we have an important moment right now to advance dialogue and action surrounding racial equity around the world that starts within each of us as individuals and it starts at places like google google’s values are based on three respects first we respect all of our users because a problem is never solved if it’s only solved for some second we respect the opportunity working at google comes with the responsibility to do the right thing and to accomplish things that matter and third we respect each other we co-create a culture where everyone belongs these values are the foundation for our concrete commitments to racial equity building sustainable equity within google building products that for example help black users investing in economic opportunities for black business owners and entrepreneurs closing gaps in stem education supporting racial justice organizations and more this series is a forum to empower all of us to do even more we’ll explore topics and issues surrounding racial equity in its many forms with some of the world’s leading voices in the space our goal is to amplify those voices and come together as a global community to make real change thank you for joining us as we search for racial equity my name is kamal bob i am the global lead for diversity strategy and research at google thank you for joining us for this episode of the search for racial equity today i have the privilege of speaking with akala he is the uk-based award-winning hip-hop artist he’s the author of natives race and class in the ruins of empire he’s a historian he’s a scholar of the people he’s a truth-teller and from what i can see he’s a freestyle wizard akala it’s a pleasure to have you with us thank you sir pleasure pleasure to be here pleasure to meet you thank you thank you so much so first uh if we would just by virtue of introduction uh we are on opposite sides of the atlantic i understand that you’re in the uk tell us a little bit about who you are how you ended up being there and yeah something about yourself absolutely so my dad’s family is from jamaica um he moved here or rather my grandparents moved to the uk as part of what is now called the windrush generation so basically uh the end of the war in a way actually we won’t go straight into the britain america comparison but there is one even here if you imagine that you know britain did its racial slavery outside of britain so primarily in the caribbean um and similar to the movement of black americans from the south to the industrial north you have a movement in britain of migrant labor from the former slave states of the caribbean to the industrial metropolis of london birmingham manchester united um at the end of world war ii so my grandparents were part of that migration um my dad was born here my mother’s family are highland scots on one side and english on the other side which brings its own religious and ethnic historical complications so my maternal ancestors they’re they are the indigenous people of britain if you like their first language is not english they speak gaelic um but yeah i grew up in london primarily with my dad’s side of the family even though i was raised by my mum because in the 1980s at that time um lots of white families even underclass white families which is which is what my mom’s family is a poor white family we’re not very happy to say to say the least for their daughters in particular to fall in love with with black men um and so my mum pretty much didn’t really have any contact with her family from uh when she got with my dad uh very little and ironically was adopted basically by my jamaican grandmother and my jamaican guyanese godfather’s family so i grew up ironically in a very solidly caribbean militantly pro-education sort of a mix rodney um even the very working class uncle’s in prison not so well off uh that was a bricklayer so on and so forth lots of the cliches of of being in the hood even though i wasn’t physically in the hood the way public housing works in the uk you can sort of hit the lottery and get a decent house that you can’t really afford to be in you can’t always heat and keep the electric one um but it’s not it’s not in the projects right so i was one of those in the projects even though so economically um we were in that class

so that’s sort of a little bit of my uh racing class background i was economically poor but culturally rich i like to put it my stepdad was the stage manager of london’s equivalent to the apollo um a place called the hackney empire i went to a special pan-african saturday school and so i had lots of positive specifically black cultural inputs that are part of why i think i’m here speaking to you today i appreciate that so as we go into the dialogue later you and i have several intersecting experiences in our lives except on opposite sides of the atlantic what i would like to do though as you know just to begin the united states at the moment part of the reason we’re having this dialogue in the first place is that we’re in kind of an american uprising the the confluence of the kovit pandemic and the killing of george floyd has led to a racial and social upheaval the likes of which we haven’t seen certainly in our generation but we’re also in some ways in a bubble uh we’re here in the united states our news is generated here our views are scaffolded here and so we’re listening to each other talking about a narrative that we to greater or lesser degrees understand i would like your point of view you’re not here you’re you’re looking at us from abroad uh say a little bit about your interpretation or uh well there’s a few different things firstly the influence of american culture outside of america is probably even bigger than americans realize and probably even bigger black american culture specifically ironically has been a a boon for american soft power it’s one of the great ironies that black american dissidents even muhammad ali malcolm x these people are i remember i did an interview a few years ago and this is not to insult the brother but i did an interview on american television a few years ago and i was asked how i knew who malcolm x was and i couldn’t even describe to the interviewer who was a black brother as well what a ridiculous question that was to ask a black person from britain of my age but and it wasn’t even his fault it’s just it would be as silly as asking someone from harlem that’s how well-known malcolm x is in the uk you go to any caribbean food shop or barbershop in britain malcolm x is on the wall muhammad ali’s on the wall martin luther king is on the wall next to bob marley and marcus gone so black britain in particular because for english-speaking caribbeans in particular because we’ve all got family in new york we’ve all got family in miami because that migration of caribbeans english-speaking caribbeans to britain was then paralleled by a migration of english-speaking caribbeans to new york miami and toronto so we’ve all every jamaican has cousins in those places so caribbean-american culture and black american culture black british culture in a way is an amalgam of black american culture and something unique to here because obviously we’ve got massive west african population too um and so we experience or feel that we experience black american culture as something that we’re sort of a second-hand part and it’s been like that for as long as i’ve been alive like even though it wasn’t always reciprocated it’s only now with the rise of youtube and all this sort of stuff that like it feels like black america has noticed we’re even here and started to have a conversation back right and part of the reason for that ironically is because the mainstream sort of uh british liberal creative gatekeepers used to use black american culture as a proxy for that british culture so for example when i began my career if you were trying to get on the radio as a musician you’d be told oh well you can’t get on the radio bust the rhymes on the radio this week you can’t go on the radio p diddy’s on the radio this week so ironically bri and britain even in black history month here until recently we used to teach the civil rights movement in america because it was a way of britain avoiding the discomfort of its its own closest parallel to a civil rights movement which is what we had in the 1980s here it wasn’t a civil rights movement in that way because britain didn’t practice apartheid domestically it exported apartheid everywhere else in the world but ironically here in the uk there was never a time when black people couldn’t vote back in the british election since 1780 um there was never formal segregation though there were attempts at a color bar um so there were there were still massive similarities to the united states but britain did all of its segregation formal segregation abroad um and so the level of knowledge of lots of british people of american culture and black british people black american culture may often surprise black americans because that has been our proxy growing up we’ve grown up on in living color we’ve grown we’ve grown up on arsenio hall we’ve grown up on so many of the culture the cosby show etc um because we didn’t have our own versions of those until now um really we had a couple in the 1980s but generally speaking the black presence in britain culturally was american because it made the british establishment much more comfortable to talk about muhammad ali and to talk about my collects or to talk about rosa parks instead about claudia jones um to talk about the uh alabama church bombing rather than talking about the new cross fire that

