This past week we have been treated to the most amazing scenario of one man's desire for publicity and power putting many people's lives at risk, and one did wonder where it would all end.
The threat by a so-called 'reverend' of a church in Gainesville to burn copies of the Q'uran was so wrong on many levels, it truly defies belief. Sadly, the more he said it and attracted similar fanatics to him, the more it assumed a life of its own, one he had perhaps not intended, and the more he had to continue with his deadly game in order not to lose face. Now he says that he has 'suspended' his action (obviously it will come in handy for another time when he wants more publicity!) while he played brinkmanship with the lives of fellow Americans. It really is time that cowardly people, especially die hard racists and covert terrorists, stop hiding behind the First Amendment, or using it to give their dastardly deeds continued credibility.
We are all entitled to free speech and actions in a democracy, but when that speech is used to inflame and to denigrate rather than to uplift or enhance, to cause consequences which could be pretty far reaching and deadly, there is nothing free about it at all. It would be pretty costly.
The actions of this man of the cloth (whose own Christianity appears to have deserted him!) has been so wrong primarily for the following reasons:
1. If he is a real Christian, a religion which mainly teaches LOVE and FORGIVENESS, where is his forgiveness? Or does his religion allow him to pick and choose the bits he wants while he speaks for God and ignores the rest?
2. Would any Christian like the idea of any number of their Bibles being publicly burnt, which would have shown a marked disrespect for their beliefs and chosen way of life?
The Danger of Collective Responsibility
4. Such actions do nothing to bring people together, further greater cultural understanding or help to foster the world peace we all crave. They are guaranteed to keep the wounds open, the resentment running deeper and the anger relentless. Anyway, how does behaving like a terrorist, with little regard for others and their belies, make the good reverend any better than those ghastly perpetrators? We do not make ourselves, or the situation, any better by sinking to the level of the evil we condemn.
5. Most important, it sullies and cheapens the memory of 9/11 and diverts attention away from the loss. It makes the perpetrators into martyrs and associates the anniversary even more closely with mindless violence, instead of keeping that memory alive for posterity in love, forgiveness and hope. Instead of Americans focusing on that tragic loss on each anniversary, the memory of the proposed Q'uran burning will divert the focus of remembrance.
One cannot blame the reverend too much for what has happened. One has to place it against the current free-for-all backdrop where some pretty ghastly things seem to be happening under the protection of the First Amendment. For someone outside America looking in, tis good country seems to be going trough some pretty scary times, particularly where those with the power and the privilege assume a God-given right to create mayhem in His name, while using all kinds of excuses to justify their actions. It really is a sorry time for the world's greatest super-power.
As Christianity itself teaches, "An eye for an eye makes everyone blind."
We all hope America finds its way pretty soon before this kind of obvious lawlessness makes everyone blind to the basic truths of learning to live together in tolerance and respect. After all, Americans cannot demand respect for their beliefs while deliberately disrespecting those of others.
A completely white baby was born recently to a black Nigerian couple in London. This baby had features, especially her blonde hair, that not even other white babies had at such an early stage. There were no white ancestors in the parents' heritage and, if the real father had been white, the baby would have been definitely mixed race, no matter how "white" she appeared to be. Not even the learned doctors in the field have any explanation for the phenomenon and have put it down to mutated genes.
Professor Bryan Sykes, head of human genetics at Oxford University, described the birth as "extraordinary." He commented that, for the baby to be completely white, both Ben and Angela would need to have "some form of white ancestry...The hair is extremely unusual. Even many blonde children don't have blonde hair like this at birth."
But I wonder if the answer could be something else?
I have read tons of books and some of them espouse the belief that we are spiritual beings inhabiting a human body, hence why death is not such a trauma as we think, while a few more actually believe that children CHOOSE their parents, not the other way round. If we are really spiritual beings in human clothing, it follows that anyone can be our parents, regardless of colour or creed. It really wouldn't matter except to racists!
