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. 

 

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The elephant in the room – Macklemore’s”Same Love”

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Yeah, yeah yeah…. I will address the ‘elephant in the room’ before I finish my article on homophobia in hip-hop.  I don’t want to talk about this track again.

Some would assume I would be praising this track as a milestone in progressive discussion regarding homosexuality.

I actually hate this track.  It’s an absolute failure of a track.

While I believe that the track comes from positive intentions and did indeed fuel more discussion on homophobia in hip-hop, it absolutely fails at what it was intended to achieve.  Homophobia in hip-hop is a very complex issue and one that needs to be handled with care.  The track to me comes across as incredibly preachy and borderline racist.

If the track inspired you then more power to you.  But in my honest opinion it’s a mess of a track.

The response from a large majority of the older members of the hip-hop community was negative as Macklemore himself fails to address his privilege as a straight white man in the music industry.  Some criticism was definitely racist and homophobic (criticism from professional has-been big mouth Lord Jamar of Brand Nubian being the most infamous), though there were definitely a fair number of legitimate concerns (though sometimes covered in ignorance and lack of care for the gay community).  There is a massive problem with tarring all members of the hip-hop community with the same brush as there are many rappers who are pro-gay rights and it can be safely assumed there are many rappers in the closet; afraid to come out.

Whilst there are huge issues regarding attitudes to homosexuality in hip-hop and indeed in the black community (I disagree with Kelly Fox at Guerilla Feminism on her suggestions that homophobia in the black community is a “myth”), the main problem with the track is that it simplifies the problem and directly points the finger at hip-hop.  He looks for a scapegoat rather than analyse society as a whole.  This is a move that can be perceived as pointing the finger at black people. Macklemore washes his hands of any privilege and doesn’t include himself in any critiques. Regardless of how fucked up homophobia in hip-hop is, the question is that “is Macklemore really in a position to start wagging his finger at black people?” The whole track feels like a middle class white man from the suburbs approaching a group of random black people whilst tutting his head in shame and screaming out “us white people are more moral than you animals.  Shame on you”.

A massive issue also is his reckless use of the word “faggot”.  He ignores that as a straight white man he is in no position to decide whether using those words is ok.  It has a total disregard for the feelings of the people he is talking about in the first place!   It reminds me of RA the Rugged Man’s (who I like to call RA the Republican Man) use of the word “nigga” in some of his tracks.  What really gives him the right to use that word (another topic for another day)?

Regardless of all this I believe Macklemore’s actions were well intended, but poorly thought out. Same Love was a track that could have been an amazing critique and analysis of homophobia in the culture, but instead it fails.

How about the inclusion of gay rappers on the track?  Giving them a voice?  People who  actually probably have first hand experience of homophobia and have a total lack of a voice in mainstream hip-hop media?  Revolutionary idea eh?

Also I am unsure of how gay people will feel about the collab with Melle Mel in 2015.  A man whose lyrics in the famous track The Message included: “Got sent up for a eight year bit. Now your manhood is took and you’re a Maytag. Spend the next two years as a undercover fag”.  Whilst I see what he was trying to achieve (giving ‘legends’ the recognition and attention they deserve), it really is a case of practice what you preach.  Is Macklemore really concerned about the gay struggle?

The “vinyl revival” and young people

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I’ve always wanted to give my perspective on the increasing popularity of the vinyl format.  If you were to listen to the media and also take a visit to a city centre high street you’d believe so.  I’m from the UK, so this article will be from a UK perspective.

Vinyl especially in the UK has experienced something of a “boom” in these past years.  One interesting suggestion that people make is that it is young people who are buying vinyl more and abandoning streaming and MP3 downloads.

If I was to assume straight away without research I’d assume it is mainly the urban gentrifying white middle class hipsters buying Depeche Mode albums (yeah I fucking hate Depeche Mode.  Come at me bro) and whatever 80s new wave band have been considered cool by trendy blogs and websites.  Then again I don’t really want to answer the question of who is buying vinyl.  I want this blog post to make it clear who is definitely not buying vinyl – young people.

My memories of the early 2000s vinyl scene

One thing I need to emphasise for those not in the know (those new to this) is that vinyl never died and rose from the dead like a zombie.  It is completely ignorant to act like the format was dead before this ‘revival’.  The format has never went away.  Vinyl has remained at the heart of hip-hop culture for me and a lot of people who got into hip-hop culture back in the 90s and early 2000s.   Madlib on the track “Crate Diggin'” perfectly sums up hip-hop’s love for the black stuff. As a hip-hop head the early 2000s  I have fond memories of the vinyl scene back then.  I’d go into backstreet record shops in the likes of Leeds, Manchester, Nottingham and Sheffield and buy 12-inch hip-hop, jazz, funk and soul singles.  They were places almost exclusively used by DJs (the main clientele), producers, hip-hop heads, ageing Northern Soulers, and old men.   There was just something great about the whole experience.  You’d go into your favourite store, pick up some records you’re interested in, listen to them using the listening booth (remember them?) and you might even if you’re a regular get some recommendations and knowledge from the staff.  This is how I got into Sun Ra, Task Force, Grover Washington, Madlib, Mike Mainieri and Jehst just to name a few names from the top of my head.

The difference I find between record shops back then and today is that back in the early 2000s record shops felt as though to me that they were places run by hip-hop heads for hip-hop heads (the majority of those that I frequented).  These were less trendy places often down some relatively darker side street and most likely not fused with cafes and the like.  If you  were a relatively young person  who bought vinyl everyone assumed you were a DJ.  You were an oddity.  Nobody touched vinyl and nobody wanted it.