made britain much more comfortable so bringing us up to the present moment um there’s been massive protests here i’m not sure if you’re aware really really huge protest in solidarity with black lives matter um and a whole sort of reckoning with britain’s own culture because it’s confusing right the truth is we have problems with police brutality here absolutely i i would implore any uh americans watching this the great film by a director called ken farrow called injustice um it was a film the british police tried to have banned i would recommend you watch that um but it is an old film and the truth is musicality here is bad but it’s bad for a european social democracy it isn’t any anything like the scale of the problem you have in america the confusion this causes is british people and say oh but it’s not like america here um why are they protesting as if we shouldn’t a protest just in solidarity with black americans full stop anyways if that weren’t a good enough reason they were protesting britain all the time to do with issues that happen in foreign countries um but the ignorance of the british public about the extent of the police brutality that has happened here or the way in which the black community has been policed on assumptions developed in america so people in britain will say but it’s not like america here and in a way they’re right the relationship between race and classes is very very different black londoners for example are much more successful on average than uh the poor whites in the north of england so the former industrial belt of the north of england is almost is overwhelmingly white and and that is the poorest region of the country west education entertainment they live we got projects here where there’s not a black person inside where all the same problems exist drugs gangs so on and so forth ironically despite the fact that we’re now at a time in british history where british west africans were the majority of the black population actually who owned free school meals which we call welsh what you would call welfare local treatment they do better in school than similarly poor white children the british media still pumps this idea of black on black violence right which is the idea that we imported from america this thing uh david cameron one of the british prime ministers uh a few years ago he brought the l.a gang master to london right what message was he trying to send to the british public a couple of years ago the entire british press ran the headline london is now more violent than new york london was more violent in new york for like two weeks that year london was the eighth most had the eighth highest murder rate of british cities right so even though the majority of the black population is in london the the highest murder rate that year was greater manchester class guy had a higher murder rate belfast had a higher murder rate liverpool had a higher murder and these are white youths white boys in the hood right there’s woods here where there’s no black people at all that has not stopped the british establishment repeating some of the racial cliches deliberately borrowed from america so there’s this weird thing where even though the history is so different we are migrants from africa and the caribbean we have majority black nations to go back to in a way the black american situation is unique because obviously slavery was on american soil america has been wrestling with that uh its own racial demography its own history the clash between its values and its democracy since 1865 or its professed democracy um whereas in a way british caribbeans can sort of say all right well i’ve had enough i’m going to go back to nigeria i’m going to go back to ghana i’m going to go back to jamaica and for all the problems those countries have which are mammoth in their own right the primary problem in most of those countries is class even though jamaica we have a colorist system and so on and so forth um but to not meander on too much with a with an answer we knew this moment was coming in america because we’ve been following america so closely we’ve been following america we we knew about rodney king when it happened oj was huge news here when it happened all of these events we’ve been following especially those of us who are interested in social things the video after video after video to mirror rice so on and so forth um and so we knew that sooner or later something would be the match that struck the tinder and it so happened that it was this particular killing of freud rest in peace um but it hasn’t surprised us because we’ve i feel we’ve had a certain finger on the pulse of american politics for probably most of the post-war period because of what the british government would call the special relationship it’s a part of what you said about the um just that caribbean experience so for example i have a poster muhammad ali over my shoulder i got ras daniel hartman the baby rasta over the other shoulder malcolm x to my left so you describe this perfectly but the other part that you made is that point that you made is that black americans particularly i think americans generally probably be surprised about how much black britons know about the us where in the in the educational infrastructure do you think we have a responsibility to learn about the diaspora and who is doing what and where i think that there’s a fair amount of disconnect and let me just throw one other thing in there and i want you to go on about this a bit in the introduction you said that you went to this pan african in saturday school

so for example my my family is all from guyana and we i had a similar thing so we had these lessons on the weekend and what what i’m interested in is what do you think those kinds of educations are protecting you from and that’s my first question what is it that we really have the responsibility to learn um two things in there i wouldn’t want to give the impression that black brits are somehow more open-minded or more worldly than we’d like to believe we are the reality is we generally know nothing about the experience of black french people and they’re just across the pond right so part of this is just the laziness of language um and in a way the experience of black french people is more similar to our own in that the french had a global empire they had colonies in the caribbean and africa and the migrants from their colonies in the caribbean africa have gone to france and in fact there’s no question that the situation for black people in france is much worse than it is in britain i say that without the slightest hesitation that the segregation in france is unbelievable and the lack of access uh to capital to power to career to all of the things that improve human life i mean you go to the projects in france and it’s it’s night and day because even the geography of most of britain’s major cities the projects are in the center of the city so brixton is right in the center of the scene to the major arts institutions as many working-class black families do and go and access free arts from brixton you can’t do that in france the banila is is banished from the city right the the french projects are way out in what they call summer um but most of us know very little about the experience of black french people so we know about black americans not just because we’re so open-minded but because of what i’ve said because we have literal black american covenants in new york miami and obviously in canada which is a separate issue um but also because of the global power of american culture because of the american empire and obviously being the second seat of the american empire as we are in britain um american culture in many ways