Young, British and Black, is a series exploring what it’s like being a young black person in Britain today.
Our young writer Sean Boyle sat down virtually with Louis Clarke, to get an insight into his experiences, his hopes and aspirations for the future and what brings him joy.
Sean Boyle: Hi Lewis. We’ve spoken about how racially based stereotypes have impacted how the Black Lives Matter movement was being seen around the country. As a Black man, do you feel like you’ve experienced stereotyping in a negative way?
Louis Clarke: Yeah, definitely. It can be really difficult I think to pinpoint when it’s happening to you or why it’s happening to you and I feel like that is kind of the case quite often with British racism. It makes you kind of prefer the American style of doing things because they’re just kind of in your face and they don’t give a f*ck about it basically, whereas the kind of British racism can be kind of insidious. It can feel sometimes like you’re reading into too much and you don’t want to be like, ‘Am I just assuming they’re saying that because I’m black’ when really, that’s not the case.
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A prime example I can think of is when I was working at a hospital as a nurse assistant. I’m just having a chat in the break room with one of the nurses talking about uni and stuff like that. She was being friendly like ‘Oh, you’re in uni, Oh, what do you do?’ and I just talked about it in my biology degree. I left the room that, didn’t get any bad vibes from her, and then one of the other people I was working with came out, and she said to me “after you left, this woman said, ‘Oh, that’s really nice, isn’t it, you just don’t really expect to see that, do you? You don’t really see a lot of young black men with education and stuff like that.’ I was like rah, is that kind of what people see when they look at me? That just made me think: is this what people see when they see me at the hospital? Or is this what people see when I’m in like, joggers and a T shirt?
There’s also stereotyping that’s a little bit more insidious and comes up conversationally; growing up I used to get told all the time ‘You don’t talk like a black kid’ or ‘you dress white’ or ‘you sound white’.
There’s also this assumption that we are more violent and more aggressive and more emotional. Any sort of confrontation, I always feel that people are quick to approach you. If there’s two sides to something, they feel they have to come and calm you down. And they say ‘why are you getting emotional?’. Maybe I’ve raised my voice a little because we’re having a conversation, but this is the exact same thing that other person’s doing. It really makes you police your own tone.
Sean Boyle: You are black mixed-raced as well. How do you feel that’s impacted you as a young black person?
Louis Clarke: Obviously, growing up mixed race was kind of a unique experience. Part of me was like well I don’t really give a f*ck because I am half white and I was doing what I want to do. It kind of shaped how I viewed myself, and how I fit in stereotypical norms. I do all these things that are kind of typically assigned to white culture, but I’m acutely aware of the fact that I’m not white. But then it made it feel very difficult for me to then try and engage with black culture and that and that side of my heritage.
Sean Boyle: How would you define your identity in relation to Britishness, or Britain?
Louis Clarke: It is a mad tough question. I’ve just I think I’m still kind of grappling with my firm answer. I’ve always said I’m British, and I kind of got that from my dad, when I was growing up. Whenever there were conversations, he would always be adamant that he was not English, but British; and growing up, I never really kind of understood that. As I grew older, I kind of got what he means, because it’s sort of difficult for me to engage with the concept of being English because I think there’s a very, there’s a big difference between being British and being English.
Jamaica, which is my heritage, was a British colony. So my grandparents grew up as British citizens in Jamaica. And then they come and live in this country and they’re still British citizens living in this country. So I think it would be unfair to suggest that I’m anything but at least under that bracket, because I’ve always lived here. But at the same time, I don’t really have any sense of ownership to that nationality in terms of being English.
I’m also not Jamaican in the way my grandparents and father are. I’ve never been, I’ve never lived there, I’ve never visited it. Obviously I subscribe to the culture in this country because of it, but that’s still a Britishness in the sense of it being influenced by Jamaican culture. So I just never am comfortable saying Jamaican, but British has always kind of been the middle landing point. British culture, especially British Black culture, is so beautiful in its own way, because we’ve had to exist through a different kind of struggle. And we’ve put our own things like us and our heritage and it’s so unique.
Sean Boyle: Britain has a very difficult time coming to terms with its past, like the British Empire and slavery. How important is education in kind of overcoming this?
Louis Clarke: Reforming the education system is the only way we’re ever going to fix this. I just think people are so unwilling to engage with atrocity, as atrocities are shameful. But we were always taught growing up it [The British Empire] was such a good thing.
We need to be honest and say: ‘this is our colonial past. You can’t excuse it, but at the same time, you can’t say it didn’t happen’. Maybe there are parts of it that can be celebrated- and if you want to maintain that spirit of some of the things that happened under colonialism were done for positive reasons for British people then I think that’s fine; but you’ve got to take the good with the bad.
Sean Boyle: How do you feel about the way in which racism is discussed generally in this country?
Louis Clarke: We’re constantly forced to reflect on our own shortcomings. People ask “’why are you protesting police brutality when there’s still ‘black on black crime?’” or “why are you worried about the judicial system when there’s so much gang crime in your area?”. Obviously we no one is out here suggesting there aren’t issues, but we’re constantly being told ‘look at your own shortcomings. Look what’s going on in your own community before you try to reflect upon anyone else’. But we can’t ask that same question and ask society to look at the issue of racial privilege and why Black people are being oppressed?
Sean Boyle: What brings you joy as a Black person, despite the struggle?
Louis Clarke: Home food, good music, and good vibes, the type you only get when you’re with brothers and sisters. The times which induce that laugh that makes it hard to breathe and hurts your face.
One other thing is seeing young black kids truly happy, uninhibited and being wholly themselves. I think that’s a joy that’s unrivalled universally, but there’s something precious about seeing it on young black kids.
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