‘Men are Trash’ & how we clean up the litter

Men are trash, men are dogs & well, masculinity is ‘Toxic’ *cue Britney Spears*. If you’d told me any of this 10 years ago, matter of fact maybe even 5 years ago, there’s no way I would agree with you. In fact, younger me with less of a beard & more of an attitude would probably argue with you as to why it’s ‘you feminists’  who’ve got the wrong end of the stick. See, I’d have probably said something about how women are fighting for rights they already have. Or, perhaps something even more ill-informed about why we actually need to start fighting for Men’s Rights because it’s political correctness gone mad…

Yeah – I wasn’t just stupid, I was Vote-Brexit-To-Get-Rid-Of-The-Immergruntz-Stupid.  The sort of stupidity that unfortunately, is less about actually making an informed choice in order to believe what you’re saying, and more down to a complete lack of information, and in fact, being given mis-information in echo-chambers. Echo chambers like being at the back of the bus as a teenager, with a bunch of guys your own age who are all sweating pints of pubescent testosterone to mask the thick stench of Lynx Africa & 4 for a pound chicken-wings (I can smell it already, & I’m wincing). Guys your own age who will slander and defame girls and women simply because they believe it’s the right language to use, because they heard it somewhere else, or an older boy had said something, or maybe because they’re literally stealing words or references right out of popular culture like music or film. The mis-information that girls or women are a certain way or their behaviour makes them a b*tch or a slut or a hoe that I hold my hands up and say I was a part of perpetuating, & why? Because quite frankly I knew no better. See if you’d told me then, sitting at the back of a bus with a matching tracksuit (God forbid) whilst banging out T2 ft Jodie – Heartbroken from a Samsung held together with Sellotape, that men were trash, I’d have probably told you that you had no idea what you were talking about. And neither did I.

Skip the clock forward a few years & through reading, being around the right people & simply unlearning a lot of the language that I used to navigate my way through certain social situations, I recognise now the need for a new and better understanding of Gender. I was recently given the opportunity to be part of a panel of men on BBC Radio 4’s Women’s Hour on a special show talking about Masculinity in the world today. I suppose me being me, I meet a number of intersections & tick several boxes (Anyone from any Diversity Boards reading, get yer chequebooks out). I’m young, sort of, I’m not-white and I’m still clinging on to my working-class roots so I suppose I can speak about life from a fairly nuanced perspective. But, for me, the real honour in this was I was speaking specifically about young people, and what young people have to say about masculinity today. See, the career path I’ve had, facilitating workshops in schools across the UK about social issues has really opened my eyes to the whole spectrum on which young people sit in regards to how clued up they are on issues pertaining to Gender.

You’d think in a  changing world where people are constantly walking into the office saying ‘blimey, hasn’t time flown‘ that perhaps our understanding of social issues would also be accelerating on fast-forward. And, to an extent, you’d be right. Except, that whilst in general, younger generations are more accepting, left-leaning and progressive than generations before them, the amount of understanding they have about exactly what the issues are, remains largely the same comparatively as it was 10 years ago. Take myself for example, now I’m not saying I was your ‘top lad’ degrading women for ‘banter’, spouting out lines I’d learnt from my favourite pick-up artist whilst walking around Westfield in my Ecko tracksuit from JD Sports (*shivers with embarrassment, yes I did have one of those*). BUT, the lack of understanding I had around what the issues for women were & why an intersectional & ever growing Feminist movement was needed remains largely similar with young people today. The fact is, that whilst young people grow up in a time where it’s brilliant that people are becoming comfortable enough that movements like #MeToo can exist, it’s sickening still that the world still largely protects & endorses the toxic, trashy behaviours of men whose ill-doings have given way to said movements. As young people today largely condemn such actions, it would be great to move forwards and have the spaces for conversations about what the issues, terminologies and language that we use around Gender are so as to mitigate & eventually end this toxicity.

When on Radio (this one time, on Radio 4 Camp…) I tried to get across that there is a gap between the expectation of young people to be more understanding & progressive & the education of young people about the issues they are supposed to know. I remember going over and over what I knew I wanted to say in my mind (flashback to GCSEs), and it’s this: today, to “be a man” comes with the weight of a history of men being & inflicting the problem & that needs to be both understood & accepted in order to move forward. When boys see Feminism as a movement ‘not for them’ and in fact a movement against them, simply because they don’t understand what it’s about, there is a problem. When boys feel that there is only one archetypal ideal of masculinity, your traditional Alpha-Male, super-buff (large up Anthony Joshua though), dominant character, there is a problem. When boys don’t understand that they can cry, that they can talk about mental-health or that there is such a thing as emotional intelligence, there is a problem. The idea that ‘men are trash’ is born out of centuries of oppression and recent decades of continued problematic men in all sections of society but for a generation of young people growing up today it is important not to mis-inform, misguide and misdirect before we end up with the cycle continuing once more. *drops mic*….

