|Nyansapo – The Great Role Muddle Debate
“Receiving honour won’t make you a noble, and giving honour won’t make you a slave, so it is well to honour one another” - African Proverb, Malagasy
Greetings, a few days ago I witnessed an illegal search.
I was walking through Stratford shopping centre with a friend and right in front of us, as bold as day, a police officer placed his hands in the rucksack of a middle aged African. My friend and I, immediately looked at each other, stopped talking and approached the man who was being detained. ‘Are you alright’ I asked. ‘Yes’ he responded but he said did not know why the police officer was stopping him from going about his business. Politely I turned to the officer and asked - what were the grounds for him searching his bag. It was then it happened, staring me straight in the eye, the officer lied;
‘I didn’t search the bag’
‘I saw you go through his bag’
‘He did search my bag’ muttered the elder, but the officer whilst courteous was smug and steadfast in his denial.
‘you must have been mistaken’
I asked, ‘what are your grounds for holding him’. Defensively he asked who we were, ‘are we family?’ I replied ‘yes, he’s my brotha’ to which he responded, well my colleagues have entered the shop behind us to investigate an allegation. As we waited for his colleagues to come back I looked at the elder, he seemed a little confused, and before you ask, no - he didn’t have the smell of alcohol on him.
Anyway, I then looked at the officer, young, articulate, watching me with an aloofness that revealed his disdain towards my questioning his authority. He seemed eager for his colleagues to return, meanwhile the elder was on the phone to someone complaining about his detainment. After several minutes of waiting when it looked as though things were under control we decided to leave. We checked with the elder who seemed thankful that someone was watching out for him, the officer polite in his arrogance postured as if angry over how he had now become the object of scrutiny.
My friend wisely suggested we take his badge number, she also pointed out there was likely to be CCTV cameras in the mall that may have captured the incident. But for some reason I decided to leave it, and perhaps that was a mistake. You see the one thing throughout the entire incident that would not leave my mind was that the officer who did the illegal search, harassing the elder, humiliating him in public, was also… an African.
On the way home I started to regret my decision. Why didn’t I take the officers ID? It would have just taken a minute.
Had I let him escape a possible complaint of police misconduct because of some misplaced loyalty I had to him but he did not feel compelled to return to us? Did I, by failing to follow up what seemed to be a minor incident and make an official complaint on the behalf of the elder actually embolden that officer with a false sense of invulnerability? As a result would he do it again?
I honestly don’t know. I don’t have any evidence whether the elder was as innocent of criminality as it seemed or had been behaving mischievously before we arrived. But what I do know is that our brotha in uniform lied, in all likelihood he had conducted an unlawful search fishing for grounds of arrest. That’s illegal.
Role Muddle Debate
So why am I writing about this, well considering all the fuss that continues to be generated about the need for ‘black’ role models for young African people, I wonder whether we need to automatically exclude those from the list that show an open willingness to betray their own people. This officer was neither loyal to the law or himself when he acted in such a manner, and yet there are many who would look up to him as the perfect role model for our young people.
In fact we are often being instructed to aspire to a whole brigade of OBE, MBE recipients that are typically rewarded for selling out their community. Is being materially ‘rich’ without any long term public dedication to our community development an achievement worth emulating?
Is the ruthless slogan ‘get rich or die trying’ a mantra we should really be endorsing?
I ask these questions because I believe our own media does not do enough to recognise the talent within our ranks and as a result leaves us vulnerable to the venomous bile of charismatic political opportunists.
Whilst it is easy to criticise non-Africans, we must also be honest and recognise that there are those amongst us who everyday act out ‘blackface’ in the media actively seeking to encourage us to confer respect to newly appointed members of Empire. The tragedy here is that some of these include elders so desperate for recognition (that should come from us) they often include those who should know better than accept trinkets of brutish Britishness still dripping in our Ancestors blood. Meanwhile our children are taught at schools to refer to morally and ideologically flaccid African MP’s as ‘Right Honourable’, 'Lord' this and that, 'Lady', 'Reverend' and 'Sir' so and so. This titlemania obsession is a ridiculous state of affairs.
