By Tomiwa Folorunso
Artwork by Trin Wideman
I am Tomiwa, 21, Scottish by birth, my parents are Nigerian and I’m black. I like brunch and I’m partial to a good gin and tonic. I consider myself a feminist, a socialist and pretty liberal. Have I proved myself as a classic millennial?
I’ll just make one more admission: I have always felt intimidated by black men. Let me attempt to explain where my prejudice comes from, I have lived in Edinburgh my entire life and if you’ve never been to Edinburgh then let me tell you, the black population is non-existent.
I am a strong believer that yes, our biological make up plays a huge part in who we are but so do our experiences, our society and what we are exposed to as we grow up. Nobody is born racist. It is learned behaviour.
The only black men in my life growing up were my dad and two of his close friends, that was it. I am not using that as an excuse but I do feel this was a contributing factor. Apart from them the only other black men I remember seeing were in a newspaper because they were in a “gang”, or in music videos making derogatory statements about women. Stereotypical stereotypes I know; until I came to university the image I had of a black man was the one which the media gave me: 6ft tall, wearing a hoodie, rapping about hoes and probably violent. And then I came to university and none of the black men I met were even close to the stereotype I had in my mind, so I kind of buried my prejudices.
Then, two things happened in the same week.
The first, Moonlight won an Oscar. I had seen the film a couple of weeks before and the story had been haunting me since. Moonlight is a beautiful film about a gay African American boy called Chiron growing up in an impoverished Miami neighbourhood. I had tears streaming down my face for 91 minutes and the face of Chiron, who reminded me so much of my fifteen year old brother, haunted me for weeks. So to see the film receive the credit it deserved, made my heart burst.
The second thing, Stormzy released his debut album Gang Signs & Prayer that went to number one in the first week. Grime is not a genre I listen to, but now and again I like to give into the hype, and this hype was well deserved. Stormzy said this album was for his “young black kings” because he owed them something, and he did.
Moonlight and Gang Signs & Prayer differ on many levels, however, they agree on one. Young black men are always last, and young black gay men may as well not exist. I could insert some statistics here but just look around you. They are not there. Open a newspaper or turn on your TV and you won’t see them. They have disappeared.
They have disappeared because we have let them disappear, we have forgotten about them. We have allowed the racism I’ve described to seep into our minds and stop us from seeing past the colour of their skin and as a result we have pushed them to the fringes of our society. A black man born in Britain is constantly bombarded with images of what he will be and what he cannot be and for him to stand tall in his blackness and refuse to conform to that stereotype is virtually impossible.
It takes a long time to unlearn behaviour that we can’t even remember learning. It took listening to Stormzy and watching Moonlight to challenge my prejudice. I was forced to remember that in the hierarchy of those who face discrimination, black men are at the very bottom and one of the worst things I can do is cross the road because I am scared of them.
Their stories, their journeys and their struggles are more important now than ever. They need to be seen and they need to be acknowledged, otherwise a generation will be lost.