“Racism can affect the pathway, but it does not necessarily affect the outcome”

Talking about racism is always a sensitive issue and I am not here to review, comment on or pick apart theories. I simply want to explore whether racism is really such a big factor or the biggest factor as to why many black people don’t succeed. And also whether it is an automatic barrier to success that is inescapable and unavoidable in a black person’s life.

I have been asked on many occasions, if I think racism is the main element that stops a black person from being successful? My reply is always No. Reread the question again, whether it is the main element, the main factor. No it is not the main factor. It can be a factor, but to say it is the main factor is misleading. As the quote at the start of the blog says, it definitely affects the pathway to success.

 I cannot overlook that the current successful black entrepreneurs, musicians, artists, producers etc did not face some sort of discrimination or racism during their journey to success. However, their outcome speaks for itself in that they are highly accomplished today and their success occurred in spite of the racism they may have encountered. If we keep preaching that racism affects the outcome then we are not doing the younger generation any favours as they grow up to believe that no matter what they do, the racism they may encounter is enough to stop them achieving their dreams and goals. This type of thinking impedes them from even trying.

That is why I hate, and I know hate is a strong word, however I hate successful black millionaires who tell young black people that life is so painfully hard because of the colour of their skin. However, they were able to make it. So why not speak about the attitudes and traits they developed, cultivated and possessed during their journey so they can inspire others to do the same. Why tell them only about the odds that are stacked up against them and not the victories that they can obtain.

It makes me imagine two friends on a horrible and deserted island. Imagine that one of them somehow manages to break away from the island, enduring bitter storms, bracing harsh conditions, fighting off adversity and yet after all this, they find the most glorious and exotic island filled with colours, wonder, bountiful fruit, clean air and all sorts of paradisal features. Now if this friend only communicates the struggle, amplifying it, exaggerating it and saying that it is just too difficult to find and get to this island because of all the unbearable difficulties that he had to endure, and that it was almost luck that made him successful in his feat,  is he being fair? Of course not. Yes he should, as a good friend, be honest about the struggle but he shouldn’t do so in a way that would put his friend off from even attempting the journey. Rather explain it in a realistic but encouraging way so that the friend can have the motivation and belief that he can also be in the same position. Would he rather that his friend dies on the island? Of course not. And this is what I am seeing from many influential, rich black celebrities. They are leaving many young people to die on the island, figuratively speaking, with the harmful narratives that they send out to these communities.

I read an article by Idris Elba stating that success did not negate his experience of racism. He also mentioned that he had to “beat the system” in order to be successful. Why is this phrase used? Beating the system? It makes it sound like some unmanageable and terrifying monster that is there to repel a black person’s every move. Then young black boys feel powerless and see the system as some huge giant that they “need to beat.” Yes there are giants indeed that try to block our success, however, everyone has their own personal giants. Inner giants and external giants. They come to put us down and discourage us. It is not unique to one race. And in order to succeed, every individual must be ready to confront and face all their giants.

Whenever I make these types of statements, the first question I usually get asked is whether I have experienced racism myself. And my answer is always the same.

Yes. I have.

However has it stopped me or did it stop me experiencing success or happiness in my life? Absolutely not.

Racism experienced by black people doesn’t automatically deter success. If it does then no black person should succeed, but we know that this is untrue because there are successful black entrepreneurs, black officials, black workers in high positions in all areas of society.

Also there is a common idea that automatically assumes that every single black person must always experience racism. Something is not automatic just because it has happened on many occasions before. I mean take the sensitive issue of rape. It is still a prevalent issue today and still largely committed by men against women. So on that premise should we assume that every female will be raped at some point in their life or be abused by a man somehow. Of course not!

Why do we assume that every single black person is or will be overburdened with racism?

If this narrative is constantly pushed, then black people live life subconsciously and actively expecting when the next racist thing will happen to them. The problem with this is that any negative incident they face, they will automatically class it as racism because they are so convinced that the world hates their skin colour. Therefore they equate personal adversity as an attack of their skin colour. This is not a healthy way to live life because one must realise that adversity comes to all, and all must face their own adversities regardless of their skin colour. However if black people only think with their skin colour then they are ill equipped to face the inevitable challenges of life.

The reason I have personally grown as an individual is because until today, I do not equate all my adversities as racism. I realise that I am more than my skin colour. I have a mind, I have a brain, I have skills, I have talents and qualifications that I have discovered, developed and worked on throughout my years on this planet. Therefore when I face a certain problem, for example, if I go for a job interview and I fail, I have never reduced the reason for the failure to be due to the fact that the interviewer or the company was racist. If I do this, then I am short-changing myself because I am the one limiting the opportunity for personal growth and learning. If it is only because of racism, then what else is there to learn? Racism is not my fault but the fault of the other so there is no room for self analysis or self evaluation, there is only room for external blame and critique. For example, with the case of the job interview and presuming that the company was racist, that means that the fault was with the company, therefore I do not need to look within and assess if there was something I could have done better, or prepared better for. And because I do not look within, there is no motivation or necessity to improve.