Again, as strange as this might sound, if children choose their parents, then perhaps this baby belonged somewhere else but 'chose' these parents instead for whatever reason!
It all sounds outlandish and improbable, but there are TONS we do not understand about our bodies, our minds and our world. Pretending we have all the answers won't give us the true answers either. Only an open mind, the willingness to explore the improbable and the confidence to appreciate that there are many possible answers to unexplained phenomenon will move us closer to greater understanding of where we have come from and where we are heading!
Once I attended a meeting in London of very keen, Black professionals, who had each paid £75 for the privilege of discussing a particular report and its potential impact on the community. I waited eagerly for its content. However, my one abiding memory of that meeting was the negative way three very vocal 'sisters' totally hijacked the proceedings to question who had written the report and what colour that person should have been.
For the next two hours, absolutely nothing was discussed until the terminology was sorted out and the colour of participants was fully checked and analysed: a total waste of delegates' time, money and talents. Months later, I am still trying to work out what we achieved on that day because we never did get to the actual findings! I am sure my experience is not unique and could explain why often so little is achieved within our community.
Black though we may be, if we have never been to Africa, we are no more 'Africans' than the descendants of the early Britons across the Pond who fought with the UK for their independence and are now very much Americans. They cannot call themselves Britons when they have very little physical or cultural ties with the mother country. Names are extremely important when they are associated with a sense of wellbeing and a definite history. However, people who cling to the past, long after it has lost its meaning, tend to be stagnant in their ambitions, fearful in their thoughts and fossilised in their actions.
Having a sense of continuing frustration, yet not sure how to deal with it, they gradually find it easier to look towards another utopia, to see it as the answer, even when it is alien to them and is merely just a dream. Thus the place they left decades ago, like Bangladesh, Jamaica or India, is still 'home' even forty years afterwards. This view stops them facing their new reality, keeping them exposed as very obvious minorities, forever on the periphery while they abdicate responsibility for their future and blame the past for any present predicament.
Insceurity and Underachievement
Sadly, 15 or 20 years down the line, when the parents are still in Britain clinging to their outdated memory of 'home', the children would have completely lost theirs through apathy and alienation. In the meantime, the 'home' they fondly hang on to has changed beyond recognition. Trapped in time and fossilised in their brain, the cherished perfect past is a far cry from the actual reality; one which is a vibrant, moving form of constantly changing mores; one which would be almost as alien to them as to anyone else.
We stop developing when we live in the past and hang on to it for its own sake, while being constantly bitter and vengeful. In this way we learn nothing from it to safeguard or improve our future. Black people are of African descent, and that is labouring the obvious, but we have chosen, or been given, a different future which we must develop to the fullest in the brief time available. If you feel strongly about any country, more than you do about the place you live in, then DO something about it! Why not visit that place, examine its prospects and help to build it up? Share your expertise with the community to enable others to benefit from your contributions while you gain a sense of fulfilment.
Hankering daily after somewhere else, while we do little to improve our current existence, makes life needlessly difficult and frustrating. It becomes a good excuse, and a handy ploy, to prevent us ever facing our own reality. It also keeps us stuck in the paradise of our dreams while the paradise we could help to build disintegrates around us. A country divided cannot thrive. Its people has to work together, not against each other, to give it life and success.
It really doesn't matter what we call ourself. We can only extend and conquer the earth when actions take precedence over words; when we know who we are and wish to be, when we accept that identity fully and head off into the future to give it life. Only then will we be able to deal with any obstacles in our way; to feel confident about our potential for making a difference to ourself and our environment. Repressing our ambition under a daily concentration on labels, names and theories indicates real fear and little self-esteem as we replace deeds with semantics and a lack of vision.
