Hey. My name is Jamal Langley and I’m 22 years old. I aspire to be a public academic, which is an academic that creates knowledge that is of practical use in order to mobilise the public democratically. I think that the idea of public academia will become increasingly important in the years to come due to Trump’s presidential victory and Brexit. I see these events as resulting from the failure of the elitist experts that guide our politicians to create fair societies that work for everyone.
Next year I hope to continue my education at the University of Leeds with my PhD research on ‘Black British and Mixed Race identity: The Intersectionality between Race, Class and Political affiliation’. I wish to explore this area by trying to understand why we have simultaneously seen a rise in the activity of black liberationist groups in the UK, and the largest number of Black Minority Ethnic (BME) people voting for the Conservative party in the 2015 election. I have been unable to attract funding for my project, however I hope with your help I can crowd fund my tuition fees. I believe that my research is of real value to the black and left wing community. By gaining a better understanding of black & mixed race identity in contemporary Britain, this research hopes to foster better community mobilisation against racism. Projects such as mine are where we should invest our support if we wish to create material changes and narratives that support the world we envisage.
Please check out my crowd funding page for full details: https://www.indiegogo.com/project/preview/1231f8ca#/
What was your experience of school like as a mixed race boy?
In primary school, I remember thinking I was different from the majority of the students that were white. I didn’t like this difference until we got Sky TV and I started to watch MTV Base and Channel U which depicted black culture as cool. I had Ludacris’ album “Chicken and Beer” and Dizzee Rascal’s “Boy in the Corner”. I would listen to them when I got home from school. In year 4 I wrote a short story about an alien that abducted small children to eat. My teacher thought it was a really good story and praised me for it at parents evening, however when my dad read it he took away all my rap albums. He believed that they were indoctrinating me with violent ideas. I will say myself that towards the end of primary school and at the beginning of secondary school, I do believe that the culture glorified in rap music did affect my behaviour in a mischievous way.
In secondary school it was not cool to be smart, however my parents were insistent on me doing well in education. My dad had a vast book collection, bought the Guardian newspaper and would constantly listen to debates on talk radio. He also made me attend after-school clubs like Judo and athletics, where the other kids were super middle class. Looking back at it now through a sociological lens, my dad was instilling me with a middle class cultural capital. In my Ofsted special measure secondary school, this middle class cultural capital was seen by my peers as ‘whiteness’. The school was very multi-cultural. Intelligence and good behaviour were viewed as ‘white’, super intelligence and passiveness as ‘Asian’, and bad behaviour as ‘black’. These stereotypes seemed to be the norm and even funny. However, when I got to university all black and mixed race people talked in a way that my previous school peers would have considered ‘white’. At university the ‘funniness’ of the racial implications fell away. I remember being at a party where a white guy was making racist jokes and when I pulled him up on it he replied that they were ‘just words’. In secondary school they had seemed like ‘just words’ when we had grown up around each other in multi-cultural class rooms, but this was a middle class white guy, and the people he was stereotyping never made it to the university party.
How has your relationship with your parents and family influenced your racial identity?
My Mum is white British and my Dad was born in Britain, but my grandparents emigrated here from Jamaica. My parents have been split up since I was conceived, yet I have spent a lot of time with both of them. Both of my parents went on to meet new partners, who they had children with.
In a way I would say not only am I mixed race but I am also mixed class. My mum has always been working class, living in council accommodation and working in low skilled jobs when she could. My father on the other hand lives in a large house with a mortgage paid for by his partner who is a successful businesswoman. Her support has allowed my dad to go to university, work odd jobs and move onto his latest and most successful venture of selling vinyl.
Intersecting class with race is interesting because what happens is stereotypical racial traits get displaced and blurred. To give you an example; when I was younger my mum always wanted me to fit in at school by buying me sport brand clothes and trainers. My father on the other hand didn’t like brands such a Nike because of sweatshop labour. Crude stereotypes, such as obsession with sports brands in working class black people, and the liberal political consciousness of the middle class white were inverted in my family. I think the main thing this has done with regards to my racial identity is to make me more politically conscious of race, whilst remaining culturally and socially ambivalent. I just try to pick and choose what aspects of cultures I enjoy, whilst trying to remain respectful to the cultures I borrow from.