has a greater presence not just black american culture but american culture full stop then even british culture in many ways and so a lot of it is commendable because we’ve made an effort to learn in a sense but part of it is just laziness of language and the reality of our demographic relationship with the united states um in terms of the black saturday schools i honestly never knew that there were people that fought being black was about being a gangster or being bad and i went through that period like as a teenager but i never found any of that out until i was a teenager because my images of what black culture meant up until about the age of 13 when i stopped going to black saturday school were marcus garvey malcolm x martin luther king pre-colonial africa i knew who manchester was like so i always had this idea that racist people were stupid and actually because in my particular case my mother’s white family are not a hugely well-educated family none of our brothers went to college what we would call university you guys would call college she only went as an adult in later life and the class relationship in britain means actually most working-class white folks of her generation didn’t go to college there’s a very new development here right so it’s again the relationship between race and class is complicated and so the the side of my heritage where the culture was coming from was the black side decide where the theater was coming from fear with an f or a theater as proper cross people would pronounce it in england was my father’s side of the family the only side i really had contact with was my dad’s side and family and my mum was in some sense welcomed into that caribbean uh culture and that caribbean way of doing things and so what caribbean what pan african saturday school inoculated me from was internalizing any of the nonsense that blackness meant a lot of the negative things that the mainstream media and and more broadly white society was trying to pretend it meant it didn’t mean being a mother or a gangster or or selling those things happen but those happen in any working-class community in any group anywhere in the world they happen more frequently in naples in italy which is a much more violent city than london than they do in london despite the amount of black people that live in london um and so it’s only as a teenager i came to internalize some of those negative ideas about what blackness meant but by then it was too late i’d already been protected and i was already very sure in myself in a certain way and so when i was put in special needs class for kids who don’t speak english as you can see my english is fine i was born in england at this point i was reading lord of the rings at home right and this is a very common experience for black boys who are a little too clever for their own good in the uk very common to be taken out of school and essentially forcefully held back um when that experience happened to me it was my black saturday school who noticed the change in my behavior who notified my mum and who eventually happened to be visiting my school to check out one of the other children and pulled me out of that special needs class so had i had not had this extra educational provision um i don’t know what would have happened to my education and i don’t know how

i might have viewed blackness what we have in the uk is a cliche that i’m going to call the mad mix racing right it’s something we don’t talk about much in britain where there are people of young men of mixed heritage who are actually more likely to work in single parent homes than truly black children uh just as likely to go to prison do more poorly in school than children of west african heritage this has not led to a stigma of mixed-race people as a group because they are policed we’ve accepted the one drop rule even though we never had formal segregation right in fact if you look at the three people shot by british police in recent years of the last decade so it hasn’t been many um in terms of shootings there’s been more deaths in custody than that shot dead two of them had one white pair and they were shot by a section of the british police department that was set up to police black on black crime so there is this acceptance that a mulatto quote unquote is black in in a british context but there is this larger conversation about how some young men well they have two black parents for one but particularly young men who are half white feel the need and they grew up in majority black neighborhoods i feel they need to prove how black they are by being tougher than all the fully black kids right now i was lucky i was a kid who did like fighting in school when i was good at sports and so i didn’t feel that insecurity around my blackness not being masculine enough but also there was this having this pan-african saturday school where my model of what black masculinity and what it was to be black was rooted in thousands of years of african history before i even encountered any of those stereotypes so i was inoculated against that is what i would say and it’s been massively important if you look at the academic outcomes even in working class neighborhoods of the black kids who go to the black saturday schools versus the rest of the hood it’s night and day i took my high school exam a year early my cousin who also went to that school his dad was in prison growing up many of the hood cliches single parent family they’ve done in the projects he also took his mass exam a year early yeah so there were massive benefits to going to those schools one of the things that you mentioned there akala is education as an inoculation and so there i would like for you to just explain what you mean you have you’ve contextualized it quite well but if you can give a bit of an example of the whole idea that we have to be inoculated from something i just want that to be clearly articulated because we’re in a moment here where we’re battling with what we memorialize we have a whole host of contentious discussions about which statues to take down and which history is is being indoctrinated etc and your premise there is that there’s a certain kind of education that requires us to be inoculated from something from what and what does inoculation mean so in the british context in every in every society right nations have ways they remember themselves and the ways that they remember themselves are usually very flattering to the people in power yeah and and they neglect people the ways in which people with less power have shaped the nation so for example in britain uh i was taught in school as every british child is taught britain was the first country in the world to abolish slavery it did so primarily for moral reasons and it was primarily because of a man called william of course who was an elite parliamentarian in britain um can you repeat his name what we call the wilberforce mission now it is true there was a larger abolitionist movement in britain than any other europeans they hold in power it is true that some members of british parliament fought for the abolition of the slave trade it isn’t true that britain was the first country in the world to abolish slavery uh revolutionary france abolished slavery before britain as did denmark abolish its slave trade but the first major slave holding power to actually abolish slavery was hated and it did so at the cost of a hundred thousand african lives and it did so in opposition to the british empire who tried to crush the asian revolution and in opposition to the french empire and the british even helped the french attempt to reconquer haiti and reinstall slavery after they had failed so clearly it wasn’t entirely moral and it wasn’t out of a love for africans that the british government abolished slavery british slave masters were paid compensation the bonds uh that that conversation was paid back through british taxpayers didn’t finish paying off those bonds until 2015 yeah so when we talk about reparations british caribbean taxpayers paid reparations to british slave masters essentially or paid off part of that debt by the government bond until 2015. um if you’re a young black kid growing up in britain and you believe the entire sum total of black people’s contribution to the human story is being enslaved and then getting set free by a benevolent british parliamentarian and then maybe you know martin luther king and civil rights movement no disrespect to the greatness of dr king but he would reject the idea that he was the sum total of black people’s historical contribution out of so if you’re a black kid growing up with that and furthermore if you’re a non-black person growing up with the belief that that is black people with some total of contribution how can you believe there’s any worse in black human beings when we think of india we immediately think even if we’re not