But back to the ‘black’ role model issue, I deliberately use the label ‘black’ as I am explicitly referring to culturally disinherited Africans - those who not only actively reject their own traditions but also enthusiastically seek solace rolling about in the identity and heritage of others. The British media, its education and cultural institutions repeatedly argue that any rich or westernised ‘black’ person is a good role model of ‘success’, but I question this. In fact I reject the entire so called ‘celebrity’ culture where human beings who repeatedly exercise poor moral judgment are elevated to the status of so called ‘star’ and made famous because of public exposure instead of worthy community deeds.
I question this because I am fortunate enough to meet many real role models in our community and not just male ones as even our own media would like to pretend are the only ones who exist. These people are not on your television, they don’t appear on the front page of the Voice newspaper, you don’t see them on the podium at public events or radio debates - instead they are behind the podium, in front of the stage, the television, listening to the radio. But they are not passive, no. These women and their male counterparts are forever working, making miracles happen with next to no money, developing community resources to protect and serve our young and aged, and all the while mothering our community, our hopes, our future, with love, dedication and loyalty whilst finding time to smile, clap and even donate to those that would call themselves our ‘celebrity’ leaders, but in truth are our role muddles.
And I do mean - Role Muddles with a capital R, capital M.
You see unless those who aspire to leadership are simultaneously culturally rich, loyal to their community and charitable with their wealth then they are nothing but successful role muddles. Stereotypical, one dimensional cardboard cut outs, possessing in money what they lack in spirit, owning in property what they lack in respect, believing in the hype caused by the trappings of fame that they can purchase status, love, community respect all whilst never really understanding or experiencing what either truly is.
The disrespecting of African History Month
Only recently we had the public fall from grace of Tiger Woods and Ashley Cole. Both of these men are multi-millionaires who are not only serial betrayers of African women, but also phenomenally rich role muddles. My issue with these men is not the personal business between them and their families. That is their business. But when they publicly reject our community, our identity whilst simultaneously prancing about exploiting media proclamations and commercial promotions of them as exemplarily examples of African success, I get vexed. Irrespective of their sporting prowess, these clowns do not project any image worthy of emulation.
Likewise, I don’t know if you’ve heard but last week three european teachers were suspended in the US. Parents of children in the Los Angeles school became enraged when finding out that Ru Paul, Dennis Rodman and OJ Simpson were being promoted as male (women were seemingly excluded) role models for young African students during African History month.
African History Month 2010: Role Muddles - Ru Paul, Dennis Rodman, OJ Simpson
Could such a thing take place in the UK?
Sadly, I think so.
Lorraine Abner's, principal of the Elementary School in South LA published a letter that read; "Unfortunately, questionable decisions were made in the selection of noteworthy African American role models….As the principal, I offer my apology for these errors in judgment."
But if we are honest, the thinking that enables these teachers to have no problem with instructing our children to march in a African history school parade carrying pictures of Ru Paul (wearing a blond wig), Dennis Rodman and O.J. Simpson, and then presenting these men as role models next to images of Barack Obama and Martin Luther King Jr definitely exists in the UK, a country where politically naïve entertainers and sports personalities are frequently brought onto television to articulate community views on our behalf during national debates.
Zuma, British Racism and the Acceptance of Trinkets
During his recent visit to the UK, the Azanian (South African) President Jacob Zuma faced a barrage of hate from the national newspapers. The Daily Mail in particular described him with the headline "Jacob Zuma is a sex-obsessed bigot with four wives and 35 children. So why is Britain fawning over this vile buffoon?" The BBC were not much better, using an underhand patronising dig at his “humble background, [and] little schooling in rural KwaZulu-Natal” with an over emphasis on his “slow and often halting” delivery was best suited to engaging with children.
Now I am not a cheerleader for President Zuma, but as with president Obama, I believe before passing damning judgment on the quality of his character it would be wise for the media to await his political actions, that is - that which he was elected for.