*picks mic back up* It takes men from an older generation to hold their hands up and admit to the wrong use of language, to apologise and admit that unlearning is key to truly bring about change. To advocate for & support movements in favour of Women, to acknowledge male privilege and speak out. Toxic (you can’t deny Britney is in your head) Masculinity is damaging to everyone, men, women & future generations but to truly clear up the mess of the insurmountable trash, we must begin to more openly and accessibly have conversations about gender, masculinity & femininity with the generations to come or just like T2 & Jodie, we’re going to end up ‘heartbroken’ once more when the cycle continues.

(For a link to the Radio 4 conversation, to chat about this or just reminisce about the tunes you played at the back of the bus, hit me up on Twitter @Tweetsbybilal)

P.S. My matching Ecko tracksuit was cool at the time.

‘Rah, you went to Cambridge!?’

How would you describe yourself?

I would describe myself as a 24 year old, I’m mixed-race, from NW London and I work… I’m male, I like going out; there’s things I like doing with my friends, you know, I the normal things people our age would be doing.

What’s your country of origin?

I was born here, in England. In London if you want to be specific. My parents? Mum’s mixed too, her heritage is from Jamaica, Dad’s born in Kenya but his heritage stretches back to South Asia.

Which college were you assigned to and how did you find it?

So I went to Sidney Sussex right in the middle of town. Before I applied I did the usual look through the prospectus thinking where to go but it’s tough! You’re looking through the prospectus and they all sound the same! You’re just picking based on which one sounds posher than the other on, which one sounds more “normal”. My mum was the one who really helped me with it all like ‘which one you going to?’ and I was like ‘I really don’t know!’ Eventually we narrowed it down to about 3 or 4 of them and because I honestly couldn’t decide I picked the final choice out of a hat. All that was more interesting about it at the time was that it was opposite Sainsbury’s. But I’m telling you, that proved to be best thing over the years. It meant that whenever friends went into town they were going past there and came to see me, they’d turn up in my room when I wasn’t even there! Sometimes I’d be on the street outside my room and look up and see my friends just sitting by my laptop and I’d be thinking ‘What you doing bruv?!’. But Sidney was a small community as well so it was easy to make friends. We had a college bar that was pretty central to people’s friendships as drinks were cheap and most people were fairly easy to talk to. The College staff were great and always helpful. For me, one time I needed support in getting the right bursary and the minute I brought it to their attention they did what they could to make sure I had everything I needed to do that.  The porters were helpful too, they’re like the gatekeepers of everything going on around college. One of ‘em, even lived in Neasden when he was little and we would always have jokes, now I think about it, I’ll never forget how helpful they were and how welcome they made me feel.

Would you consider yourself well off

Haha, you’re kidding right? No. Not at all, not in anyway. How do I put this… So I lived in a one bedroom flat as a child, so I spent most of childhood home-life on a sofa-bed in the living room or at my Nana’s not far from where we lived. I went to a private primary school, I know, people often hear that and don’t get that that one fact doesn’t tell the full story. My Mum and Dad worked hard so I could go, my Nana worked too so I could go. You say private school but actually the socio-economic background of the area it’s in and even of the students doesn’t quite fit with the stereotypical image of what a private school is. Put it this way, there were just a handful of white kids. At the time my mum was a nursery worker and my dad for much of that time was a bus-driver, it meant for them a lot of overtime, my dad worked hard, often working nights, holiday days and weekends.

You move forward a couple years and my dad got sick. For some of secondary school this meant he was on benefits, there wasn’t much money to go round. Now I’m not saying I’m relatively poor because I know full-well that my family worked hard to secure our financial position but what I’m trying to say is that me, like many others, I’m not well-off.

Did you feel you lacked things when growing up?