Key Questions for Our Future
The answer will not only be truly enlightening, it might actually point you in the right direction for the greatest achievement of all time: liberating yourself from the semantic slavery which has chained you for long enough to the aimless sinking ship of negativity and regret. There really is a connection between the death of seven Black youngsters in six weeks, the state of the Black community and how it views itself and the apology demanded from the British government over slavery. They are all linked to our self-perception, sense of impotence and genuine frustrations. We have got an apology from Tony Blair about what happened hundreds of years ago and the legacy it has left.
Fine, so what now? Only self-confidence and high self-esteem can propel our children to greater self-love and achievement. Unless we love and respect ourself, our children have no hope of loving or respecting themselves too. They will always be ashamed of who they are and keep taking it out on each other. Many of us are still back there wallowing in self-hate and slavery. But it's time to start taking responsibility for our lives so that we can give our children the reinforcement, strength and pride to take responsibility for their lives too.
An apology from the politicians might force some superficial accountability and assuage some egos, but it is an empty gesture which reflects the past and does little for us and our future. The real question is: When are WE going to forgive ourselves for our distressing past and actually discard our slavery mentality to realise the wonderful, talented beings we are? This is fundamental to the progress of Black children, to their feelings of security and value, and to leaving our own positive legacy, no matter where we are in the world.
Some time ago the British government said that schools can ban students from wearing Muslim veils, if teachers believed they affected safety, security or pupils' learning. School administrators now have the right to ban students from covering their faces under a new uniform policy, but educators should speak with parents before introducing such a ban.
Naturally, some leading Muslims objected to the ban, but I welcomed the government's leadership on this issue. As both a former education manager, and a keen promoter of diversity and a multicultural society, I agree wholeheartedly with it because it is all about human respect, inclusion and value. We use the word respect regularly in our daily lives, but very few people understand what it really means. It is not a singular cure-all for worthy intentions, but a very powerful 6-dimensional word which goes to the heart of diversity, human worth and appreciation.
Genuine respect is all embracing. It carries much compassion, little judgment and is entirely non-selective. It sees positivity before negativity, strength before weakness and possibility before judgement. Above all, it is mutually reinforcing, not one way. So respect is never present where only one party claims the need to be respected for their values and traditions through appeasement or bullying. That expectation would reflect mere power and a lack of respect, making it an extremely good pointer to interpersonal interactions. At the heart of respect is sensitivity through compromise. If we are not prepared to compromise with another, there is no respect.
Consequences of Emigrating
The minute we leave our homeland, the need for compromise becomes essential because nothing will be as we left it. Our new life will need negotiation, adjustment and embracing change in a massive way. It will be pretty scary but very rewarding. We cannot impose our values on the new country of residence. It is bound to change us over time because that is the natural law of change. We can never resist it, no matter how long it takes, otherwise we will be fossilised in a time warp while everything briskly moves on around us, as shown by the conflict between the older generation of immigrants who are stuck back there and the new generation born in the UK. Furthermore, only oppressors and colonists seek to impose their language and customs on the new countries they inhabit.
For me personally, as a former education manager, the ban is appropriate and well overdue. We cannot have equality for some women in Britain and not for others. I would also NOT employ someone veiled to teach young children, or have them wear the veil in school either, for one single important reason. The greatest encouragement to anyone, let alone a young child, is a SMILE. It is at the heart of inclusion and belonging. It is very powerful, it costs nothing and can move mountains when everything else fails because of its inclusiveness and reassurance.
The Power of a Smile
Teachers are there to teach but children do not learn just from what they actually say. Children learn from example, from expressions, from a sense of being valued and wanted; from a simple smile of encouragement to improve their efforts. Boys do not cover their faces in a classroom. In a land striving for equality, girls should not cover their faces either. It is important that children communicate with each other from as early as possible, if we are to reduce prejudice, ignorance and bigotry.
A smile is one of the most powerful forms of communicating in any language, especially when other communication isn't possible. Covered faces in a classroom do nothing to bridge the cultural gap, to aid understanding of others, or to enhance self-worth, self-esteem and belonging. Neither do they communicate anything about the joy and positivity of being a vibrant and exciting part of a true multicultural society. They simply breed suspicion and mistrust, continually reinforcing them and us.