Who were your idols growing up and why?
I really looked up to Sol Campbell, the arsenal and England, when I was younger because I wanted to be a football player despite having no talent for football. I think I wanted to be a football player because of its association with hyper-masculinity, money and WAGs. My other idols at the time were rappers like 50 Cent and Ludacris that glorified materialism and women as sexual objects. However, I soon realised that the things they were talking about were very divorced from my reality and morality.
I discovered ideas of equality when I started to study sociology and started to idolise Marxist and feminist thinkers. It wasn’t until I got to university that I realised that although I had black idols in the political world like the radical Malcom X, I didn’t really know any black academics because of the whiteness of my curriculum. Now my idols are radical black academics like Frantz Fanon and Kimberle Crenshaw. More importantly my interest in black music and vernacular culture has been reawakened because I don’t think the black academics speak to the people they should be speaking to. Rather than addressing the general public they seem to just address other academics. That is why I respect MCs like Akala (Fire in the Booth) and sometimes Mr Traumatik (Survival of the Smartest) and poets like Linton Kwesi Johnson (Di Black Petty Booshwah) who try to raise the consciousness of the general public. That is why, in my research, I want my participants to express what it means for them to be black British or however they identify through art. Nikki, the way you write about your experience on your blog is really brave. It’s so personal and your writing style makes it easy for people to understand and raise their consciousness.
Do you feel you have been affected by any racial stereotypes?
Yeah. One of the main reasons I wish to do my research is because of an incident that happened about a year ago. I’m used to mono-racial people telling me I’m so ‘white’ or ‘black’ based on traits of mine that can attributed to racial stereotypes. If I want to discuss politics or philosophy then I’m ‘white’, if I want to eat chicken, ‘I’m black’. However, I have also been put into this white/ black binary by another mixed raced person which made me want to explore what it means to be black and British. I start my research rationale:
‘At a social gathering just prior to Jeremy Corbyn’s first overwhelming mandate to lead the Labour Party, I was chatting to my friend about what Corbyn’s victory could mean for a resurrection of left wing politics in the United Kingdom. Before I could reach my conclusion, I was interrupted by a girl of the same mixed British/ Caribbean heritage as me. “Oh you’re a bounty; black on the outside, white on the inside” she interjected. Perhaps she felt that it was not the place of black people to talk about politics, or maybe like myself and many black radicals she was disillusioned with the parliamentary system. I fear it was the former. I thought short and briefly about my response. ‘Fuck you!’ I drunkenly replied. At first I felt angry at her for policing my identity, but this soon disappeared into sympathy. Her analysis of me was a reflection of how larger social structures place whiteness and blackness in a binary. ‘Fuck you’ was my rejection to society’s idea that places blackness outside of the intellectual life of politics and inside the stereotype of “tom-toms, cannibalism, intellectual deficiency, fetishism, racial defects, slave ships” (Fanon, 1952). I want to provide a more academic answer to society’s white/black binary than ‘fuck you’.
Have you ever wished that you were mono-racial?
When I first went to primary school I wanted to be white like the other kids, so when I went to the barbers I wanted my hair to be short and gelled straight. However, as I mention before, when I started watching MTV base and Channel U, I started to feel like black identity was cooler and came to appreciate the black in me. Now I just think that you are who you are and there are some things you can’t change. You can however change the society around you and how you are perceived. All notions surrounding race after all are socially constructed.
How do you feel about the common assertion that we are all mixed race?