I don’t think you can ever know if you’re lacking material things unless you’ve got something to compare it to. When I got to secondary school, I was in a Grammar school so some of the friends I made opened my eyes to what a ‘middle class’ lifestyle was like. I had this one friend and he’d invite me round to his and they’d be having Sunday Roasts at the dinner table. Even that was different because I didn’t have one at my own house. We ate with the plates on our laps sitting in front of the TV. I felt I had enough, I had the games consoles, the clothes, the things you pester your family for and never really think to be grateful about, but in comparison to others they seemed to have more. The school Ski-trip that everyone’s going on, and you’d say you needed to go too because everyone’s going. For people around me it was probably easier to get the money to pay for those things but for my parents, looking back now I’m sure it meant more overtime and working late. You know what? You don’t realise at time the sacrifices that are being made for you but I suppose it was around age 15 I realised I didn’t have as much. People would be having their violin lessons and clarinet recitals, their families went to football matches or played sports and seemed to have these hobbies that were just part of their life. My life? It wasn’t like that. You start to realise that your reality isn’t everyone’s reality, sometimes it’s just that really subtle look on a friends face when you invite them to your more humble home that gets your brain thinking. The world never seemed as open and available to me in the way that it seemed to be to so many people I met at university. I feel like it never really is unless you take the initiative to make those connections with people, people with a different background to yourself.

Before University did you have networking connections?

Nah. Wasn’t really a thing for me man, I wasn’t thinking about it. I didn’t.

Starting University did that change?

I think so much of the networking you do at Cambridge is not the kind you plan on doing. Maybe the person you talk to drunk at bar who’s now a random friend on Facebook knows people who know people. You’re on your News Feed and see So-and-so updates status, or the LinkedIn email that bla-bla is now doing this. As people we never really think about those background people, the decoration or fluff to our social media pages but one day they’ll be sitting in a suit somewhere dictating what everyone else’s life looks like. They’re worth having in your Network, these are the people you genuinely just do life with, drink with, party with, walk past and give that awkward social interaction of a head-nod to everyday. But of course there are the socialite types and if you’re into it, the opportunities to network your way to the top in that way.

Did you do any internships?

No I didn’t because I work in Charity and that sort of stuff is never really an option in the third sector, to be totally honest I wasn’t bothered either. I worked in my holidays, actually, I got a job selling Christmas trees because the man who ran the company went to Oxbridge, that’s a sort of hookup. I sold Christmas Trees if that’s what you’re asking. But it was obviously the case for so many people around me, you’d hear the conversations every summer term ‘what you doing this summer?’  ‘Oh yah, internship/ travelling yah’. If that’s what you wanted it seemed accessible, easy even. There were networking events and careers fairs, that seemed to be how it worked.

Can you talk a bit about the Social dynamic and how you found it?

This is interesting! Where to begin… So Brent, where I live is one of the most multicultural boroughs in the UK. There aren’t many white British middle class people in the area. Not many at all. In fact I saw some the other day who looked like they had got off at the wrong stop and all I could think was maybe they’re going to Ikea. Before Cambridge, I thought I wouldn’t fit in because I’m ‘different’. I won’t pretend that wasn’t the case, I got there and yep, I was. I remember the first day we had this talk in the College gardens and my mum was looking around and all I could think was, great, how am I gonna get my hair done in this place? I felt like I was this one person in a sea of white faces. It was quite daunting thinking that would be home for the best part of the next three years. There were lots of people from privileged backgrounds and strangely it was me who felt like crossing the road and guarding my Blackberry (God Forbid anyone steal and appropriate my Grime). At first it really was me who had to deal with my own fear of difference and prejudice of what I expected ‘Cambridge people’ to be like. I went home really often in the first few weeks, I even left half way through Freshers Weeks to get seasoning and other life-essentials. I turned up there with one plate and one fork (stupid). I’d be on the phone or go home a lot at first just to eat normal food until I learnt how to cook better than my Nana and my mum (if either of you are reading this just be proud I’m writing something and ignore that last sentence, I don’t mean it).

I mean, you know what it’s like when ‘your white friends’ are playing music and people are having conversations about music that sound like a whole new language because you really just have never heard of any of these bands in your life. But then, you begin to learn the new language of music and share a bit of your own, its different, you start to like it. Ultimately you figure out you can’t get by for three years just lip-syncing Sex Is On Fire in club and throwing your sticky VK’d arms around everyone when Wonderwall comes on, its sweaty and fun but really that won’t get you everywhere.