I would be the first to admit that sadly, Zuma has not shown the level of political veracity I would expected from a sincere traditional Africa leader with moral integrity. The British were responsible for the murder of millions of Africans including our Zulu Ancestors, an act they have never atoned for. In fact the British has actually gone as far as falsifying history books and producing the outrageous propaganda film Zulu to mask their barbarity.
Zuma as a Zulu man could have and should have remained courteous but politely refused to accept the pompous title of honorary Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath an accolade ironically stripped of President Robert Mugabe in June 2008. He did not do so. Instead he compounded his insult to our Ancestors by giving the British queen one of Azania’s (South Africa) highest national honours given to foreign heads of state and government - the Order of the Companions of OR Tambo gold class. It is irresponsible acts such as this, and not our culture, that in my mind that makes him a potential role muddle, not because he as the elitist editors at the BBC state; “had little formal schooling as a child”.
I say potential because he was also a key part of the anti-apartheid movement, something we should never forget. Despite some of his seemingly obvious faults he and the great Steve Biko worked and risked life for the liberation of our people, unlike some of the true ‘black’ buffoon’s media institutions like the Daily Mail, BBC and even the Guardian newspaper are guilty of promoting. Over the years, performers such as Curtis ‘50 Cent’ Jackson and Calvin ‘Snoop Dogg’ Broadus have been extending masses of column inches, features, and interviews despite actually working to exploit and therefore harm our community, culture, traditions and reputation. These and many other truly abhorrent role muddles are afforded a level of media coverage denied true community workers.
But let me say this clearly now. Our own media is equally responsible for this mess. We have one national newspaper (Voice), two national radio station (1Xtra and Colourful) several TV channels (including BEN, OBE, BET and excluding the numerous evangelist channels), so I’m extremely curious as to why (other than Colourful and several smaller regional platforms), our own media and role leaders have been so silent on the issue of the erosion of our human rights and civil liberties. It really says something when our lost brotha Trevor Phillips can claim to have taken the high ground by writing on these issues whilst our own media is discussing topics such as who has the biggest booty or embarrassing itself (and sadly us by association) with its tragically unimaginative movers and shakers lists, alongside its recently asinine fantasy government candidates.
The front page of this weeks Voice newspaper for example features a “Celeb Mums!” main feature, gives continuing support to the ‘The rise of the new black Tories’, pontificates about how ‘Zuma really does shame my African culture’ and promotes a weekly column written by a Tory european that reads ‘I’m a politician who sees Jesus as his role model’. After all our struggles, all our achievements is this what we have come down too.
A tabloid that aspires to be a ‘black’ version of the Sun?
When the New Nation newspaper was running, for all its faults, at least it tried to support campaigns on important community issues. Like the Alarm and the West Indian Gazette before it, it did not bury its head in the sand holding endless bourgeoisie ‘community consultations’ (where the real community is strangely always absent) with wealthy church and business ‘leaders’ basking in photo opportunities for their portfolios.
Our media has a responsibility to hold both politicians and police chiefs to account to us, the community, not beg friend of them. We should work in a critical capacity on issues where no effective supportive role exists. But instead our ‘black’ media has become an international joke. Even when lowering ourselves to fantasise about celebrity mums, there is an idiotic focus on Africans in America. Why do these elitist ‘blacks’ not realise that most of us in the UK are broke, under severe pressure and are at serious risk of losing our livelihoods. We cannot afford to clown around continuously promoting these role muddles when there is serious work to be done.
Now there is an election looming, we should be hearing new voices that represent a future, not old voices parroting on about failure, we should be collectively using our media to name and shame those who abuse us on a daily basis, whilst simultaneously giving praise and support to those who are working to help us rise. Tragically we appear to have gone backwards, music now exists where there used to be informed talk, yes - there is the odd hissy fit type article and debate here and there, but what is the cost - no campaigns, no strategy, no moral courage, just a tired ‘expect the best, voice it and vote’ tactic endorsed by African American religious activists that having lost their political capital in the US, are now being flown over and paid (government?) cash to get us to join in with their system, his system…. and I don’t mean the Creator.