This is not to discard or ignore the fact that racism exists. But to group every dismissal, rejection or negative event as racism is completely missing the point.

How can a person such as Booker T Washington, a teacher, an exceptional thinker, an educator and an author thrive in an era where racism and indeed anti-blackness was rampant and legal? A man born in slavery, the full personification of racism indeed and yet he was able to go against all odds and flourish. I remember reading one of his accounts, when he explained that there was a time he was given the responsibility of teaching a group of young Native Americans. He became their “house father” and was charged to educate them academically and also socially. This in itself, is remarkable because though he was born a slave, he worked so hard to the point that he was teaching others, especially those who thought themselves above him. At that time, he mentioned that the Native Americans saw themselves higher than the white man, meaning that they saw themselves far higher than the black man especially as they saw the black man being subject to slavery by the white man. 

However, this perception did not deter him and as a man with character who took his vocation seriously, he was committed to the task. He wrote that there were times when he traveled around with a Native American and when he would enter certain hotels or food establishments, they would reject him and refuse to serve him but they would accept to serve the Native American, even though he was the one that was educating and responsible for them. Despite this humiliation and many other blatant racist experiences like this, he did not waver in his tasks nor did he harbour hate in his heart which subsequently led to him being a successful and well respected member of society in his time.

So what is the real issue with the current generation of black people? Is it really racism? I think not. Because as black people, we have advanced and progressed dramatically over the past decades and there are exceedingly more opportunities available to us in the UK and US. Even antagonistic behaviour towards us has greatly reduced and it is by no means accepted or celebrated by the general masses. In fact, any one found being racist to a black person can lose everything they worked for. So, black people do have some power, in a sense. We are listened to and we are defended. Whether we think it or not.

However, we seem to be further behind in so many other ways. There is more violence within our communities, more unstable homes, less employment, more unappreciation of education and more enmity between black people and law enforcement. So the main issue cannot be racism, because black people in previous generations navigated through life in a more hostile and more overtly racist environments. Yet they excelled better than the black people of today – academically, professionally and socially. Also they had a better mindset as a whole. A mindset of self accountability and personal responsibility.

I always wondered why this is the case. And the answer is obvious. Black people in previous generations had no one to rely on but themselves. In addition, during slavery they hadn’t enjoyed many basic necessities for centuries. Things such as education and having a career. So of course, they were eager to utilise these things and more than that, thrive. However now, it seems that it is easier for black people to rely on governmental aid and systemic policies than rely on their own selves. This is why they constantly complain about systemic injustice because they are so convinced that the system is the only way that they can succeed and be happy in life. They are fully dependent on the ‘system’, they are married to the system and are unable to separate themselves from it. They believe the system owes them something because of the brutalities they faced during slavery, colonialism and so on. This is why the majority choose to live in inaction, in other words, they refuse to act until the system does. In fact, for some, any positive action on their part in terms of getting a job or an education is somehow seen to be helping or contributing to the “racist” system.

This is why on many occasions a successful black person who does something out of line according to the black community is accused of being used by the system to further suppress black people. They think the system is against them so they outright choose to do nothing until whatever they think needs to change, changes. It is contradictory and only harms themselves, it doesn’t harm the system. I always liken it to drinking poison and expecting another to die.

Many call it the “white system” and are angry at it, not realising that it is not a white system, it is a human system. Humans always seek control, there is a constant, permanent and eternal struggle for power. The struggle is present in the UK, in America and in countries were the majority of the population is also black. So it is not the “white system” and many are wasting their time focusing on it. In fact, they are wasting their entire lives.

Why is this detail important? It is important because many black people wake up every morning thinking that their barriers in life are designed and brought about by white people or more commonly “the white man”. I speak candidly because thought patterns need to be interrupted. They think their enemy is a white man, not knowing that problems are presented to us by life itself and not the white man. White people are not immune to life’s problems and believe it or not many black people think that they are. They think the life of a white person is problem free, hassle free and discrimination free. Yes our problems may be different, but life can be cruel to all, no system in the world can exempt you from life’s complications. No system at all. Yes there are certainly gaps and there will always be gaps that we must always address but it is not helpful for black people to wholly attribute their individual failure to a vendetta that white people have against them.