But then the barriers you/society/socialisation put up are broken down by the unifying force of alcohol and you start really talking to people. Actually you figure out someone else is on a bursary too. Someone else knows what Lidl is. What? You know Charmaine De La Rosa was 14 too?! My preconceptions began to change. I realised that people worked hard to go there after all and there were some actually cool people in that town, many of which are my best friends even now.

Cambridge is so often described as bubble and it really is. It’s this microcosm of a very strange society, one not the same as Neasden or Brent or even London, it’s an upper-middle-class-white-well-educated-background. Now that’s obviously not the full picture of the rest of the world. When you’re different like me you’re instantly thought to be cool. You become the cool one just by living your life; but then when you go to a party ‘cause your friend invited you and one of the people in the house escort you out because you must be from the other Uni you realise the bubble you’re in. The ‘other black friend’ invited you, he’s asked ‘Who’s your friend from home?’. To paraphrase a church saying, where two or more are gathered… one of them must be from home seems to be the philosophy some people go by. The reality is that when you look a certain way you genuinely are in the minority, but, over time you navigate it, you learn the new codes of language, you learn those new songs. For me at the start it was like dipping my toe in at the shallow end, (jumping back out and running home for seasoning floating aids) and then my whole lower body AND THEN slowly wading in.

Did you ever feel you had to adapt?

So yeah and no. The way I see it, you always adapt whether or not you want to. Wherever you are in life you need to learn the rules to navigate the social system better to survive. It’s not often a conscious process but you learn when to use your ‘Cambridge voice’ when you need to. For me it did happen, the test was when you come back to ‘endz’ and you see people you haven’t seen in a while and you’re told you sound posh but you don’t realise it!? Like how does your voice change without you even knowing? It’s strange that adaptations can often be so subtle that we make them without thinking about it at the time but now on reflection it’s so obvious that some of the times I felt uncomfortable I was just coming to terms with the version of myself being challenged by a new situation.

Did you feel inferior or superior to people in Cambridge?

Bit of both. My cultural capital isn’t their cultural capital. What’s normal to me may not be normal to them and vice versa. The ‘them’ I speak of are the annual ski-trip and been on 54 holidays across the world and casual conversations about your parents are about how difficult it is to run a bank or fight a top court case… my dad drove a bus when I was growing up, that’s what I’ve got to offer. I believe it’s all about how comfortable you are within yourself as to whether it makes you feel inferior. I questioned it – of course it’s a human thing to think ‘where do I fit in here?’ but just because people have money doesn’t mean they’re any better than you are right? On the other hand I felt great, in fact way better! Sometimes you can be walking around and people believe you’re ‘cool’ just because you’re you and yes of course there’s some problematic reasons somewhere behind that but on a human egotistical level it does give you a boost whether or not you were looking for it. Bit of both. By money and material objects I was inferior. By popularity and cultural experience and sheer upbringing perhaps I was in a place of superiority. There’s a question I often ask the young people I work with: ‘Would you rather have faced difficult times growing up or have had an easy life’ and 98% of the time they choose the first option, I suppose it’s a lot of that that comes to play. Whilst people at Cambridge may not represent the vast majority of world’s demographic make-up, not to say that I do but I sure do tick a lot more boxes than them, it made me think, ‘Boy, when you lot get into real world you’re gonna be lost’ and that thought alone made me comfortable.

Who did you choose to identify with and who were your friends.

So many of the people I hang out with now I didn’t choose to, I was made to by random allocation. People next-door to me became close and you realise you need to be close anyway if you’re going to live with each other but we had such a great social vibe. It clicked. Then I had ‘my black friends’, it’s weird to say that that’s how life works in Cambridge. Your white and black friends. ACS vs College. I think you always feel more comfy with what you know. It’s the taste of home you look for it because it’s what you know. When I wanted someone need to come on the walk down to KFC with me or to go out to a Garage or Hip-Hop night what options do you have? That said, I had such a good mix of friends from so many different ‘circles’ and groups that I felt comfortable whoever and wherever I was – I understand though that so much of that comes from my upbringing though, who knows, maybe no everyone feels the same.

What can you say about the public and private school divide.

Well for a start it’s not like any Mean Girls thing… no one had a burn book and you sat with whoever you felt like. I suppose people just expect you to have come from a good school. Maybe it came up in the introductory conversations with people but I’m not gonna lie, I really wasn’t bothered and after that I never noticed a divide. In the way people spoke, some people had more of an inflection, perhaps there was noticeable differences in people’s pronunciation of things but you’re often there by merit so who’s really asking? Once you’re there the opportunities given out to everyone are the same as you’re all the same… in terms of your A Level results anyway. Yes, people may talk the talk and walk the walk more and join secret clubs and get by more, and yes there is the ‘Tokenism thing’, some are almost given a free ticket by nature of life experiences given to them in the past, they tick the right boxes and fit a certain role and can navigate multiple social systems very well but the community they’re in isn’t an obviously divided one.