Instead of desperately seeking to prove to ‘the man’ that we are still relevant, they should be meeting true grass root community organisations. They should be actively using their public profile to help promote and support those struggling but still working to empower us without funding from government. What annoys me even more is the way they talk down to us, abusing the civil rights history of our Ancestors in the Americas, often ignoring Rosa Parkes and misquoting Martin Luther King when in Truth both of them if alive today, would have been ashamed of their actions.
Stop the Silence: DNA Retention and Stop and Search
Last night I shared a platform with several police officers, a community worker and an active young brotha on one of the biggest civil rights issue of our time - stop and search. The discussion which was broadcast live (www.avenues.org.uk) raised many points including the harrowing story of a father who having witnessed his sons being forcibly stopped and searched on the floor outside his own house, was then himself arrested and charged with assault after he intervened. He now risks criminal prosecution for doing the right thing. In fact the whole evening we heard horror stories of the thuggish behaviour of police officers humiliating young Africans in public. One of the officers on the panel admitted there was a problem. To his credit he also highlighted two instances where officers had been prosecuted and thrown of the force for overt criminal behaviour. But there was not one instance given where an officer guilty of stop and search violations against African children had been held to account.
They are still out there working on the streets.
Indeed, the government has just released a 71 page publication about the public perception of anti-terror legislation called ‘Occasional Paper 88’. I scanned it briefly before heading to the summary. Unsurprisingly, their conclusion is that the majority of the public support the legislation, whilst Muslim communities are hesitant. Some blurb about human rights and civil liberties, a single sentence about stop and search and then the killer line acknowledging the research was weak and as such there ‘is a need to capture the perceived impacts of CT legislation across a wider set of communities.’
That’s it. It’s not unless you delve into the body of the paper that the true killer statements appear;
“Powers in the Counter-Terrorism Act 2008 allow police to take routinely and use fingerprints and non-intimate samples from those subject to a control order. It puts the retention and use of covertly acquired DNA or fingerprints on a statutory footing; ensuring that DNA/fingerprints taken under PACE and retained on the national DNA or fingerprint databases can be cross referenced for the purposes of national security.”
“Other evidence, assessed as methodologically strong, also reports perceptions of
disproportionate use of stop and search. This research found that a number of respondents interpreted this as ‘a symptom of racial stereotyping and of personal and/or institutional discrimination’. However, it should be noted that these comments were in relation to community policing and are not CT (S44) specific”
Again, no-one seems willing to talk about what is happening specifically to us, our young people. Let’s see if anyone picks up on this. Now there is new hard evidence that so called community policing remains riddled with discrimination both by individual officers and entire forces. I wonder which one of our politicians or ‘leaders’ will lead on this issue.
When Money Talks, Truth Walks
So let me close these ramblings addressing what started it.
This month is international women’s month and whilst African women were excluded from being beneficiaries of eurocentric feminist empowerment movements they were some of the most important advocates and drivers of human rights this world has ever known. Today the cult of celebrity has put back that call of human rights and natural justice with the construction and widespread dissemination of the cultural role muddle. Those amongst us for whom the acquisition of money is the ultimate goal, male and female, these zombies will lie in bed with whoever or whatever to achieve their aims. But it has not always been that way.
Perhaps we need to take a step back and breathe.
For one moment let’s…
Forget Moses and think Harriet Tubman
Forget King and think of Rosa Parkes
Forget Nelson and think Winnie Mandela
Forget the Voice and think of Claudia Jones
Put Fela on pause and think about his mother, Funmilayo or Amy Ashwood Garvey, Queen Nzingha, Amy Jacques Garvey, Yaa Asantewaa, or the millions of African women that are struggling to hold our community together whilst the big talk men were too afraid to take the fight to the real enemy.
