driver for people round here to vote leave. 

Often enough I will refer to myself as from ‘the black community’, but what is this ‘black community’ in areas such as mine in Doncaster, South Yorkshire?  How does it differ from the ‘black community’ in areas such as London, Manchester and Leeds? 

Currently the north is split into two in my opinion. You have two types of places –

  1. 1)    Economic powerhouses and university towns that have managed to survive the recession – places such as Manchester, Leeds and Liverpool.
  2. 2)    Towns and cities that have suffered due to decline of industry and have struggled to recover – places such as Hartlepool, Barnsley, Burnley, Doncaster, Sunderland, Worksop and Rotherham. 

What really confirmed this split to me are recent depictions of Manchester as some sort of Northern London and the face of a new prosperous north; a city that is experiencing a fast paced regeneration (which I would argue is actually gentrification).  Watch a lot of TV and you will see Manchester City and wider Greater Manchester as an area that is highly represented on TV after London.  After all with the decentralisation of some BBC operations from London to Manchester other media and broadcasting organisations have been attracted to the city, meaning that we have seen an increased representation of areas ‘up north’ (meaning only Greater Manchester) outside of the economic capital (London). 

Meanwhile you have places such as Barnsley depicted as being declining industrial wastelands that still look like they could be settings for a remake of Brassed Off or The Full Monty.  The kinds of areas depicted as being still full of backwards thinking bitter and lager sipping working class (white) people without further and higher education and are still bitter about the Miner’s Strike of 1984-1985. 

The depiction of areas that are just full of white people who never ever interact with other ethnic minorities in my experience is even pushed by people from ethnic minorities.  Often in my interactions with other black individuals from London, Manchester, Birmingham and other big cities there is often a sense of disbelief that I live in the location I do – an ex-mining village. 

“There are no black people here”

The media only speak in extremes.  The message mainstream outlets want the masses to get is that in those towns and cities that have suffered due to decline of industry only white people live; the words “working class” often meaning “poor white males”.  Often in reports there has often been an absolute failure to give representation to ethnic minorities in these places because of course – black people and Asians only live in inner cities in large regional centres like Leeds and Manchester.  The alleged ‘all white’ population of these insular towns up north are simply screaming at clouds because they are just poor angry white people who do not know any better.  They are angry because they have no jobs and because… well… Polish people are taking all their warehousing jobs and there are too many Polski Skleps established by those ‘pesky entrepreneurial Poles’ in the neighbourhood for their liking. 

Of course all of that is bullshit, though what cannot be ignored is that compared to the economic centres of Leeds and Manchester, areas especially with a history of mining such as Barnsley, Doncaster and many areas in Wakefield have historically being relatively more homogeneous.  Even though there were black people and Asian people working in mining (who have had their contributions ignored), much of the immigration to these areas has been domestic, for example – the immigration of Scottish and Welsh miners to areas of Doncaster due to collieries in their area closing, thus leaving them with no jobs. 

Often enough in my own experience two areas often come up when mentioning the ‘black community’ in Northern England – Moss Side in Manchester and Chapeltown in Leeds.  These are two places historically where a high number of the Afro-Caribbean people in these areas decided to settle between Wold War Two and the 60s (My Grandparent’s generation).

I do feel the need to say however that there however has never ever really been a ‘black community’ in Britain… well not like the Americans would define it.  The Americans would see a black community as an area which is exclusively black people; areas which you will rarely see ‘whitey’ for miles.  This has never been the case in the UK.  Though there are some areas like Moss Side and Chapeltown which have relatively higher numbers of black people, the areas remain relatively mixed (white British, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Eastern European, etc). 

In comparison the ‘black community’ in declining towns and smaller areas is much more spread out and smaller.  There is no real area which can be defined as being a centre for the ‘black community’.  You’d just have families dotted around the town and your odd event here and there.  For a large chunk of my life I felt as though I was one of the very very few black boys in the whole village.  I would look at images of London on the TV and romanticise the place as being a better place to live as a black male (when the reality is that it is just as, if not even more tough to survive in).  There was a constant feeling that I was missing out.  Especially during the late 90s and early 2000s when I started getting into hip-hop and started listening to reggae, funk, soul and learning more about my own history; realising I wasn’t like the other kids. 

Even though I did feel pretty much isolated at times there was a sense of support though the understanding shared experiences across different groups.  In my area there was and still is terrible discrimination towards Irish Travellers and Gypsies.  At times I would experience the odd bit of racism and ignorance from those communities in particular but for the most part I got on with a lot of them.  At times I would feel a sense of that that they know we have some things in common (mainly that we’re both from groups that are discriminated against) and that we’re both in the same boat, therefore I wouldn’t get much bother from them. 