If you could change anything about life what would you change?

Nothing. I just want what we all want. Happiness. If you gave me a magic wand now and asked me to change anything it would be my parent’s health, if I could give them full-health that would give us happiness.

Did you enjoy Cambridge overall?

Yeah (smiling, one dimple shining in the Shoreditch lights…) you look with a smile and nostalgically, like that Will Smith tune Summertime is the same way I now look back at Cambridge. It makes me happy just to think about the memories there. It becomes your life man! In the first year I’d never have thought a few years later I’d look back and recommend people to go. Whilst it may not be everyone’s cup of Earl Grey and scones I’d 100% say it was a thing I’m glad featured in my life. If there’s anything you get from this it’s to see the challenges of top Universities like Cambridge as opportunities, it’s not for everyone but the academic benefits for me were priceless.

‘Lightskin Guys Be Like…’

“Lightskin boys be so moist”

“Those guys are bare in their feelings”

“Drake behaviour”

I was standing in this Jamaican takeaway place the other day in Willesden (Curry Goat, Rice & Peas and one niiiice dumpling if you were wondering, and let’s be real, you’re now salivating) when the woman who was serving me, I say serving but she had gone off into the kitchen, quite casually turned to her co-worker and said ‘The Lightskin bwoy did order di dumpling deh, pass him it nuh’.(If you’re slightly lost with the translation, then phone a friend.) ‘Lightskin Boy.’ I thought to myself. As I stood there looking at the back of my own beige hands having a moment that I can only liken to that bit in Lion King where Simba stares into the pond in the jungle with Rafiki telling him to ‘Look deeper’ the woman was back, shoving my food into my hand and so I walked off. Wandering along the street, now even more hungry because the food was within a minute away from being eaten (why does that always happen!?) I found myself quite lost thinking about the many times in the last 23 and whatnot years I’ve been referred to by my complexion, and it got me thinking, why? Why is it that I’m called a Lightskin Boy? What is even tied up in the meaning of this delineation, and indeed – what does society in Britain today think about males of a lighter complexion?

Often I hear it or, rather, see it thrown around on the TimeLine in memes, ‘banter’ etc. that Black or Mixed-Race men of a lighter complexion are in some way ‘less masculine’ than those society has termed ‘darkskinned’ – indeed something which begs me to ask what being ‘masculine’ even means today! So it got me thinking, what do other people think about this? I mean surely there’s a point where things stop being banter and start having real-world effects, so I thought I’d ask a few people what they thought, and it’s their words that shape this next bit of writing and hopefully, our understanding moving forwards…

“Before I talk about my personal experiences, I’ll say that I do believe some of the stereotypes surrounding “lightskin” are weakness, femininity, vulnerability and narcissism, in which lighter skinned women are viewed as the more “feminine” and “prettier” variant of the black peoples and lighter skinned men are deemed inferior and “soft’“

 

“Lightskin guys are effeminate” – obviously there is misogyny and homophobia in this absolutely ludicrous statement. But it makes you think about how the notion of black hyper-masculinity is centred around darkskin men. See the marketing of hip-hop for a largely white audience – I don’t know much about hip-hop but there seems to be few lightskin male artists. Drake seems to be characterised as “emotional”.

Right, so supposedly I’m ‘soft’, ‘emotional’ or ‘inferior’ because of my complexion and therefore one can only assume that the opposite is true of ‘darker’ males. Indeed the pigeonholing and fetishizing of black masculinity turns a new leaf when we think about how this plays out when complexion is lighter and ideas of being ‘prettier’ or ‘narcissistic’ are ones that can again, be damaging within the community.  I find it difficult to make sense of such a binary dichotomy where the shade of a person’s skin can reflect upon their masculinity…

“I personally wouldn’t even call myself “lightskin”, however, it has been a label assigned to me from school and is kinda a British thing amongst European black folk (in my experience – living in Belgium and Holland”

 

“I find that being called anything but black is more or less an insult, like Carlton in that one Fresh Prince episode where he’s called “not black” because of the way he acts. It’s degrading and worse when it comes from other black people. Then there are those who glorify the negative aspects of this situation. Its nonsensical.”