When Britain commemorated the 200th anniversary of the Abolition of the Slave Trade, it got me thinking about the real legacy of slavery on Black people, particularly in how we perceive ourselves and the names we use.
Names should be positive terms, but they can be cultural baggage. If you belong to a 'minority' group, what do you call yourself? The choice is easy if it has a definite historical, geographical or religious base. However, what if you are from the Caribbean but insist on being called African? Or an Asian who left your birthplace decades ago but still hark back to it as 'home'? Does all that really matter?
Take any name we call ourself: man, woman, doctor, priest, African, Caucasian, Asian. They all have one thing in common. They represent a specific persona as an individual, a member of a social and cultural group, and set us apart from everyone else who does not share the same background or characteristics. Names and titles are important for establishing individual identity, maintaining tradition, emphasising a particular skill or lineage, marking our place, unmistakably, in a historical and geographical context. Names are usually positive. We are meant to be proud of who we are and what we call ourselves. However, for Black people outside of Africa (like African Caribbeans) that is not always the case.
Black people living abroad have been desperately trying to come to terms with themselves for a very long time because of their chequered past and broken links with their countries of origin. Judged by their colour first, before anything else, it has been a painful demoralising process which some have managed to overcome but to which others have helplessly succumbed. Yet the answer to their anxieties lie in their eventful past. Whether they call themselves Melangian, African, Afro-Caribbean, African American or simply Black, there is a continuous search for a lost childhood, a huge gap in their past when everything happened but very little was spoken about it. Black people everywhere share this unique history.
It is not easy to appreciate, or empathise with, this legacy of slavery, because it is a legacy of displacement, not only in purely physical terms, but also in emotional, historical and psychological ones. For Black people of the African Diaspora there is a continuous sense of statelessness, of not belonging; of lacking the roots and experience of a promising childhood which was rudely torn apart, summarily dispensed with and utterly destroyed by slavers; cut short by something vastly alien, bewildering and shocking.
As a consequence of this brutal act there has been a marked absence of glory in anything black. No Black heroes, no great victories or inventions (those have been kept hidden). I was really surprised to learn, through the musical Black Heroes in the Hall of Fame, that the traffic lights were invented by someone Black! All my life, robbed of role models, I naturally assumed the inventor was White, my childhood having taught me that only White colonists did great things.
Serving and Obeying
If you start with a disadvantage, which follows you down the years, how do you recover from it to enjoy real parity with the masters who exploited you to build themselves and their fortunes? It is very difficult. That is why there has always been this desire, in the absence of anything positive about being Black, to use the White culture as a role model in all spheres. One only had to look at the way singers form the 50s presented themselves to the public, how 'White' they were made to look, or tried to be, in order to be 'acceptable'.
For a long time, devoid of ancestral role models and any sense of self, the lost children of Africa looked to the White race for inspiration, as well as guidance in decorum, style of dress, hair care and general behaviour. They did learn how to assimilate a different culture, in their desire to be recognised and to belong, but they lost something valuable in the process - their own identity, sense of worth and sense of direction. Black people saw the White aura and tried to capture it. They admired White inventiveness and tried to emulate it. But these White role models saw only their colour and forever damned it, especially through their language. This has left many Black people confused about their roots: stateless, nameless and, at times, unwanted caricatures of another race.
When the UK commemorated the 200th anniversary of the Abolition of the Slave Trade, it got me thinking about the real legacy of slavery on Black people, particularly how we perceive ourselves and the names we use.
Even today, every word in the English language connected with the word 'black' is full of nastiness, darkness and foreboding, and I won't even quote Shakespeare to prove it. Courtesy of my thesaurus, the colour white is 'virginal, unblemished, immaculate, innocent, pure'. Black is 'dark, murky, funereal, evil, villainous, wicked!' They may be just words on a page but they reflect the anxiety of the people who gave them meaning and demarcated human beings into roses and rejects. Worse still, constant daily usage ensures their transformation into lethal psychological weapons for those affected by it.