We are rapidly approaching a bent election and if we have our eyes open we will clearly see those of us willing to collaborate and sell us out in order to get in bed with the new expected UK imperialists... the Tories.
Cameron and his boys, more so than any other political party, including the comical BNP, hate us. If they could find justification to fire us from our jobs, repossess our homes, continue exploiting our motherland (did you know that the Turks and Caicos Islands is now under British Rule) and deport us without a penny to our name then they would. I am not saying vote Labour, nor Liberal Democrats or any of the other parties that are too scared to use the word African in their manifestos.
All I am saying is that during this specific time we need to be aware of what is happening around us in our name and organise. We must not be oblivious to the problem of our so called media and leaders deceitful apathy an mass manipulation.
During every election the mainstream political heads play a game with them. They pretend to beg them, wine and dine them, invite them to ‘important’ meetings, listen to them and in short massage their egos seducing them with power, making them believe that they are important. But it is we and not these self appointed role muddles that are truly important. It is we that hold the power to change an ultimately revolutionise the system.
It does NOT begin and end with the ballot box.
We must recognise that instead of our leaders and media reminding us of all the fckuries these people have and continue to heap upon us, instead of helping organise our community to openly boycott en mass a corrupt political system that deplorably deploys tokenism as a means to get us to validate its existence they wimp out.
“Use your voice and vote” they bray, mimicking the words of every single corrupt politician in this country.
Shamefully betraying the freedoms of our next generation for trinkets
Please excuse my language above but I can't eloquently express the anger many of us collectively feel for these meddling, muddling sheeple using the English language. Our problems are not with the councillors, of which several from our community at least attempt to do grass roots work, but instead with the ministers and their influential colleagues in the media who could bring about positive change for us all but whose individual capitalist priorities means that they only come to us when they are desperate to consolidate or obtain power.
It's the lies, the deception, the manipulation, I hate.
And so I write.
The African community does not hold the power to key political seats across the UK. We never have. All our vote does is allow us to give sanction an permission to the government to continue the global abuses done to our people and others across the world in the name of democracy, of the war on terror, to continue Maafa.
You see even if you believe in this democratic process, our community strategy should not be we will vote and then you fix it, it should be fix it first and then we’ll think about voting – BEFORE the election.
I hadn’t intended to write such a long piece but to be honest I’ve recently been inspired by the activities of so many people, so many grass roots organisations pulling together to help our family in Haiti, Africa, across the Caribbean and here in the UK. I’ve met young people and elders with next to no financial or media support organise events that have educated, empowered and helped with the healing of our community. It’s hard to remain pessimistic and negative when you’re actively involved with doing this work.
Anyway I may not have a newspaper but I wanted to write about these people for a change, the real heroes, mums and dads, volunteers and students, cultural workers and entrepreneurs who may not make it to the front page of the Voice or onto our TV screens, they may never be invited talk on Question Time or the Big Question but to me and hundreds of thousands like me they are the real celebrities.
The real role models.
I just wanted to big up our young people who are making great achievements in the education and not just those who are up to no good in ‘da ghetto’. We exist. Its like the Matrix or the classic film Burning an Illusion, someone last night said ‘there is no community’, she was wrong, what she should of said is that ‘I don’t read about it, hear about it, or work in it, so I don’t know where our community really is’.
But most of all I wanted to write about the African women, some 70% of whom still in 2010, live impoverished lives across the world. And yet despite being attacked, oppressed and exploited not only by the system, her own westernised sistren but also some of her sons, brothas, fathers, husbands, all aspiring to the lies fueled by these role muddles with abuse coming from the Bible to the Koran, from the liberal to the nationalist...
...She is still standing, still working, still loving.
Do we still deserve her? Perhaps it’s not for me to answer that.
But I do know that we certainly owe her a debt that no media celebrity or role muddle should ever be able to convince us otherwise.
May the Ancestors guide and protect us.
Toyin Agbetu is a writer,
film director, poet, and founder of Ligali, the pan African human rights based organisation.
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