 

I found a similar thing when I asked the question of what people think of the word ‘lighty’ when attributed to females, that the words are often perpetuated by black communities themselves in a way that can be damaging to ones own perceptions of their identity by alienating people of a light complexion in a way that can separate them from the ‘Black British community’. Whilst there are those who embrace the terms and choose to take on such labels and self-attribute, there are those for whom experience of these labels mean something much more divisive.

“I attended a pan-African event here in London with my cousin in 2013 (it was my very first one) and I noticed that we stood out, well, they made it very clear that we stood out – I could feel nothing but daggers and evils. Shortly after the event finished and everyone was socialising —- but ignoring our presence, we approached this black American woman just for chit chat & she started telling me I should focus on mulatto issues because she doesn’t think I’m “black-black” and basically said her fight isn’t my fight, my cousin was denied an Afro-hair goodie bag because she wasn’t “black enough”

 

“…the idea of light skin privilege/colourism that people sometime perceive us to have Light-skin may be a “privilege”, but getting to grips with your identity as a mixed-race man is incredibly complicated in many cases our black community doesn’t have the language to welcome mixed-race people yet…”

“I think a lot of people also assume that if you’re light skinned and “black” you must therefore be mixed race with one half most likely white British. I do think in my experience people sometimes view you differently because of that, for better or worse. I’ve literally had people at secondary school tell me I’m not properly “black” because I don’t fit their narrow stereotype of what “black” is…”

The idea that there is a proto-typical ‘blackness’ that having lighter, or mixed complexion skin does not fit into appears not to be one too alien to black people within our community, indeed if there’s anything I learnt from my Jamaican takeaway experience (still hungry?) it’s that skin tone can be used as a label for ones identity.

In all, (already? More of a conversation starter I know…) I’d like to leave you with more questions than answers (only child problems). So here’s a couple: What can we learn from some of the experiences written above? Where do we go in terms of our understanding of black-masculinity from here? I’d like to think that at the very least there’s those couple cogs turning in the back of your mind; that you too can be staring into that pond just like Simba… But if not, actually, even if there are – I’ll leave you with the reflections of the people I heard from:

 

“Lightskin guys are not really black” – I grew up in a close extended family with lots of cousins where the only white person was my dad (he’s an only child). Yet when I tell people I identify as a “black, mixed race” person the “black” identity has been questioned. A few shades darker and I doubt it would.”

“I do think that light-skinned black men are seen as less of a “threat” to Eurocentric cultures/institutions and that they benefit from this (although this evidently is a result of racism). Looking at figures like Obama, Lewis Hamilton, Drake, Chukka Umunna etc it seems that society embraces light skinned black men much faster than their darker brothers due to the idea that they are less “other” and because their existence promotes the popular idea that we are now in a post-racial society and that in the end all our children will be “mixed” like them”

“I’ll end with this: problematic stereotypes of lighter skinned people or black folk with (perceived) “non-black” features only causes nothing but confusion, it’s very damaging”

Now go grab your Jamaican takeaway in peace *sips tea*

@TweetsbyBilal

Is the word “Lighty” Problematic?

“Who’s that lighty?”

“You’re such a bait lighty”

“She’s one of those lighties

Lighty. The girl Grime artists had you believing you needed. The girl the UK urban scene both idolises and has its reservations about. Lighty. The girl who’s shade of skin MUST mean there are certain characteristics about her that separate her from all others. But what does this word mean in the UK? Why do some people think this word is a compliment? What is this “Lightskinned behaviour” Twitstagram will have you believing exists? Does it? (Bare questions)

Growing up the word lighty was, and at times still is a word I find myself casually using – a word often thrown out there by guys in desperate (We’ve all seen Kidulthood/ seen teenage and sadly sometimes my aged men) attempt to draw girls. That there are stereotypical things that lighties do. That I’m supposed to never get replies. That they’re somewhat better. That they don’t know how to cook?! All of which, like any stereotype, are simply just not true in all cases. But recently I’ve found myself questioning my own use of the word. That perhaps this word is not as complimentary as people think. I’ve found myself questioning so much so that I thought I’d get the opinion from a few girls who’ve grown up with the word attributed to them on what it even means and it’s their thoughts that I hope will guide our own understanding. Here’s what I heard:

“I’ve never ever referred to myself as a lighty. I find it really cringe to be honest and whenever I’ve been called a lighty it’s just made me squirm a little bit”