With enlightenment and time, that instant identification with past masters has begun to fade among Black people. Admiration and hero-worship have gradually given way to suspicion and anger through the gradual acknowledgements of painful truths. For the first time ever, the full horror of the slave trade and Britain's part in it, and its financial benefits from it is being openly discussed, not from a sanitised blameless corner but through education of man's inhumanity to man. African Caribbeans, or African Americans, are fighting back, actively seeking that lost childhood to recapture their worth, self-esteem and true identity. But it is an uphill task because of its entrenchment in our psyche. We may have lost too much too quickly and are in danger of leaping too far to the other side to compensate.
Under the guise of 'discovering' themselves, there has been a definite slide towards directly aligning with Africa, where many Black Britons have never been, and with which they have little in common except the colour of their skin, instead of the country of their birth or residence; the one that nurtures them and protects their interests. Asians do the same by refusing to let go, even when they know that they are never going back 'home'. Scared of losing their roots and traditions, they trap themselves and their families in a cultural time warp which eventually stunts their growth, slows their evolution and heightens their feeling of insecurity. In this way we all label ourselves like useless packages which are being knocked from pillar to post in a wilderness of denial.
Turning to Africa for Comfort
Someone has to be blamed for the legacy of servitude and self-hate. Their peers and colleagues easily become the identifiable enemy while the real culprit (lack of self-belief, lack of self-love and lack of forgiveness) stalk wantonly inside them, eating away at their consciousness, hopes and ambitions, rendering them helpless, vulnerable and emotionally sterile. Then they wonder why, as a people, they are not more successful, they are dogged by crime and delinquency and they feel so bad within themselves. But wherever there is little self-respect, one cannot have the respect of others.
The names we choose for ourselves do matter. They are clear signs of personal confidence, self-perception, basic identity and future potential. Personally, I prefer Black Briton. I might have descended from a slave but I do not have to be one in my thoughts and mentality. As Bob Marley sang: "Emancipate yourself from mental slavery, none but ourself can free our mind."
I cannot go back in time to right any wrong, and another White person cannot do that either, but by treating myself with love and respect, I can command the respect of others too; by teaching my children to love themselves and respect themselves, they will also be able to free their thoughts from the negative past to boldly go into the future to claim their birthright. By celebrating my presence and the gift of life, I can make my own legacy and a huge difference to my world.
Conscious Decision on Nationality
Yet, at a time when racist folks continually threaten to make life uncomfortable for all Britons, and others talk of 'apology', 'repatriation' and 'compensation', there will have to be one person standing aside from all that to take a different view - me. I have no wish to return to my past because there is nothing happening back there.
The past is important for placing us in time and noting the significant moments in our history, for reference, not for residence. A concentration on the past robs us of both a present and a future. If we are busy back there, we cannot be busy here too. It is a short step from simply finding scapegoats for feelings of inadequacy which then prevent us looking at ourselves. The past is useful for changing the present and developing the future in a more enhancing way. It is not for wallowing in self-pity or harbouring futile thoughts of revenge.
Loyalty to Our Country
The fact that I am finally sure in my mind who I am, what I want and where I am going has helped me to move on to another important plain: to other essential things like future achievements, a rewarding career reflecting my purpose in life and the support I can give to my children and any grandchildren by being close at hand for them when they need me.
Importantly, I am now able to focus upon my own self development in a way which would be denied me if I had to be continually worried about who I am, where I am and where I want to go. Self knowledge comes gradually over time but if, after 15, 20 or 25 years spent in one place, those questions are still causing anxiety without a real sense of belonging, there is major psychological stress and dissonance which needs to be addressed. In fact, one thing has always fascinated me about the semantics of identity, especially in America. All the weak minority groupings attach a prefix to who they are: like Hispanic-Americans and African-Americans.