‘Fast-forward’ to 2016 and the obsession with nostalgia is in full effect.  I wouldn’t even call it an obsession.  I’d call my generation’s and everyone before mine’s obsession  more like a fetishisation.  We can’t get enough nostalgia.  Unlike the generations before us we can fulfil our nostalgic dreams whenever we want and never be forced to let go.  Want to watch Dogtanian?  You can do that.  Want to buy one of those incredibly 80s shirts that Will Smith wore on the Fresh Prince of Bel Air?  You can do that.

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One thing I notice about record shops today is how most record stores in my local area now reflect the gentrification of the city centre and inner city regions.  Something that also appears to be a ‘thing’ also is the “record cafe” which fuses coffee, craft ale and food (most likely to be overpriced).  This is a world away from gritty backstreet shops not trying to be chic and vintage to appeal to the middle class masses.  Most importantly – no listening booths.

Vinyl and young people of the 2000s

One thing that is important is my definition of young people which is anyone under the age of 21 (I suppose you could stretch that to 25).  The major push factors for young people and ‘newbies’ who want to make their first vinyl purchases are among these things:

  • Price – I won’t go into detail on why prices of vinyl are so high (I could be here for decades), but the fact is that high vinyl prices are not attracting your average young people into buying vinyl.  There is no driver when most releases are reissues and are priced £20 or higher, which is insane pricing.  It was high prices of CDs in the first place that was one factor in the boom in music piracy in the late 90s and early 2000s. I can remember in 2003 seeing a Wu Tang Clan album for well over £25 on CD.  Why buy Adele’s album 25 on vinyl when you can stream it or download it directly to your phone from iTunes?  You can even get a legal copy for £10.99 or an audio CD for £11.99 on Amazon.

  Adele_-_25_(Official_Album_Cover)

  • High start-up cost – Getting started is expensive.  You can buy a cheapo turntable, but if you really want good quality sound and don’t want to fuck shit up you need a turntable, a good stylus, an amp and speakers.  Doing a Google search makes it hard to not go into audiophile territory.  Some might argue that a turntable, amp and speakers may be cheaper than buying the latest iPhone or tablet, but with the iPhone and tablet you are getting more value for money because you can use these for a wide variety of tasks.  What is a turntable setup?  A setup that allows you to play music. Plus an iPhone and tablet are smaller and more portable and convenient.  There isn’t no waiting for music.
  • Reissues – What cannot be ignored is the massive wave of re-releasing albums by major labels.  Stuff that your average young person would most likely be less interested in.  For every new release there are hundreds of reissues and this hurts indie labels and more importantly artists.  Of course not all reissues are cash grabs by greedy record labels.  There are a few reissues that come out that are obscure records that for the first time are more widely available and without the relatively high price tags collectors demand for the original copies.  Also a few reissues also include unreleased material, instrumentals and remixes.    This article by Vice (yeah they’re usually hipster as fuck but I like this one) goes more into detail.
  • Inconvenience – Things that is often overlooked are factors outside of price and the like that push people away from buying vinyl.  One big factor in my opinion is the financial issues effecting young people today.  We are a generation that cannot afford to buy our own homes, meaning we are either stuck renting or still stuck living with or parents.  This means our living spaces are smaller and we’re moving around more than the generation before us.  Vinyl is heavy, takes up too much room and a portable format unlike MP3s that can be put onto one small laptop or phone.

Vinyl may be a good thing for the majority of businesses such as Sainsbury’s to embrace in the short term; catering to nostalgia obsessed baby boomers and those from generation X, but in the long term vinyl is over.  Vinyl is not making a massive comeback among the younger generation.  Don’t get me wrong because some young people are buying vinyl (most likely young people who can be identified as being in “niche” audiences), but for the majority (your average Joe and Jane in the public) they are most likely using streaming services whether that be paid services such as Spotify and Apple Music or free services such as Youtube or even Spotify free (with the adverts).

Jimmy Cliff once said – “Don’t jump on the bandwagon. It ain’t gonna last too long”.

The majority of young people don’t give a damn about the superior quality of vinyl.  Lets cut the shit.  If you were to walk around the malls and trendy streets of Leeds City Centre and ask everyone who looks under 30 how they listen to music the most likely answer won’t be vinyl.  An acceptable level of quality, portability, convenience and cheapness is what the younger generation want.  This is why the Jay-Z’s Tidal is failing to attract customers.  What average young people actually give a damn about audiophile quality and if I’m wrong and they do, can you say that they’ll have the expensive audiophile equipment to hear the difference?

The demands for portability and convenience are so important to young people and vinyl just doesn’t meet these needs. One of the most prominent moments during my time as a youth worker from 2012 to 2016 that made me realise where music is most likely heading was when I was mocked by a group of young people for having an MP3 player; them asking me why I’m not using my phone to play music instead.  We’ve come so far.  These were kids were born around 1999 and 2001.  We’ve come so far.  MP3 players are now “old school”.  The Wu Tang Clan are now a group that “my dad listens to”.

I’m not saying that vinyl should die.  I’m saying that we need to quit being so frightened of the future and embrace new technology, but at the same time not forget the old.  Formats such as vinyl can exist along with streaming services and MP3.  Lets not lie to ourselves however.  Vinyl is not the future.  The vinyl scene is one big antiques roadshow where everything is a “collectors item”; alienating the large majority of young people who lack income and want portability, convenience and low prices.

While as a 28 year old I would love to think that kids are embracing something that was so present and dear to me during my time in school and college, I’ve been a youth worker for long enough and it’s just not happening.