“It has always irritated me, but I have always wanted to be darker skinned so I have just never seen it is a compliment. It was only when I started speaking to my grandma about it I realized how weird it was, to just shout ‘oi lighty’ at someone on the road, because you would NEVER say to a darker skinned girl ‘hey darky’”

 

Interesting. So being a Lighty is seen as this compliment – to refer to someone’s shade of skin as lighter is seen as complementary so the inverse must also be true? That to be dark is a negative. Yet however, I am struck by the fact that perhaps this word, is in no way complimentary at all. That to be a lighty, is by definition, a word that comes with all sorts of negative connotations:

“It’s not offensive to me but I don’t like the ‘type of girl’ it suggests. I don’t refer to myself as a lighty… an egotistic, self centered, ostentatious stereotype I think that type of woman definitely exists, but to refer to that type of person by a complexion is unfair. We don’t choose our shade.”

 

“Its paired with colonized ideas of race and I think most people use it as a means of Claiming or giving superiority to lighter skinned “black” people. I just think it should be rid of entirely”

On the one hand we have the idea that to be a lighty is to be full of oneself and perhaps in the UK we have appropriated much of this from colonial ideas of race and the lighter complexions as being ‘better’. (Nonsense by the way, if for some uneducated reason you really do believe that). Yet we throw this word around, we continue to allow stereotypical notions of shadeism to cloud our judgement and therefore we assume that because of a girl’s complexion, she must act a certain way. Now I don’t claim any moral high ground here, I’m just making a statement. I’ll be the first person to put my hand-up and admit to using the word and I’m sure you might be sitting there thinking about the times you’ve heard it out of your own mouth or those around you and maybe, just maybe you’re questioning it that little bit more. (If you weren’t you should be now.)

Yet on the flip-side, we have these ideas of lighter skinned girls exhibiting certain negative behavioural characteristics but still in Britain will persist with the idea that these same lighties are also somewhat more favourable:

“In regards to me not reacting how people want me to (not finding someone funny or attractive when they’re trying to flirt etc.) or in a really reductionist way ” yeah well you’re a lighty you don’t have to worry/ she’s a lighty so all the boys will want her”. 

“He’s only drawing you because you’re mixed race”

 

That having this complexion means you are more favourable to a certain type of man and that in a way it means one doesn’t have to worry. Now arguably these are questions the communities we find ourselves in need to address, arguably it could take years to re-address the imbalance in our understandings of race given how deeply embedded in society these shadiest ideals are since the Transatlantic Slave Trade. But I argue – why? Why must it take that long to simply question what we mean when we use this word?

The idea that a girl acts a certain way as a result of her complexion is to me, simply a bit of a stretch of the imagination. Maybe there’s more of a symbiotic relationship you may argue? Well then, if this is the case in the smallest of circumstances, who is the onus on to change that? The person who perpetuates a label or the one who begins to embody that as a self-fulfilling prophecy? (A Level Sociology deh) To label someone’s behaviour because of their shade, or whatever else is simply to ignore that apart from their skin tone they have a personality, they have feelings, they have thoughts and they too, like you, may have other reasons for their behaviour:

“I’m aware this sounds like I’m being touchy or petty but it’s like, no. don’t just assume things about my character or my experience because of what, the shade of my skin? Come on man!”

 

“I’ve often been told I think I’m too nice because I’m a ‘lighty’ because I’m an introvert, and people misconstrue this aspect of my personality as regarding myself way too highly.”

 

That perhaps there are other reasons for a girl’s behaviour other than her skin complexion doesn’t seem like much of a huge claim from where I’m sitting. Which right now is in a pub drinking Rum and Coke *insert your jealousy here*. Wait I should have said sitting at the time of writing, although there’s probably still a good chance that whenever you are reading this that I’m still somewhere drinking Rum and Coke…(#LifeGoals). Yet, I think that much of the use of this word centres around drawing a connotation between a physical characteristic and a behavioural pattern (as do most stereotypes). But here, perhaps the difference is that we often think of a ‘lighty’ as an acceptable word, as one that is a compliment (at least from those who perpetuate it) and haven’t often enough paused to evaluate what can be meant by its continued usage in urban society. That perhaps our ‘compliments’ are more problematic than we stop to think.