directly aware of indian history of thousands of years of written history of the history of hinduism and sikhism and civilizations that existed in india and that filters down into the stereotype of indian computer scientists today and doctors and lawyers and so in a british context we are now a kind of peak absurdity where again british west african kids are doing comparatively well in school and still there is this general narrative that black kids undifferentiated by class undifferentiated by parental background undifferentiated by whether or not their children are there whether their parents are west african university educated civil servants or british jamaican bricklayers is my bad is just black kids in trouble even in a country where the majority of the poor people are white even a country where the vast majority of murders are white on white even in a country where the majority the prison population is white so even demographically we’re not in even vaguely the same situation as the us um because there just aren’t enough black people obviously black people in the u.s are still a minority but they’re a much bigger minority than black people um and so i was inoculated against a lot of that what can only be described as anti-african propaganda a lot of the sort of tarzan image of africa um i was aware and i still think africa’s having a major blip in a way that you could call the last couple of centuries of african history maybe africa’s dark ages and even in that there have been civilizations and histories and a lot more victories and success stories than you traditionally believe but i was always able to ground from a very young age slavery in colonialism in history that went all back to shangri-la or an actor player which is an astronomical observatory or to ancient egypt from nubia and and so it just the eye historically grounded me in a way i was certain of what i wasn’t inferior and what was being promoted on british television um was basically nonsense and so that was what i needed to be inoculated against but i would actually argue that non-black people need to be inoculated against this nonsense too because i ironically now that black london is becoming really successful there is a massive black middle class growing along with still problems with gangs and street stuff and all of that but it’s like a what i would like to call the americanization of black london where the black folks who’ve made it are doing very very well that wasn’t the case before the black folks who haven’t made it it’s getting even worse right and so as this chasm opens up lots of people find the success of black london as a reason to be resentful because they’ve internalized again this idea that black this people that they call the left behind white working class so the idea is that poor whites are being left behind not because they’re poor not because of a classism that predates the black presence in britain by a thousand years or at least the windrush black presence in britain by a thousand years but the evidence that black white poor whites are being left behind is not the chasm between poor whites and wealthy white people it’s the much smaller gap between poor whites and working black folk who are doing that a little bit better in school now but when you look at who working-class black folk in britain are particularly west africans we’re essentially comparing the children of university-educated west african civil servants who happen to have ended up in the hood because of discrimination even though they’ve got degrees in engineering or accountancy or whatever it is from back in ghana and nigeria to working class my english folks and working class black english folks which is a phrase we never use because working-class black english folks like my family’s grandparents came to the caribbean they’re doing just as badly in school as poor white people so there is no great mystery here the children of university-educated west africans shock horror are doing a little bit better and that has now been turned into racial resentment and race-baiting by much of the british press who believe that black people’s station in life is permanently at the bottom what you’ve articulated there beautifully is i think one of the reasons that the black lives matter movement is so significant because there’s a whole educational infrastructure that requires an attendant part to it to make sure that we really understand what that fulfillment means there’s there’s a there’s a parallel dynamic going on here where as you know perhaps that there a lot of the major universities at the moment are considering not using the sats the scholastic aptitude test for entrance and for decades black people have been saying that that test reveals the structural inequity of the schools that black people go to however it’s used as the kind of meritocratic device to say that all things being equal you should be able to pass this test and that determines your ability to get into the fulfillment of post-secondary education so for years black people have been saying this thing reveals those inequities all of a sudden we have asian students who are supreme in their performance on the sats and for the first time major u.s institutions say we will not consider the sats for entrance the argument is that it’s diversity but black people are saying well we’ve been saying that this is a problem all along and so now one of the things that seems to be part of exactly what you’re saying

is that when white students are revealed to be vulnerable then we have to make structural adjustments to make sure that they’re protected and it seems like it falls in exactly to what you’re saying so i want you for now to expose a little bit about meritocracy what does that really mean in the context of education and beyond that i want to ask you some things about stem education because i understand you have some interest there as well well the funny part about it in britain is the british class system is so entrenched don’t make the mistake of thinking that the british really care about poor white i mean they they they dislike poor whites in a way that is almost ethnic and if you know british history you’ll know that the ruling elite of britain they come from france and a lot of the white working classes we call them in britain come from ireland who britain colonized right so there is this semi-ethnic hatred that nobody likes to talk about publicly because they’re all supposed to be white um and there is a way in which white people in the north of england are spoken about and dialogued about um as you know basically their savages we have shows here jeremy kyle show and all these other shows uh benefit street that depict poor whites in a way that is reminiscent of some of the sort of propaganda against black americans in sort of crack era right the only time the british establishment cares about poor whites is when it’s to pit them against black people so don’t actually care about them as a group they don’t they’re not interested in a meritocratic education where poor kids in general have genuinely the same quality of education as wealthy people what they’re really saying to poor whites is that’s the problem over there that kwame added and gurpreet um are doing better in school than you yeah that’s the problem the problem isn’t centuries of classism in britain it’s that these brown people who don’t have the right to be here have come here and done better than the great irony of this is more immigrants came to britain after world war ii from poland italy ireland and germany then from india and the caribbean so what the british government did was try to integrate immigrants as happened in the united states and give white immigrants access to citizenship presumption of indigeneity access to jobs in a way that wasn’t done for normal immigrants and it was even worse in a way in the british case because britain was not carrying exactly the same racial baggage domestically that america was because the slavery was done elsewhere and i don’t say that to be romantic the british government actually did a number of studies in the post-war period that showed the british public was actually much more ambiguous in its attitudes to commonwealth migration of non-white commonwealth citizens than the british government wanted everyone to believe and when you think about this isn’t that difficult to understand the entire british commonwealth had just