The White ruling class, the one with the power and the resources, the media and the control, have virtually jettisoned any overt claim to their roots and simply settled for being Americans! Are they the only true Americans then? Could that be the secret of their success? I suppose if we are not serving two masters there will be only one set of instructions. European Americans have moved away from trying to prove their existence because, having proven it already, they now flaunt it proudly.
Black Britons, and to a large extent, African Americans, are still trying to prove themselves and it will carry on in this new millennium for a very long time. This could explain the deep divisions among them, the basic lack of self-respect reflected in the language they use for their women, the obsession with the 'right words' and clothing labels, an even stronger obsession with things African - but from a distance - and a negative, inward looking perspective which helps to rob their children of their birthright and the security needed for them to belong.
Sir Ian Blair, the beleaguered head of Scotland Yard and the UK capital's police force has been sacked by the mayor of London, Boris Johnson. And one could say: About time too!
Whatever he was good at, managing a crisis wasn't obviously one of them. He has presided over the worst senior management debacle in the history of the Force by allowing one of his high ranking deputies to actually take the Yard to a tribunal for alleged discrimination, harassment and victimisation. The same officer even received threats from anonymous colleagues, which appeared to have been ignored by the Met. The Black Police Association, that normally works with the majority officers to promote diversity, especially in recruitment, even threatened to withdraw from the recruiting process and to stage protests outside Scotland Yard. All that seemed to have fallen on Sir Ian's deaf ears! Fiddling like Nero while Rome burnt, Ian Blair's handling of the crisis in his Force over the past few months has been a shambles and a disgrace for the highest ranking officer in a multicultural Britain.
One of his former assistant commissioners described him as 'detached, aloof and arrogant', someone who 'did not listen', which was exactly how I found him when I invited him to the British Diversity Awards some time ago. Even though he was acting on my behalf to present awards to deserving recipients, his manner was so aloof and condescending, compared to all my other presenters, it sent a chill through me, as a Black woman fighting for equality and justice. I felt that this was not a gentleman I could ever work with, or even wish to work with. I've never been able to forget his manner, especially when I was on his side, aligning with his diversity goals and the Met was actually sponsoring the event!
If the Metropolitan Police needed new leadership, especially after the Charles De Menezes shooting tragedy, and the very low morale of the dedicated officers serving with him, it is right now. Boris acted superbly by taking a difficult decision because 2010, when his contract expired, is just far too long a wait. It has been a real surprise that Ian Blair had not exercised his own judgement ages ago and tendered his resignation, gracefully. But what can one expect of someone who believes he is right and everyone else is wrong?
The Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, has publicly affirmed her support for him when she accepted his resignation. That was a wrong move and a slap in the face for the hard work being done by everyone for a cohesive workforce. Sir Ian needed to be publicly thanked for his service, but not publicly supported or praised. That should have been done privately. This poor judgement demonstrates, once again, why the current Labour government is really in the pits, and digging even deeper!
There is no doubt that Sir Ian Blair made a valuable contribution to the progress of the Metropolitan Police during his tenure. But the mark of a real leader is being the first to acknowledge when you are wrong, when something could have been handled with more sensitivity and understanding and when to call a halt. In all three areas, particularly in relation to simple staff management and motivation, Ian Blair failed miserably.
Boris Johnson did the right thing in acknowledging the significant part Sir Ian played in fighting terrorism, introducing the safer neighbourhood schemes and falling crime levels by applauding his 'lasting and distinguished contribution to policing in London'. That is deserved. But someone else's leadership is sorely needed and London cannot afford to wait a moment longer simply because, if the Met Police is occupied fighting among itself, how can it be fighting crime effectively?
(Photo images used on EmotionalHealthGuide.com courtesy of dreamstime free photos).
(Photo images used on EmotionalHealthGuide.com courtesy of dreamstime free photos).