The driving rain of racism was inescapable on July 10th 2017, from unseasoned Anne Marie Morris’ “the real nigger in the woodpile” comment (that slithered of her tongue too expertly to be any kind of mistake) to top dry head Emmanuel Macron declaring Africa’s problems are “civilisational” as if France didn’t played a direct role in the destabilisation of the continent and her hands aren’t awash with the blood of those they violently colonised. These are both explicit examples of racism and someone more well versed in politics can unpick the wider socio-political implications of these politicians’ comments; I’m here to talk about Stormzy.
I have an unmatched affinity for Stormzy. The grime MC capitalised on the efforts of his musical forefathers, establishing the genre as a quintessential British sound and he has done so without leaving black women by the waste side. His Jenny Francis feature and his scathing rebuke of racist nightclub DSTRKT were love letters to black British women. Gang Signs & Prayer is seamless blend of the passion and forcefulness of grime combined with a musicality that’s rare in that pocket. Do you get it? I’m a fan.
The Irish Herald printed a big picture of Stormzy beside a story about football’s Romelu Lukaku. Twitter users immediately spotted the error, many irritated anyone, let alone a newspaper with proof readers and copy editors could mistake the two men. Black people and their allies shouted “RACISM!” White people and white supremacy apologists shouted “YOUR CLAIMS OF RACISM ARE RACIST!” Others uncomfortable with the direction of the discourse crafted jokes out of the furore. Then Stormzy let it know “I don’t find none of this funny.”
He’s right, it’s not funny. First of all, as Jason points out on Twitter , it must be tiring to deal with a majority white fan-base, who regularly fail to understand the problem with the racism Stormzy has dealt with since his career thrust him into the public spotlight. Secondly, while not an explicitly racist act, mistaking one black person for another is rooted in racism and has dangerous consequences. In the aftermath of retired tennis star James Blake being tackled and arrested by a white New York police officer in a case of mistaken identity, The New York Times reported on scientific research that claims “”the other-race effect”, a cognitive phenomenon that makes it difficult for people of one race to readily recognise or identify individuals of another” is to blame. The article goes on to explain “minorities tend to be better at cross-race identification than whites [...] in part because they have more extensive and meaningful exposure to whites than the other way around.”
The overrepresentation of white people across the media means that black and brown people are more likely to be better at distinguishing between similar looking white people and this as of a direct result of the historical discrimination of black and brown voices in television, films and books. The insidious nature of this form of racism makes it challenging for white people to identify and often will illicit defensiveness from those who make such mistakes. “Black people mix up white people too” is a common rebuff- the difference is when black people do it, rarely are white lives in danger. The monolithic representation of black men in the media as criminals creates a hysterical fear among white people when witnessing black men in even the most benign of situations and is in part responsible for Stormzy’s house being raided in February this year by police because of reports he was a burglar.
I’ve been told I look like Lauryn Hill, Whoopi Goldberg, Queen Latifah and in Manchester last year a man shouted “MACY GRAY!” at me before casually sauntering away. The individuality of Stormzy’s black identity is not concerned with the validation of whiteness but should white news reporters choose to report on and interview black stars, it is their responsibility to not lean upon a lazy, historical, dangerous inability to differentiate between two black men.
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