brought the nazis together restricting commonwealth migration on the basis of race when we all just thought the nazis india gave the largest volunteer army in human history that war just sounded a little bit nazis so the public was quite divided the government decided to go in favor of the idea that only white people could really be citizens and put in legislation quietly didn’t say this publicly but put those mechanisms into place in the education system coming back to your point about the facts the two universities in britain bristol and white university did a study um about 10 years ago where they looked at data from every single secondary school in britain and what they found was that if children were judged just by their performance in their sa teams about 20 30 more black children would actually be entertaining or gcse every year and obviously being in a higher tier gcse improve what grade you can get what grade you’re likely to get what college you likely go to and then what university they also found that of all of the ethnic groups in britain that british schools underestimated black children regardless of class vis-a-vis their actual measured performance in standardized testing the underestimation of black children was the largest of any effect but again things were not so simple because indian and chinese students were the only group the british schools assumed to be even cleverer than the actual one they are the highest performing ethnic groups and ironically white children from poorer areas were also underestimated but just by nowhere near the degree that black children were like so for here for example americans probably wouldn’t hear it but the way a white person talks here is strongly indicative of their class background and there are massive assumptions that come with not speaking like this bbc accent now all british accents may sound like that kind of bbc accent to americans but the difference in the way people perceive you if you pronounce fear with an f like i did or if you pronounce it theater just that alone is a huge class indication in england and so there’s no surprise to people who know british history that even poor white kids are underestimated vis-a-vis their mission intelligence and so the class race dynamics are slightly different yet the british government and the race-bait is in the british right-wing press and much of the british education system still wants to import and impose uh us-based frames of reference and us-based dynamics about black people and to marginalize black people and then feel shocked when we feel affinity with black americans even though we’re dialogued about in the exact same uh language that is used to demonize black americans despite the fact that the situation is indeed

quite different in lost world i mean just violence alone no western european country has the problem with violence in anything like the scale of the united states white americans get killed more frequently than black british people do because america as a whole is so much more violent um and so there are massive differences and big similarities and yet that hasn’t stopped much of the british press dialoguing about black people and even the government as if we were the same group of people black americans with the same experience and i don’t say that to say that there would be anything wrong with being a black american i say it to say that out of respect for the extremity of what black americans have actually experienced we didn’t have speculation we didn’t have formal simulation we didn’t have to riot just for the right to take a part of my language i was going to swear there um we didn’t we’d have to basically fight for a century for the right to go to the same toilets we didn’t have those things yeah we had no blacks no dogs no irish in hotels we had police brutality we had bristol bus boycott we had lots of things that were similar but there was not a formal you can’t come in here back by the state because you’re black you cannot vote because you’re black you can be and there will be no consequence britain did all that outside of britain let me let me ask you this i what you’re describing there uh it makes me think about what american exceptionalism means when you frame the idea that you didn’t have to fight for a century to go to the same toilet as a white person but our our internal national narrative is about american exceptionalism and what that means for the purveyance of democracy around the world and we extol the values of individualism and righteousness and meritocratic values etc but what you’ve described looking at it from abroad it sounds totally counter to that i mean i’m not naive about what this means but when you describe it in such stark terms respond for me uh a bit about the relationship between american exceptionalism that this is a bit broad and empire we don’t use the empire word in the united states but we do use exceptionalism yeah well because the american empire isn’t a former empire the british went around the world and said this territory is ours plan a british flag make them british citizens or slaves before that or indentured servants before that um make people formally british this is a formerly british territory or as i put it to people jamaica was in a political union with england before britain existed so in other words jamaica was in a political union with england before england was in a political union with scotland that’s how long britain has had a relationship with jamaica describing jamaicans as foreigners is absurd but that’s what we do right even though jamaicans have been part of the british labor force since the middle of the 17th century so british exceptionalism predated american exceptionalism much of the and none of this is even unique to british and america and america in a way the french told themselves the same thing i’m sure the japanese empire told itself the same thing every empire has some self-righteous justification why they’re different from every empire that went before they bring in civilization and the light and the beauty of their culture nobody colonizes anybody else because they love them and a great way to think about this i always say to british people in the north of the country where it’s very poor lots of people who are literally living on food banks yeah so poor that they live on like massive food banks they go to get food right millions of people in the north of this country victorian diseases like rickets are coming back real real poverty how do i always say to people how do you think the people of the north of england would respond if japan south korea and taiwan said well look we’ve got higher iqs than you have we’ve got a higher gdp per capita we’re more technologically advanced than you are we’re more educated than you are we’re more democratic we’ve got a greater uh balance of share of wealth we should colonize the north of england and expose and impose japanese rule on the north of england do you think people in the north england would say hey great as long as you build us some bullet trains that’s absolutely fine of course they wouldn’t they wouldn’t want to be colonized by the japanese no matter how fast the trains the japanese build up so the british understand they don’t want for themselves colonialism even if they fall behind other groups of people relatively because they have already fallen behind in japanese similarly american exceptionalism says you know anglo-american’s right to rule the world to hell with what everybody else thinks and actually us ruling you is good for you because your children you are not qualified to make your own decisions and so ironically america’s in this position where unlike britain where britain was proud of its empire planted its flag and said yes we have an empire many americans discover for the first time when somebody tells them you guys are an empire right you’ve got a thousand military bases around the world that’s an empire you’ve got many countries whose entire economies are organized in the service of american capitalism um and in the service of american institutions and and our subservience the american government the world bank the imf to american corporations i’m aware very much of the irony of having this conversation on american corporate platform but i don’t hold my tongue i say what what i think to be the truth um and so there is there is a wider dialogue when we’re talking about racism in america