There is a huge disadvantage of being a black man in a place outside the big economic centres –  a lack of a social circle to share similar experiences and there is a massive lack of culturally sensitive and appropriate support services and facilities.   Even where these exist (usually provided by social enterprises, the third sector or churches – a huge problem for another day) they are relatively more spread out or based centrally (as in town centres) due to the geography of these areas, as a result making these services very inconvenient for a lot of people.  A lot of these services post-economic crisis due to austerity measures have gone under and as a result have left many without support.  This is something I really feel as though I can relate to.  During a tough time where my mental health took a sharp decline and I found mental health services provided by the NHS in my area not very useful in supporting me.  Differences in race and culture always felt like the elephant in the room; a result of the ignorance or lack of knowledge of the person delivering the service.  It was only because I was a university student in another location I could access a service that were knowledgeable and discussed issues related to my cultural background and race. They made me feel comfortable.  

Conclusion

It’s important that black people outside of established and larger black communities in the “Economic Powerhouses” are not left out when discussing race in Britain Post-Referendum and in the future as in a lot of cases black people in these areas are the most vulnerable to racism, feel more isolated and have less access to culturally appropriate support services.  Things are very very slowly improving with regards to media representation and culturally appropriate and sensitive services in these areas, but there still exists a perpetuation of the myth that black people only live in certain areas of Northern England such as Chapeltown and Moss Side and could not possibly have been born in *insert declining northern town here*.

The simplistic and regressive depiction of the northern white working class as the main face of ‘working class Northern Britain’; a salt-of-the-earth, oppressed group that has been left behind only exacerbates racism, white exceptionalism, obscures ways that can actually help them (as in understanding the complex factors as to how racist attitudes develop) and also ignores poor whites in large urban areas such as London and Manchester.  It ignores the privileges that the white working class have over ethnic minorities of the same and lower economic status. Of course there are problems in these communities but racist and xenophobic attitudes should not be left unchallenged, excused (“oh, these people are racist because there are no jobs and foreigners are taking them”) and should always be condemned.  A “not on my doorstep” mentality with regards to diversity, change and ethnic minorities has been allowed to fester for years and years in these areas ( the “maybe in Manchester but not round here” mentality).

What I fear is that with no opportunities to receive funding from the EU there will be a decline in funding opportunities.  This has the potential to hit everyone hard though has the potential to exacerbate the problems ethnic minorities have in these areas with regards to bringing culturally appropriate support and projects to these areas; services that are usually provided at community level.  In my experience as a youth and community worker the first services to usually experience cuts and reductions in services are services targeted at marginalised groups; service providers usually cutting these and providing more ‘general’ services to cut costs by lumping all ethnic minorities in the same category.  Of course it is much cheaper and convenient for the powers that be to focus on general equalities in a centralised location, than commission work to investigate and improve services for specific groups, especially in areas that are much more ‘white’.  The experiences of a Bangladeshi woman, Afro-Caribbean man, Nigerian woman and Pakistani man would all be vastly different. 

 

Why invest in your health? My experiences

 

investinhealth

“They are killing us with the things we don’t even know are coming into our hands.  You see a Popsicle, that shit is diabetes” – Immortal Technique

Whilst I am pretty critical of Immortal Technique’s occasional pushing of conspiracy theory BS, at times I see truth in his comments.  Instead of a government that wants to kill us however I see a food industry and government that do not give a shit about us and want to make money by any means; even if that means sacrificing our health.

You see we allow this to happen as we do not take our health seriously enough.  We do not think hard enough about what we are eating.  Food is a means to survive instead of being an investment.  I believe our body is a temple and it should only be the purest of foods that we allow into that temple.  My approach is probably different to that of average Joe and Jane.

When average Joe and Jane on the street are forced to name a few things we will invest in though our lifetime we have the usual suspects such as cars and houses and even increasingly a university degree.  What is often missing is health (I decided not to bore people with statistics in this blog post because they will mean nothing for the majority of people).

Why isn’t making investments in our health up there?  Why isn’t that the most important investment we make in our lives.  We can always buy another car and we can always move house or go into the rental sector even.  We are stuck with the body we have for life.

