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Dereck Chisora: What a ‘role model’ for Britain’s black youths

Michael Mumisa

139302611 210x300 Dereck Chisora: What a ‘role model’ for Britain’s black youthsWhile there is no shortage of positive role models from among Britain’s diverse black communities, it is still a sad reality that for most young black people the majority of time they get to see someone who looks like them on TV is when that person is in a rap video, on the sports field, in a police van, or threatening to shoot someone.

The total set of these and other narrow representations of blacks on our TV screens have over many decades formed part of the powerful ‘discourses’ which continue to play a central role in the construction of young black identities.  Public figures like Dereck Chisora and others do not only perpetuate society’s stereotype of black males as violent and out of control, they also ‘train’ young black males to ‘perform blackness’ or what they think it means to be black. Recent attempts to provide black youths with ‘alternative’ role models from areas as diverse as academia, politics, business, media, theology, and other professions have yet to yield concrete results.

In what looked like a bloody Wild West bar fight, Dereck Chisora was filmed threatening to “shoot” and “physically burn” David Haye. This was after he had been strongly condemned for slapping Vitali Klitschko at the weigh-in for their world title match and for reportedly spitting water into Klitschko’s brother’s Wladimir’s face just before the fight.

In recent years, we have come to expect this kind of behaviour in professional boxing but what is particularly disturbing about this recent incident is the allegation that Chisora threatened to “shoot” and “physically burn” Haye.

In his current position as one of Britain’s famous boxers, he is someone who would be seen by some young people as worthy of emulation. Many young lives in Britain are being lost to violent gun and knife crimes, and black communities have been the most affected. Teachers, parents, and many youth organisations continue to fight against a pervasive mindset among some young people that when someone “disses” you, the only way to respond is through violence. It seems that they are fighting a losing battle when the ‘role models’ they hope and expect to be working with them are the ones who appear to be among those perpetuating that mindset.

Dereck Chisora and David Haye’s violent clash outside of the boxing ring does not only damaged the tattered credibility of professional boxing but it can also potentially undermine the work of those who claim that boxing can function as a safe and controlled space in which the youth can express their aggression under strict rules of conduct. If seasoned professional boxers appear to be failing to benefit from the self-discipline we are often told can be achieved through boxing it is hard to see how young people will.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jamal-Davies/635745954 Jamal Davies

    MrStraightTalker. It seems to me that your problem is not with the article itself but with the fact that you did not understand it. The writer uses a few theoretical concepts that any 1st year student of ‘critical race studies’, postcolonial theory, African-American studies, African studies, and other related disciplines would easily recognize and understand. So as mentioned by Joseph Abrahams, terms like “discourse” are common theoretical terms which originate in continental philosophy, particularly the works of Michel Foucault and others. As an African-American I had no problem whatsoever understanding where the writer was coming from or what he was saying because we have been having the same discussion here in the USA for decades. As someone who also spent a number of years in the UK I’m aware that this kind of debate or discussion is still in its infancy due to the limited number of black public intellectuals in the UK willing to write and publish on these issues. The other terms or concept you appear to be having problems with in Mumisa’s article are:
     
     ‘train’ young black males to ‘perform blackness’
     
    One problem I notices during my stay in the UK was that the UK university education system no longer trains undergraduates to do old school “close reading” of texts, even those who are studying literatures do not learn this valuable skill unless of course if they are educated at elite British universities. There are social and political reasons why “close reading” is a dying art in some of Britain’s less prestigious universities. I will not go into them here. Close reading would have enabled you to identify in the article certain markers which would help you understand what the writer was doing. The obvious ones which even a high school pupil would see are the inverted commas on the words ‘train’ and ‘perform blackness’!  “Performing blackness” is not a new concept and if you are not familiar with it it is simply because the kind of undergraduate training you received did not expose or introduce you to such concepts and theories. Readers of The Independent are often educated and enlightened people so one would hope that if a reader was not sure about certain concepts or ideas he or she would do a simple search to see if things would become clear. Reading should also be a learning process. We should not just be informed by writers but taught something new. That is why personally I read The Independent because I am always learning something new from the writers. African and African-American intellectuals have always been discussing about “performing blackness” and it is a concept now taken for granted and commonly used. The African-American film director Spike Lee is one of the most outspoken critics of “performing blackness” and he would be in agreement with Michael Mumisa on this issue. Spike Lee’s film Bamboozled (2000) is a cinematic representation of his views about those within the black communities who “perform blackness” [please note that this concept means something very specific and it does not mean that a person should not be black]. His recent attacks of Tyler Perry’s films are on the basis that Tyler Perry “performs blackness” through his films and perpetuate negative stereotypes about black people. You may disagree with Spike Lee but his views are shared by a majority of black middle-class Americans. Spike Lee is black and upper middle-class, educated at the elite Morehouse College. Tyler Perry is working-class with no college/university education; his audiences are also predominantly black working class. There has always been a class tension within the black communities on issues relating to the representation of black people and the role played by black people themselves in that process. I can see some of those concerns expressed in this article. This article would be well received by black people here in the USA but it seems that SOME PEOPLE within UK’s black communities still have a long way to go. On the issue of “performing blackness”,  I would recommend that check out the following:
     
