We Are Black and British aired Feb 23, 2022 on BBC Two and it’s now available on iPlayer.
When I was approached to be part of a BBC program where I would live in a house with five strangers for ten days my first response was to roll my eyes that they were making a reality TV spin-off: “Black Brother.” For those hoping to see us in the diary room, I am sorry to disappoint. The show is a series of discussions based on our personal experiences to get us into the issues facing Black people in Britain. The program was funded by the Open University and guided by expertise from Dr. Naomi Watson, Dr. Anthony Gunter and Dr. Ayobami Ilori. Even so, I remained extremely skeptical.
There are too many examples of the media taking Black people as a joke, nothing more than a spectacle to ridicule and titillate. We had no idea who we would be sharing the house with until we turned up but I was certain there would be at least one Black right-winger cooning up the stage. Ten days of filming is a lot of footage so I was afraid that what I said would be stripped of context and I would be painted as the out-of-control, dangerous extremist. When in doubt I turned to my dad who told me “it’s important that you are there because someone has to represent the radical alternative.” From the edit that I have seen, the program stays true to that mission, allowing the space for an unapologetically Black radical perspective.
I know it is difficult to imagine spending so much time with Dominique Samuels, Britain’s Tesco Value version of Candace “the Blackface of White racism” Owens. But to be entirely honest, when we weren’t arguing we actually got on. I had always imagined that people who spew such anti-Black sewage must be doing it for show, a performance no different than blacking up to do a coon show. But Dominique genuinely and strongly believes what she says; it is an authentic ignorance that is a marvel to watch close up. I still can’t decide if that makes the racist views she spent the ten days touting for the cameras better or worse. Dominique’s heart is in the right place but there is a reason my next book is called the Psychosis of Whiteness. Hopefully, what comes out from watching, is that her views are extreme and the only legitimate place for them is White supremacist media (and government cabinet meetings). So don’t let Dominique put you off the show, take a deep breath and remember that Stokely taught us “every Negro is a potential Black” person.
When I saw Lin Mei walk into the house I was braced for a long ten days because we had fallen out before online. But once we started really talking it was clear that Lin’s conservativism is one that has a long history in Black political activism. Lin wants us to stop complaining about racism and work on building ourselves up. Self-help in the classic Booker T Washington tradition. This kind of thinking often spills over into denying racism exists and comforting racist politicians for their inaction, but Lin and Dominique are not in the same boat. As will be obvious from the show we disagree a lot but those are conversations that we have to have if we are going to bring the community to radicalism.
The main reason to watch is to hear the stories and perspectives of the housemates. I don’t want to give away too many spoilers but we all made a short video based on our personal lives which led into the various debates. Mista Strange is a star, the “ghetto intellectual” who shared his experiences of coming out as a Grime artist. Michelle lit up the whole house and brought the realities home when she talked about her son’s experience of stop and search by the police. Dr Raph was infectious with his energy and got us talking about dating in multicultural Britain. Lin Mei got everyone emotional sharing her experiences and challenges of growing up mixed heritage. And while it was explosive, Dominique’s intro to racism and education certainly set the tone. Along the way, we visited people and groups doing great work in the community that you will see on the show. My debate was on the topic of Black independence, the need for our own spaces and institutions. All Black everything, even on BBC in prime time.
I’ve already heard some noise (not for the first time) that I shouldn’t come down from my perch as a university professor and engage in debates with the rabble. The moment we fall into that kind of thinking we have lost all hope. I don’t hold much sway in the status of my position being constantly reminded by my experiences at work of Malcolm’s joke, “do you know what they call a Black man with a Ph.D.? A nigger.” I certainly bring a particular perspective and a set of skills to any conversation about racism but it is by no means the only valid one. I learned something from everyone’s experiences and perspectives, our intellectuals must be an integral part of our community not floating around outside it. My aim was to put the Black radical perspective into the mainstream, you can judge how I did by tuning in.
If you want more detail on Black radical ways of understanding the world check out The New Age Of Empire and Back to Black: Retelling Black Radicalism for the 21st Century (which comes out in Audiobook on Feb 24 and gets a cameo in the show).