VIEWS FROM THE MANDEM
Opening words from Jenna…
It is no secret that black males in the UK don’t seem to have a good reputation. In recent years black boys have somehow become the poster boys for knife crime, drugs, violence and gang culture in Britain. The reason for this has been very hard to pinpoint but some researchers have suggested things like socioeconomic status, family life, educational background, and the environment that a person is growing up in has a huge part to play.
I was born and raised on one of the most notorious council estates in Brixton until my early teens. My family and I were in the thick of things and for where we began in that type of environment I like to believe my brothers and I have turned out pretty well. Some might say that my family and I were lucky but I strongly believe that we used our environment to own advantage.
So For part 5 in the #ViewsFromTheMandem series Darnell puts his thoughts together on how being a product of ones environment helped him take control of his own destiny, enjoy.
All of us have our own story to tell
Every human carries a story with them, sometimes it’s a dark one, other times its light. I honestly don’t like to make things about race but it’s very important. Black men have been given a bad rep for YEARS. Either we’re too aggressive, anti-social, disconnected, lack ambition and a whole bunch of other played out adjectives.
Many of us were forced to grow up quicker than young kids should and made to face the demons of life before we even formed an understanding of life actually means. Honestly, a lot of black males were made to be child soldiers in their own families having their childhood slip away from them, without even knowing it.
What is it that people in New York say “if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere”. I’m a black man who has grown up in London and I feel that quote on a deeper level. For a lot of us, our environment has played a major role in how we’ve developed as men. Growing up in the best part of London (South) certainly wasn’t the easiest thing but I’m thankful for it and wouldn’t change a thing (actually maybe one or two things).
Exams Weren’t the only test we had to take at School
My time in school was like a big test. I don’t know about everyone but my school was a place that really divided the sheep from the wolves. I had real-life murderers and gang members in my school, to the point where I’m looking at drill videos or the news and saying “oh yeah I remember him”. A lot of times you would walk around school and say “let me not look at him”, “don’t bump into him”, “don’t step on his shoes” and the funniest “if he asks for a chicken wing give it to him”
How many people of other demographics can say this?
Reputation at school was everything and the best way for boys to gain a name for themselves was always at the expense of someone else. Either through bullying or cussing. Stuff like this has long-standing effects which only leave you with two choices, be a bully yourself which is easiest options or unfortunately become the victim.
I can’t even lie I was on the receiving end of bullying and as a result of masculinity, many times I almost acted out of character and allowed others to dictate how I should respond to things that I actually didn’t care about. However for some, it didn’t go down like that, they become the bully and end up being bad forever, which only just feds those stereotypes and shitty narratives of black men even more.
People in my school heavily pushed a narrative that the black boys shouldn’t be smart or well-behaved. I don’t know why or how but this is just how it happened. All of the popular guys were the ones who were bullies and they misbehaved. Some people had no other choice to conform to the status quo in school. There was no one going against what appeared to be the norm, so as a young black boy it was easy to go with the crowd. I’m am not sure if other environments weren’t like that, but where I was from this is how it went down.
What Ends You From?
This seems to be a normal question for most people growing up in London? But everyone that grew up in certain areas like me knows what this means or “what phone do you have?” and “let me chat to you real quick”.
I’ve been asked this more times than I can count and each time I’ve had to think carefully before I answer as it could’ve been the last time I answered a question again. Having the answer to a simple question be life or death isn’t the lifestyle anyone should have to live. PTSD is real people, it’s not only ex-military that go through this, I can’t walk the street in certain places and tell the truth about where I’m from, when I’m out and about if I get asked where am I from, naturally I get defensive and think “ahh here we go again”. A black man’s life shouldn’t be this way but in some strange way we have been, we’ve been conditioned by our environment. and the people in it.
For me this is crazy but growing up I knew there were certain areas, a lot of these areas were down the road for me. What’s funnier is the place I grew up a lot of people’s parents have told them not to go, yet I had to be there every day. It seems crazy that we can’t even go into certain areas because it is being policed by people who don’t even own any land or properties there.
This may sound stupid but when I would visit friends in different areas and I see kids riding their bikes I see that as such a privilege because where I was from if someone saw you riding a bike they could ask you “ah let me ride it down there then I’ll come back” a lot times some people never saw their bike again.
Question – How you are as a person has that been impacted more by your parents or where you’ve lived growing up?
You Can Control Your Destiny
From a very young age I developed an individualist mentality meaning I wasn’t someone who did things that others did nor did I do things simply because people around me were doing it. I’ve always tried to live by this ideology “it’s easy to follow a crowd but harder to stand alone”. For me, it would’ve been easy to start bullying and fall into bad social habits but my parents drilled into me that the infamous “they” want me to be that typical black man, they want me to not reach my potential and fail in life.
I’m not someone that finds fun in ridicule, abuse or violence… knowledge is what drives me and the endless benefits that knowing things can bring. Growing up in places like where a lot of us have lived positive role models are essential because without them you can start absorbing guidance from the wrong sources and making that your life. A key for me was absorbing information from black males who all grew up in rough environments but rose above it and made themselves great like Jay-Z, Barrack Obama, P. Diddy, LeBron James, Stormzy and Nipsey Hussle (RIP).
No matter how others can choose to look at us as black men, we know how great we are and what we’re capable of. We know they’re mad because we’re not in jail, fighting the stereotypes and not going down without a fight. If they thought we would quit then they got us all wrong, they clearly don’t know we have in our blood!
The number one thing that motivates me to stay on the right path was to prove people wrong about black men and be everything they think we can’t be!
by Darnell aka DC Speaks
A Young King, Undergrad and blogger who has a way with words and uses his platform to give his insight into a wide range of topics relevant to Millennials. To Read more of his work visit Darnellchika.com
Please note this post is part of the ‘Views From The Mandem series’ to catch up with the series click the links below