So, I’m supposed to take you on some journey right? That’s how good writing works, that I start with a beginning, have some vague middle and I offer you suggestions as to where we go from here? OK. Well sorry to disappoint you. Plot-twist. I’m not going to do that. I’m going to allow you to come to your own conclusions, or, at the bare minimum encourage you to have a conversation with someone about this. But what I will be nice enough to leave you with are some reflections. Here’s what some of the people I’ve spoken to have said:

“I think it’s one of those phrases that in a few generations time, it will be crazy to think people used to say that to each other – like how colored or something is now. I suppose it’s because generally, in black cultures we’re supposed to aspire to having the lightest possible skin and that’s what makes you attractive. So it’s offensive to me to be called that… Basically, we should have evolved past this by now!”

“Due to my experience, being a ‘lighty’ is a derogatory term, and I do not understand anyone who refers to themselves as one. As I’ve often said in reply to this term, I am not a lightbulb.”

 

“I dislike the word Strongly now, but this only came since I started university and tried hard to change these thinking habits And I think to put it bluntly lightie just means “I’m not the same black as you” which in itself isn’t totally bad”@TweetsbyBilal

“Where are you REALLY from?”

#ImREALLYfromLondon

“Where are you from?”

“Neasden, it’s like North West London – near Wembley?”

“No, where are you REALLY from?”

Annoyance ? Anger? Frustration? Pride? In this split second that I am asked this question for the millionth time since I was first born without white skin, I really don’t know which one of these words best describes how I feel. Was my top class geographical referencing and casual name dropping of a place no-one other than avid football fans really care about not good enough as an answer? Can I not be REALLY from London given that it’s the only place I’ve ever truly known and called home? Does it mean that every time I’ve been asked this question that I’ve had to give thought to my heritage, to the cultures outside of London, those far away from home that supposedly define where I’m quintessentially from? Yes. It does. And I settle on the last of the four feelings, I am proud.

“Oh well my parents are from a lot of places, my mums Jamaican but she’s mixed Oriental and Black and my Dad’s from Kenya but his family originally came from Kashmir, now in Pakistan – you?” (Try writing that on a form instead of London).

This is the answer I’ve come to perfect over the years, from being a kid in primary school where almost everyone claimed to have multiple origins, it became a necessary answer to memorise. And learning fractions definitely helped too, you know, them ones where you’re describing yourself in 8ths, 16ths and will even stretch it to 32ths so you can win the “who’s more mixed than who” competition. There was always the Nigerian kid who would try and convince you that being half Yoruba and half Igbo made them also racially mixed – interesting idea when you think about 15 years later, I mean, what even is at the essence of that big social-construct we call RACE? At the time though, just a great way for fractions to mean anything in the real world, and trust me, I got good at that quick-fire mathematics.

But genuinely, what do people mean when they ask the question? If it’s not the geographical location (I’m convinced it’s so they can stalk your house on Google Earth) people are after, then how can we rephrase to get to the core of what it is we want to know? I’m quite happy to call myself a Londoner, but that’s not quite interesting or adequate enough as an answer. When I am cornered by the follow up question of where I’m really from and I decide to either give my well-rehearsed answer or be a bitch and make them guess (c’mon we’ve all tried it, the game can go on for ages), I’m more often than not greeted with a “WOW that’s so cool”. Cool isit? So now being mixed is cool? Make of that what you will. There are some of you, I hope, getting angry that mixed-raceness is somewhat fetishised. That currently we are ‘trending’, we only have to take a couple of uneducated turns on a wander through social media to see how many misguided young people want cool designer mixed-race babies. There are others of you, I also hope, who share in my pride that yes, IT IS cool. That retaliating with a barrage of ethnicities that make up your heritage is definitely a thing to be proud of and also a great way to introduce yourself, the conversation starter, “meet Bilal, he’s from basically everywhere” (most definitely NOT what I said, but anyway “Hi”).

So clearly it isn’t a question of where I geographically call home, or where I’m ‘actually’ from. Rather it’s something much deeper, more a question about my heritage, of the cultures that make me, well, ‘me’. Then why do we all via some default setting phrase the question as such? Why do we unintentionally alienate people almost right away from their own feeling of being a, or even of being British? I’ll let you figure out your own answer to that one, but perhaps it’s time we think about the intentions behind our questions, about the language we use when framing such questions and the effect that our language can have on individuals own perceptions of their identity. Maybe it’s time to find a new way to phrase the question, because where am I really from? Well, I’m from London mate.

#ImREALLYfromLondon

@TweetsbyBilal