of america’s history as an empire and as an upholder of western power and western values um outside and listen the crazy thing part about is you talk to lots of my family back in jamaica or to my cousins and friends families in nigeria and ghana and they’re very pro-us so there’s even this weird thing where people in the colonies are like yeah but we watch american tv we grew up in american culture we my jamaican grandmother came to britain and put a picture of queen elizabeth and white jesus on the wall next to each other as did almost every caribbean or her generation and so in a sense what colonialism often does is and america has done is cut just enough slack there are just enough successful black people in america just enough black americans with just enough money just enough access just enough privilege that it keeps some stability within within the country and it looks democratic if you just you do apartheid south africa you just cut everyone out of the economy that there’s no stability in there and so this sort of being totally pragmatic and cynical this sort of governance of look you know divide people let enough of them succeed and so then the ones that succeed can say the ones that haven’t succeeded are just lazy and that’s the reason there are no structural reasons why poor black pokemon you’ve got this movement among black american conservatives you know just pull up your pants and you know there’s no structural reasons for black american poverty it’s just you know black coca lazy basically um so there’s a lot of that where people have completely different views of america almost justifiably if you’re a middle class black american and you look around the world and you think where in the world would i be better off than here it’s an entirely reasonable uh and honest actually position to say well would it be better for nigeria would i be better off in india would i be better off in colombia would i be better off in japan south korea america is terrible but it better the devil you know kind of thing and a similar thing is happening with black people in britain where there are now enough becoming enough it’s one of the great contradictions of anglo-american politics where in some sense the countries are kind of democratic and and they do make enough trade-offs at least to democratic demands to to stave off revolution if you like or to stave off the accusation that they are former apartheid countries anymore you go across the river to france across the pond to france it always amazes me that the level of segregation in christ and it’s not even spoken about this is this france’s democracy and france is a more socialist country economically than britain it has not had the impact we would hope socialism would have had for black french people um and so there is that contradiction within anglo-american politics there is at least some semblance of democratic accountability underneath this layer of brutality and quasi fascism and now a police state that you’re living in america which means that people have completely different views of the countries based on their experience there’s a there’s an important point there several that you’ve made one of which is i live in atlanta as you know and atlanta is arguably the second most segregated city in america by race so all of the things of lived experience correlate with that segregation as you’d imagine of course there’s a subset of people who are you know making it as i am for example but it does lead to this other point about the the relationship to the education that we get to understanding those structures so what you’ve just articulated to me as i was saying at the beginning and i i wasn’t just talking off the top of my head about scholar of the people means that we understand what these other structures are but in the corporate setting that’s the case now at least in the united states and i’m sure it’s the case everywhere the coefficient of value on people who have technical education is through the roof it’s as if nothing else matters and so there what we’re doing now is we’ve essentially built up an infrastructure to train people to be technical workers at the expense of educating them to be full and complete citizens and so in that sense where do you see the relationship between the kind of education and the the inoculation and basically the weaponry of defense and articulation that you have relative to stem education and then they also say just for listeners who may not know that stem is not a word it’s science technology engineering mathematics so respond to that for me yeah i’m in favor of steam education as an artist you know but i think the arts are something like 90 billion as a sector in britain something just ridiculous like that so this idea that arts are just like a sort of add-on it’s just i mean we’re talking about one of the biggest industries in the world when you look at the publishing industry the fear industry the film industry i mean these are mammoth mammoth industries um in my humble opinion the whole thing is just education but that said i quite agree go ahead don’t get me wrong listen you need to build a bridge you need some mathematics right yes you need this computer to work you need some mathematics i’m not completely an idealist it’s like education shouldn’t be anything there

are quantifiable measures of proficiency in certain subjects even in art there’s a reason there are technical reasons why biggie is a better mc than xyz person there are tangible reasons why two pack made better songs than xyz person it’s not like there are reasons right many reasons that can be measured in music theory that can be measured in emotional connection that can be measured in where you where biggie placed his syllables um on the bar i mean if you really want to start talking about flow and writing it out in music theory not like just an accident that so many people think certain people are the greatest rappers of all time um but that’s an aside right so i’ve been running for a number of years a company called the hip-hop shakespeare company um i’ve done lots of separate which is a music theater arts uh production education company does work in schools done work in about 20 countries around the world i’ve also done lots of independent work as a historian um and essentially a social worker though i wouldn’t see it as that in in prisons in what we call prus which are pupil referral units in young offenders institutes and teaching all around the world i’ve i’ve worked in schools in the slums in huawei and islamic jamaica brazil north and south sudan the level of educational disenfranchisement that i’ve seen in britain and america he’s actually like nowhere else in the world it’s also it’s almost like children become teenagers here in working-class neighborhoods and the sort of autopilot dumb yourself down and accept your station in life so it’s almost like we have an autopilot class hierarchy where working-class kids in england they become almost embarrassed by being clever we’ll play down how clever that is no longer called to be smart but all the primary school is called to be smart and it’s almost like the teachers perceptions of them the society’s perceptions of them the propaganda that you have a certain station in life this is pronounced for black boys as well but here is something that affects children of various different ethnicities in that same social strides just even more pronounced black boys and it becomes no longer cool to even aspire to attain the kind of education that would allow you to compete in the future workplace and it’s only when brothers come out of jail which i’m experiencing with a lot of brothers in my generation brothers come out of jail in their early 30s and now i want to learn the things they could have learned in high school but nobody pushed them hard enough or they didn’t have black saturday school like i did or they didn’t have the right community workers they didn’t have the right family self or they got arrested too early or the school just assumed i was a black kid from a council estate therefore he’s not going to succeed anyway or all of the above at once um and yet in many places where life is demonstrably much more difficult i taught at a school in kingston called jonestown boys it’s on the border of rima and denham town which is the girl it’s trench town right it’s there’s tanks outside the school you know that kind of stuff the first kid i asked what do you want to be when you’re older he said to me marine biologist sir you’re 11 you’re 11 year old boy from trench town marine biologist the nexu lawyer the next you judge the next you wanted to half the kids wanted to be in the army because the army was protecting the neighborhood and so on and that’s not to romanticize jamaica because of course the jamaican ghetto has all the same problems that girls ever ever