    1.      “Performing blackness on English stages, 1500-1800” by Virginia Mason Vaughan.
    2.      “Performing blackness: enactments of African-American modernism” by Kimberly W. Benston
    3.      “Performing blackness, forming whiteness: Linguistic minstrelsy in Hollywood film” by Mary Bucholtz, Qiuana Lopez.
     
    People like Spike Lee or Michael Mumisa as well as other black intellectuals who write about “performing blackness” are not against the idea of “performing blackness” per se but, as Michael Mumisa writes in this article, “what they think it means to be black”. If you read that line closely you will see that he wrote, “OR what they think” instead of “and what they think” which means the line “OR what they think it means to be black” is an explanation of the line before it, “train…perform blackness”. So they have a problem with the performance of narrow definitions of what it means to be black, definitions which are based on an accident of history and social conditions. For example, the definition of what it means to be black for a boy who grows up in a rough inner city and does not get the opportunity to go to university will be very different from a boy who either grows up in a middle class or working-class family but manages to go to a good university. Although they are both black, their understanding of what it means to be black will be different.

  • Layla69

    Jamal Davies has given you a detailed answer. You seem confused about what you disagree with. None of your comments are clear or coherent. No one expects you to agree with the article. I doubt that when the writer wrote it he expected everyone to agree with him. If he did I doubt that he would have written it. You are now saying that it is the “tone” of the article you disagree with. Can you define “tone” in this context because that is a technical term. Or are you using “tone” in a popular/common sense meaning you agree with the article’s argument but not with the way the argument is presented and you would have preferred a “dumbed down” version?

  • MrStraightTalker

    “‘Performing blackness’ is not a new concept and if you are not familiar with it it is simply because the kind of undergraduate training you received did not expose or introduce you to such concepts and theories.”

    You’re the second person who’s assumed I went to Uni, why?

    I am aware of the term ‘Performing blackness’, including such criticisms surrounding Tyler Perry’s films, but I am not convinced I used this term out of context in some way.

    What I considered to be the general “tone” of the article, was that “ ‘perform blackness’ or what they think it means to be black. “, was associated with the “bad bwoy” public behaviour displayed by the two boxers on TV, which in turn was perceived to influence how black men act, or how they think they should act. But as you have highlighted in the last part of your comment, how they think they should act, is much more about their social background.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jamal-Davies/635745954 Jamal Davies

    MrStraightTalker:
    Sorry if my assumption that you received some formal university training was wrong.
     
    In response to your last paragraph on whether the narrow representations of blacks in popular culture and media shape and affect the behaviours and sense of self among some young black people or whether such behaviours and sense of self are based on their social backgrounds, I think this is precisely why Michael uses the term “discourse” which would cover and include all these factors. For most theorists this is not the same as the chicken and egg problem, and for them these various factors are “reciprocal.” The use of technical terms like “discourse” enables writers to allude or directly refer to these issues without going into greater detail. Most people now have some familiarity with these terms and how they are used. The African-Caribbean intellectual, Professor Stuart Hall who as I understand was educated at Oxford before becoming one of the most influential theorists on race studies in the world has written a lot about “discourses” and the use and function of this term in theoretical analyses of race and representation. He has a very good recent and accessible chapter in an edited volume: Race and racialization: Essential Readings (2007) edited by Tania Gas Gupta. The title of Stuart Hall’s chapter is: Chapter 6 “The West and the rest: Discourse and power”. This is a very useful and informative chapter which explains some of the meanings and uses of the term “Discourse” he also touches on “Representation” and draws from Edward Said’s Orientalism. The good news is that you can read the whole chapter free online if you search for it.

  • MrStraightTalker

    OK Jamal, lesson learned :-)

    Thanks for the reading pointers.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jamal-Davies/635745954 Jamal Davies

    You are welcome :-)
    I too am still learning . Have a great weekend. 


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