I feel like this is a useful assertion to present to nationalists/ racists who call for walls and barriers to keep their nations ‘pure’. Two weeks ago BBC question time visited Boston, Lincolnshire; the town that recorded the highest Brexit vote. Bonnie Greer, the African American/ British playwright, reminded the audience that there is a place in America called Boston because ‘humans are a migratory species’. Thus we must always dismiss the idea of racial purity and the intolerance that comes with this notion.
However, it is also important to recognise the difference between genetic purity (which is a fallacy) and being mono-racial or mixed race, which are social constructions that have real implications for people. Mixed race people are affected by different oppressions to mono-racial people, as outlined in Catherine Street and Dinah Morley’s report ‘Mixed Experiences – growing up mixed race: mental health and wellbeing’. Thus mixed race oppression must be dealt with as a separate subject.
Has race impacted your career at all in terms of choices and experiences?
Yeah it has. When I first started university I wanted to be a social researcher and work within established think tanks. I believed that through these think tanks I could influence policy to create a more socially just world. However, I’ve lost faith in the elitism of expertise and think that genuine social change can only come democratically through a well-informed public. That’s is why I want to be a public academic, creating knowledge that people can use to mobilise themselves. I think this change in my career path is heavily motivated by my race and class, because of my disillusionment in the fact that the institutions of politics, justice and education don’t exist in the interest of people like myself.
Have you ever come across any racial fetishization as a mixed race man?
All of the time. Every time I go clubbing someone wants to pat and stroke my afro hair. Women approach me to inquire about my ‘big black cock’ and to tell me about their insatiable appetite for ‘black willy’. I have been given this hyper-masculine label so many times I get fears that I can’t embody my stereotype. In fact, I even wrote a poem about this experience:
‘I like to look at girls on tinder and tell my mates I would
I’m a black man with the sexual appetite of tiger wood
I should be animalistic like a tiger would
But sometimes in the bedroom I can’t get wood’
I call that one ‘Would, he’s Woodpecker’.
Does race have any impact on your choices when it comes to dating?
No, not really. I think it’s one of those ‘beggars can’t be choosers’ cases. Nah, just fooling! I’m really up for dating anyone who is interesting, regardless of race. I think attraction occurs naturally with the people you see in your social circles. Growing up in a multicultural community means I’m used to being around people of all races. I think social class and religion would have a bigger impact on who I choose to date because it’s important that you can connect through shared experience and expectations for the future. Like in the past, my ex-partner always wanted to go to expensive restaurants like Nando’s and Pizza Express. I just wanted to go to Chicken Cottage. Now that I’m a vegetarian I would hope the person I date would also be a vegetarian, who has fortnightly moments of weakness and orders the ‘Noah’s Ark’ pizza, topped with two of every animal.
How do you feel mono-racial people can benefit from learning about the lives of mixed race people?
Well I think we can all learn from each other, if only we would listen. I think learning about micro-aggressions from each other is important. A small action, like someone reaching out and touching my hair, can be intended as a friendly gesture. To me though it’s a constant annoyance, especially if it is happening for the tenth time. In understanding about micro-aggressions everyone can live together in a more peaceful world. I myself could do more to understand the experiences of people that live around me, but I rarely meet people living with disabilities and non-gender binary people.
Recently I went to see the film ‘I, Daniel Blake’ at an upmarket cinema in Brighton. The film depicts the effects of Tory austerity on the British working class. At the end of the film I saw people who had been crying during the film and heard people discussing how powerful and sad it was. Although it was great that the film had brought to the forefront the horrors of Tory austerity, these horrors have actually been all around us for the last 6 years. It is sad that it took this film to show Brighton’s middle class the impact of austerity, when this could have been achieved by listening their less wealthy neighbours. I think hearing other people’s experiences is so important in order for us to understand each other. My research will try to encapsulate this idea by asking people to creatively express their identity and experiences in ways that make sense to them.
What would you like the future to look like for people of mixed race heritage?
My dream vision for the future of mixed race people is probably UKIP’s worst nightmare. The future for our world is mixed race, unless we take an awful, regressive slide back into fascism and barbarism.