Labour MP and Shadow Business Secretary, Chuka Umunna, gave a speech for Black History Month last week suggesting that Black Britons are subjected to 'lazy stereotypes' by the British media. He used an example of Black British thespians flocking to the US to support his assertion, claiming they move overseas to find roles that fall outside of existing stereotypes. He ended his speech by challenging the British media to portray Britain's black communities in more varied roles in hopes of creating positive role models that will inspire young people to succeed.
Thank you for your speech Mr. Umunna but unfortunately you do not speak for me.
While there is some merit to your remarks, I, for one am, quite annoyed and not having any of it.
While its understood that the media should portray an all-encompassing image of black people in hopes of dispelling negative perceptions, your call to action will simply not work.
For example, you, being a black professional, should understand how we constantly have to tread a fine line. If we show a bit of anger or resistance then we are perceived as being too "black"; therefore, we are constantly seen through the lens of the colonial stereotype. If we are quiet and try to acclimatise with ease then we are perceived as acting "white" fulfilling the role of the 'Uncle Tom'. All of these elements trace back generations across and unfortunately little can be done to change that.
So let me ask this again, do you really think more diverse representation by the media will change that?
You also argued that black British actors are increasingly moving to the US to more varied roles; however, there is definitely more than meets the eye. For example, Idris Elba, Thandie Newton, David Oyelowo and Naomie Harris have all taken roles that have visible traces to these stereotypes. Have you ever stopped to think that they are moving to the US simply because there are more opportunities available there for fame and global success?
To make such an assertion on a complex issue is very reckless. Understanding the complexity of media representation and stereotypes require further examination to understand its origins and ultimately disrupt legacy perceptions.
Now the question remains. How can we work to provide a better environment for our black youth which will encourage positive self-worth?
We as individuals need to start taking more accountability for the challenges we face. This starts with self-love and acceptance that we live in a society where we are constantly being judged by an external feature of our bodies. We should not appropriate anyone else's culture or using racial epithets to gain a false sense of empowerment and self worth. We should not try to tear our own people down for doing their own thing, and not commit acts of violence against our own people. Or we should not put people down because there are not all that we want them to be. Dispelling these stereotypes and setting our people up for success starts at our front door - not on the TV.
We need to do is start on the micro level and turn off the TV. Black role models start first and foremost at home. Loved ones should reach out more to our youngsters which can vary from small tasks such as helping with homework or something ongoing like encouraging them to always work hard and follow their dreams.
While I think your comments are misguided, I sincerely hope that this opens up the broader conversation on how we can better teach our black youth that they can achieve all they want in life with hard work. We shouldn't let our history hold them back. Our past does not necessarily dictate our future but one thing is definitely for sure; the TV should no longer guide how the self-worth of our youth and pigeon-hole people into wanting to be something they are not.
Disclaimer: For full disclosure its important for me to disclose my identity. I identify as a black, middle class American who has lived in the UK for several years. I received my MSC in gender, media and culture from the London School of Economics. Although I'm not 'from' here, I have shared experiences with black Brits because how society positions us. As such, I feel in a position to contribute to this discussion.