In the mainstream media I have witnessed a lot of reports regarding the shambolic state of the UK’s housing market and how there is a decline in young people (people below the age of 40) investing in housing, especially in big UK cities such as London, Manchester, Leeds, Birmingham, Bristol, etc. There are many factors to take into account as to why home ownership has fallen amongst my generation especially, but may I suggest though to my generation and all before and after that maybe we should invest in our health before we even think about investing in a house?  Especially with the state the NHS is in and the likeliness of further privatisation under the Tory government we are under seems pretty likely, ensuring we don’t have to use NHS services becomes more essential.

In my experience this is quite often a new concept, especially with the older generation.  You see I live in a society that lives for today.  This is a society that constantly preaches to me that “you could be dead tomorrow” when in reality there is an incredibly high chance that I will make it to the next week and the week after.  This possibly in the area of South Yorkshire where I am based has roots in the dominant industries of the past; the fact that I live in a village that was set up solely for the purpose to house miners and their families.  Mining was an incredibly dangerous profession that gave the people who went down the pits the constant possibility that they could die down there.  Even the housing situation for many people working in these industries was very uncertain as the colliery company often owned your house and had the power to throw you out at any time if they wanted to.

Today the majority of the population here works in relatively low risk (of death anyway) occupations, though the attitude of ‘living for today’ has been passed on and continues to be, though there are signs of a decline in this mentality.  Health however continues to not been seen as an investment.

Initially achieving a state of good health for me was purely for aesthetic reasons and also to get attention from the ladies (admit is guys, we all dream of looking so good we turn heads when we walk down the street or prance around a bar).   I was always the chubby and fat black kid who lacked any female interaction closer than a friend relationship up until university (when I felt the area).  Obviously as a young uneducated man with a lack of a father figure who was incredibly insecure with his masculinity getting ‘hench’ was the solution to my problems.  While there is nothing wrong with being motivated by female attention and having aesthetic goals it took me a while to find out that these cannot be the sole motivators.

I got a kick in the balls by reality as I got older and I noticed the declining health of my peers and noticing as others were getting older their health appeared to be worsening.  This really intrigued me.  These people I looked up to before as being the guys so damn good looking they could get any girl in the school started to look like shit, but hey, that’s what discovering the club scene and having as a result a diet of lager, takeaway and staying up late does.  As I was basically an outcast and pushed away from that particular scene all I did was get out the popcorn, watch and reflect on my life.  What would I look like in the future, what would I like my health to be like?

I am not even thinking about starting a family at the moment.  At the moment do not wish to have one (to put it bluntly I hate children and want to live a life free of the weight of parental responsibility at the moment), but if one day I decide I want to settle down, meet the woman who I want to spend my life with and start a family do I really want to be out of breath when I’m playing football, basketball or even running around with a boomerang or something with my children?

Health became more than looking good for the ladies and being ‘hench’.  I genuinely wanted to look good and at the same time sustain a great level of health.  This meant a long period of research and reflection regarding my diet.

I started digging through the confusing wealth of resources on the internet regarding diet.  I learned about macros (carbs, protein and fats) and micros, the basic lifts from the Starting Strength programme I need to master.  I made the decision not to touch any processed food and to eat as purely as I can.  I actually saved money through all the savings I made through planning my meals not buying junk food, using my local market to buy vegetables and buying lean meats in bulk.

I won’t lie.  Buying healthy food might actually cost you more, but the cost of not taking care of your health will cost way more.  With the high presence of discount superstores, local markets (which arguably have higher quality and cheaper produce than the big 4 supermarkets) there is no excuse.  Starting your cutting diet might cost you even less than the trash you was forking out for in the past.

As I work part-time now in the health sector I meet so many people who I believe could do more to take care of their health.  So many people who do not even drink enough water in a day (which to me is the most overlooked aspect of our diets) or eat even a spoonful of nutritious veggies or fruit.  I think about how they could change their lives whilst support workers give them what they wish for and further fuel their declining health.

What if instead of medication Doctors actually prescribed vegetables, lean meats (or vegetarian / vegan friendly sources of protein) and water?

I am aware that sales of protein bars and shakes in the UK have had a rapid increase lately amongst particularly younger consumers.  The media have suggested that this is a generation that has become more conscious of their health, though I am very sceptical as to whether these people are taking the correct actions.  Is the food and health industry now increasingly accepting fat as part of a healthy diet and instead demonising carbohydrates (I think declining sales of bread and pasta products might speak for themselves)?

I’m not trying to shake my finger at people regarding their food choices and lifestyle and dictate what people should be doing with their lives.  What I suggest is that people should be more critical, reflective and look towards the future regarding the way they see themselves.

I am also not telling people to stop eating things like cake.  Life wouldn’t be worth living without the occasional chocolate and cake 🙂