else in the world has but there is not this idea a to be black is to to not be clever but there is a little bit of that color isn’t there they used to say anything to black young wood as you all know from the caribbean there is massive colorism but there is still this sense that even a child from the ghetto can rise and succeed educationally and there is value in education and i think there’s something about the sort of celebrity culture of britain in the united states that ironically only cares about educating the very top tier of the society and it’s almost like to hell with everyone else we don’t care about educational meritocracy we don’t care if people in the lower social starters have anything to contribute particularly so this weird sort of um contradiction of having what are technically the best universities in the world oxford cambridge yale harvard stanford etc and they have a massive massive educational disenfranchisement at the same time whereas a country like finland has the smallest gap between its best and poorest performing pupils doesn’t certainty certainty about our ability they don’t start school till 7 i believe so all sorts of things that are completely contradictory to the way we’d be told education should work in britain and the united states are working very effectively in in finland and across scandinavia and even in poorer countries in britain we look at the educational outcomes of middle class jamaicans in jamaica middle class guy needs people in guyana middle class nigerians in nigeria middle class ghanaians in ghana their education achievements are so high that when they move to america it creates as you know this this whole contradiction where for black immigrants university educated black immigrants from back home getting into harvard and yale and stanford is is normal even right and so black americans about to fight through a century of segregation jim crow classism etc and then a university educated kid from the university of the west indies is in the top five percent of all universities in the world just for context for people who are watching this there are two million

people in jamaica there are a billion people in india there are only two universities in india that rank higher than the university of the west indies so i want you to think about the stereotypes of indian people and the stereotypes of jamaican people and then measure that against that educational outcome and i’ve been doing working on paper for a while looking at the educational outcomes of the top 30 or 40 schools in jamaica versus british jamaican kids and it’s embarrassing the gap um and so black immigrants there’s this whole conversation about class and black immigrants to america who have a level of access that the black american doesn’t because they’re a different social class and because they’re coming with a different education a different understanding of what blackness is a different set of social pressures and some black immigrants unfortunately become quite stuck up about their position rather than show solidarity with the black american experience and it goes both ways there’s ignorance in both ways how do you how do you that’s a delicate that’s a delicate relationship so you’re right so for me for example i mean like you said you’re personifying uh who i am so i like i got a phd from georgia tech i went to university of california berkeley and in my family there was no you know resounding celebration just kind of expected that that’s what you do but in the american context i’m put up as this black american boy who was miraculously able to do these phenomenal things when all i really did was just do my homework i studied as i was supposed to and i achieved as you would expect one too but there is this dynamic that you allude to where now there’s a group i think they’re called american descendants of african slaves ados i think is what it’s called and it’s i think pitting black americans against black immigrants because one of the things that we find as you point out is in higher ed institutions particularly the most selective ones a disproportionate number of the black people are the children of immigrants first generation they themselves are born abroad and so the counter-argument to affirmative action and all the social programs to try to get black students into these elite institutions the argument is that they’re disproportionately benefiting people who have not been themselves subject the american pressure and oppression in their intellectual pursuits but now there’s this delicate and unspoken dance between black americans who have been here since 1619 and the black americans who have been here more recently like me since the 70s so help me with how we would negotiate that delicate talk in front of people who would have us both fail is very it’s very sensitive and that could be a whole nother talk in and of itself because then also you have the black immigrants that came in the 1920s that were part of the harlem renaissance you have people came from post-revolutionary haiti not everyone goes back to the mayflower um and then you have people like sloka carmichael and malcolm x and others and marcus garvey who shed blood alongside and fought alongside and and in marcus garvey’s case been the co-founder of the largest black american organization so i don’t want to dismiss even the very legitimate concerns of the specific history of black americans um but i also wouldn’t want to gloss over that that history has shared history and in fact it would be in my view um nigeria’s development is in the interest of the entire black gospel if we just think in a common sense right let’s just take a random industry basketball if i’d have said to you 30 years ago that the best white english cricket players would be playing cricket in india beautiful i was crazy yet that is the current situation the best qriket league in the world is in india if you’re if you’re a great qriket player you go to india what are the practical effects just on basketball of nigeria having an mba that could play pay even 20 of what the american mba does right if nigeria was that developed black americans who can’t get coaching jobs for example would just say okay well i’ll go to nigeria and i’ll co-own a team and i’ll coach a team over there if you don’t treat me properly so i’m a pan-africanist i believe pan-african development is in the larger interests of the entire black diaspora including black americans so i i’m not idealistic about this idea all black people should just stick together and sing kumbaya in the retreat black people have shared interests because of this shared history um and so that’s part of the conversation i would say um i think that it’s also important to remember that immigrants in general outperform native born people so why immigrants in america are more successful than american white people why immigrants to canada are more successful than white canadians white immigrants to australia chinese immigrants to america are more similar are more successful on average than chinese americans japanese immigrants to america are more successful than japanese americans so immigration itself is self-selected it’s not as if i mean if people even looked at what the average salary is in ghana and what it costs to get a visa to come to the united states there’s not a random ghanaians that are coming right these are people these are select people often genius level qualifications so on and so forth that doesn’t mean the resentment isn’t legitimate but i think it’s also sad that black people are always pitted against one another as if there’s a limited amount of black spaces and other black people’s success is my failure because there could only be 10 black people in the club at a time um and how to resolve that it’s not for me to say i’m not an american it’s it’s a conversation that black americans and black immigrants will have to have

