‘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.

‘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