Sticks, Stones and Being Black(er)

Steve Burnett-Martin most popularly known as Blacker Dread used to run a very popular record shop on Market Row in Brixton – Blacker Dread Music Store. Blacker Dread who was born in Jamaica, but has lived in Britain since he was a child is also a reggae producer, businessman and one of the founders of Brixton Splash.  He’s also described as a central part of the local community who over time supported many young people and helped keep them out of jail. (Sadly, he did more recently end up in jail for a period himself. That does, however, have the potential to increase his awareness and ability to help other people.)

I passed the Record Shop on a number of occasions when I visited Brixton, but sadly I don’t believe I ever went inside. Sadly, because as I learned by watching Being Blacker, a Mollie Dineen documentary about him, he is a very fascinating person and I would have loved to have had a conversation with him.

The documentary touches on a number of different aspects of life inclusive of his mother’s burial; his growing up; his daughter’s wedding; his having to go to jail and sending his son to Jamaica to study. As I said, he is a very fascinating person. There was, however, a key part of his story that stood out and stunned me though. It was when he spoke of his experience of Grammar School. Passing his 11+ exams, he was one of about four black boys that went to a Grammar School in Penge. There was a group of white boys that used to wait by the gate that used to beat him up. As I understand it, this was key to why he didn’t continue at the school or at least meant that he was relieved when he stopped going – who knows, perhaps due to his attendance or performance in school.

I wonder how different his life would have been if he had stayed at the Grammar School. Not necessarily better, but different. Would he have been in a position to have had an even greater impact on the community; or a more fulfilling life if the option had not been removed. There’s no doubt in my mind – the experience is more than likely to have had a long-lasting impact on him. I think anyone would have been affected.  He didn’t tell his parents what was going on. How was he supposed to explain to them that he was in a situation whereby he was compelled to run away from other boys in the school for fear of being beaten up when they had come here for a better life. I guess he would have felt embarrassed to do so. He’d have felt the concern that he’d let her down and disappointed her.

I was reminded of this on Monday, the 14th October when I observed the racism during the Bulgaria verse England men’s football match with tears in my tears. Tears because of the brutality of a mob of football supporters against the English players in the form of their racial abuse through their monkey chants. I was reminded of a fight in a colosseum back in Roman days with people chanting around the arena for the death of a fighter. I noticed that there was a black player playing for the Bulgarian team. I wondered about his day to day experiences. I know that Black English players at times receive racial abuse at home. I’d never seen it this bad before though. There was a protocol in place, but the debate remained as to whether the English players, black and white alike should have continued playing or whether they should have walked off the field.

Just like it would have been difficult for Blacker Dread to have risked disappointing his mother by telling him what was going on at school; do we really think that football players that have been bestowed the honour of representing their country could readily decide to walk out on the match. Yes,  they were asked if they want to play on, but is that a decision that they could readily make?  Perhaps that was a decision that should have been made by the people in charge.

Beyond the game and what happened on the day, I wonder what the long term impact will be on the players or anyone else their mental health. Do they have nightmares?  Does it impact on their sense of self-worth? Does it impact the way in which they believe that people view them and as such how they react to them – impacting their day to day interactions within different environments within society? Because let’s start to be honest, even know we may feel better if we tell people to say that names will never hurt them; sticks and stones may break bones, but names do truly hurt… even more.



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Susan Popoola

Mosaic Fusions

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Author: Consequences: Diverse to Mosaic Britain

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