and figure out but i would argue that there has been a long history of collaboration and middle ground to give one last example the founding fathers of jamaican independence were not were not jamaicans in jamaica they were jamaican americans exposed to black american radicalism in 1920s and when they first said jamaica should be independent from the british jamaicans in jamaica before they were crazy now both major parties in jamaica have tried to retroactively claim the credit for jamaican independence but actually began with jamaican-americans radicalized in america and so there’s a long history of jamaican americans trying to fight in the ethiopian army when the italians invaded ethiopia a long history of pan african solidarity that i think speaks to the best political traditions of black america in the black diaspora because it hasn’t been oh we just stick together because we’re black you didn’t get black americans going to fight in about in the bathroom war in nigeria right so it’s been us sticking together because we’re black but based on certain principles yeah not just oh we’re black so we’re going to justify any kind of foul behavior it’s still been what i would call revolutionary black nationalism which still has certain basic human principles which is why a man like muhammad ali could sacrifice potentially his life almost his life and his career in solidarity with vietnamese people even though he was a staunch black nationalist and so i would say he represents to me the best political traditions of black america that have inspired the entire world in a way that many black americans may not even know not just black people throughout the world let’s let’s close on the following i i appreciate that you raised the point of jamaicans and their sincere jamaican let me defer to you so jamaican’s influence on the world so uh you mentioned the university of west indies uh the pro vice chancellor rex nettleford is kind of globally famous at least outside of the united states one of his books um inward stretch outward reach talks about the way that we have to emerge out of the colonial state so we began this conversation with the flux of anger and angst that’s going on here in the united states and abroad in the solidarity and so on but out of which i think this triumphant basic principles of pan-africanism and uh revolutionary kind of revolutionary freedom tennis comes uh and so if you were to think about the history of contribution the moment that we’re in and these the complexities of what we’ve articulated here out of that has to spring a well of hope i mean i think in part the complexity itself to me is fuel for what spirit and triumph means but round it out for us where where is our hopeful our hopeful direction um well i think two things i think one there has to be major material change yeah lots of people are trying to pass it off feel good stuff liberal cliches and for the more capitalist leaning people and i’m not on here acting like i’m you know on a google platform i drive a mercedes you know i’m not trying to present myself as che guevara necessarily even though i lean to the left politically i’m not naive about the reality that i’m a successful independent artist in a market economy i’m no longer in the socioeconomic group that i was when i grew up so on and so forth so i’m aware of all of that and perhaps precisely because of that i point to japan south korea and taiwan in terms of economic solutions at the end of the war because of the fear of chinese communism the elites of those three countries engaged in unprecedented land reform in other words the peasants of those countries got their 40 acres in a meal and if you look at south korea in 1961 was twice as poor as ghana today south korea has hyundai and samsung right and that was all state-led and it part of why how they became 90 middle-class countries is because of this massive wealth of redistribution so people who are interested in the stability of capitalism even perhaps look to japan south korea and taiwan compare them to indonesia and the philippines where those policies were not enacted and they have all of the same political problems we have in the caribbean where a few small families on all the land and all the wealth and it leads to all of the same inequities and all of the same problems with violence and political instability and so on and so forth so there has to be major material change there is no way of getting away from that the history of white welfare in america um there’s a great book called when affirmative action was white that people should read there’s a great book called the color of law that people should read that looks how how the american state deliberately segregated american cities as you speak of for some of that to be reversed there needs to be major material change as there was in britain after the war we had this massive thing called the welfare state that created sustainable living standards for britain’s pawns a state-led policy then under margaret thatcher you had a sort of a right-wing version of that in a way where you could buy your council house you could buy your social house but this became a major source of wealth for um working-class people so there needs to be some kind of real tangible material change so that even if there’s going to be an order speaking capitalist economy everybody has some capital within which to compete within the capitalist economy you can’t have a functioning capitalist economy when a huge section of the population have no capital so i would say that if there’s going to be any hope it has to be including corporations like this

meaningful measurable sustainable material change to these communities that we’re talking about yeah because me and you are people who wherever we’ve come from we’re the people that are whether we like it or not sort of the talented temp i don’t see myself that way and i don’t see myself as the person in charge and the hnic but i’m conscious that whether we like it or not in a certain way that’s the status in terms of hope um i am just you know there was a time in my life where i was a very negative person emotionally i was i drank too much i was around a certain amount of violence my friends were around a certain amount of violence they were they were doing some very very bad things and i was on the periphery of that um and i had such a negative mentality at that time and i worked so hard to come out of that mentality but more importantly than my own exceptionalism i was given the tools by this community education you know when i decided basically to not be in the streets i had all this background that i could draw so i don’t act like it was just my own exceptionalism it wasn’t but because of that process i just refused to to be negative no matter what’s going on and i’ve had a really tough year personally away from all the political stuff that’s going on away from the fact that all of my summer gigs as a musician are cancelled and there’s all these other problems right i already had a tough year personally family wise but i just believe that you cannot be miserable enough to bring happiness into anyone else’s life and i believe in in a way in revolutionary happiness if you’re around people constantly lifting them up constantly putting them up you come to me with an idea and i give you 50 reasons why it’s a great idea why you should chase your dream rather than be that person in your life who’s just always like no you can’t succeed because for me understanding institutionalized racism is not at all about giving black people reasons to fail it’s about saying this is the way the chessboard said big man and if you understand the way the chess board’s set when you get put into special needs classes i did you can get pulled out quickly if you don’t even understand the way the chess board’s set you can’t compete so in no way is this about saying oh it’s so awful being black you know it’s so terrible i believe firmly in black joining i was in ghana last year we’ll close on closing this pack i think i’ve asked you for your return now whatever i think of the politics of it is a different question but the sheer joy of the entire black diaspora black america jamaica caribbean nigerians ghanaians black brits anyone who was there will tell you like it was genuine black love and not just all racism exists so we need to come together no genuine like it takes a village to raise a child ubuntu i am because we are and because we are therefore i am and so i genuinely believe that sort of without being cliche idealistic to the political problems in africa but that sort of african village mentality that sharing mentality that joy mentality that irrational joy even in the face of hardship is where i draw my hope from even though i know there’s absolutely no guarantee whatsoever the things are going to get better things could get much much worse very very quickly and very very easily but i just try my hardest to not be taken out of that space even in the face of challenges akala you are a wellspring of information are you kind of personified the idea of revolutionary happiness i love it thank you very very much for joining us on this search for racial equity thank you pleasure indeed i’m melanie parker thank you for joining us for the search for racial equity let us march on till victory is one you

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