Black America and Black Britain: Whats the Difference?
T he truth be told; it is as subjective as the victors of battles of old, who portray the facts as they see it, but in an age of journalism and photo/tv evidence, the truth is increasingly difficult to deny.

What is this about then? Its a look back and forth of the difference between Black Britain and Black America. Let’s start by saying Black Britons never had it half as bad as their American Cousins. Its pretty obvious from Rose Parks, the Dr and Mr. X that what we had here was pretty pedestrian compared to that which still exists in parts of small town America.

So what are those differences? You could ask one notable Black American immigrant Mr Reginald D Hunter and he will eloquently point out the differences.

In certain parts of Black British culture the adoption of Black American attitudes, slang, body language, behaviours and outlook is as natural a route for an influential culture to be absorbed as has McDonalds, KFC, Burger King has been absorbed by the rest of the world.

The influence of Black America on global culture is undeniable, it has permeated every society, race, creed and faith; it has added to the enrichment of us all. Yet there is still a difference between Black America and Black Britain, which some might seem to think, yeah, so…the point being?

The latter part of the twentieth century and the new century has seen a sea change for the better with regard to opportunity and success of Black Americans in ways that were previously “a dream” in the mind of the greatest Black American. Dr King Jr would be overjoyed; or would he?

For all the pluses there are negatives; having witnessed the defiance of Black America and Black Britain from early news clippings, from black history month, from friends, parents and grandparents of friends it is a journey that has not ended; nor should it, the road is well travelled, its worn but its not complete.

Black American humour is distinctly different from the mainstream. Its a stream of its own and a powerful one at that. We all acknowledge the power of black music in our lives. The most passive/aggressive or overtly political statement of which it can be said is the work of Public Enemy which is what I grew up listening to.

In film, it is not the work of the great Sidney Poitier in films such as Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner, which for all its great writing, acting and direction, in reality it was a sanitised, dare we say homogenised and idealised version of a reality that was too brutal to accurately depict.

The black exploitation movies of the seventies and the funk based soundtracks began to depict a reality that was previously unseen in its realest form. Previous to that you would only see blacks depicted in film as the help, or savages in imperial depictions of grand British war films such as Zulu and Zulu Dawn. The Tarzan films of old which were a staple many a British child back in the days when there were only three TV channels are another example. BBC2 served up many a film or TV show that shone a retrospective light and enlightenment with the benefit of hindsight and understanding.

American humour was, sanitised and packaged for the white american majority. Freedom of expression for Black Americans was repressed and restricted to such a degree that the pressure cooker and intensity gave us the music and dance that we love admire and cherish today. For in the intensity of that repression; hope, talent, and creative genius exploded.

Then came the comic genius of Mr Richard Pryor, who in his intelligence and mastery of seeing the funny side to a desperate heart and gut wrenching reality of mid twentieth century Black American life crossed race, creed religion and oceans to bring joy and inspiration, for others to follow, such as Eddie Murphy, Chris Rock, Martin Lawrence, Eddie Grifin Cedric the Entertainer, and most recently Kevin Hart to bring joy and side splitting laughter to the world.

There is a slight difference; the race based humour where once was a symbol of Black American revolt against oppression and racism; it now feels a little tired. There more than a little hurt, in the humour which is justifiable given the brutality of the reality that Black Americans experienced; and in some sense in some parts of America it still exists to this day.

The hate based humour is a rejection of that which happened for centuries which has irreversibly altered the mindset of a vast swathe of Americans for which we are all to a certain degree become a part of the influence that it has over the rest of that which we consume from American entertainment culture.

The tables have turned on the depiction of beat down blacks or background help, shown as dumb domestics with limited vocabulary, wide wide eyed and animated, that were passive and subservient to the white master, to the violent black panther style inspired movies of Pam Greer et al. Shaft and his ilk depicted a powerful confident Black American that embraced their identity and wore it as a emblem of black beauty, confidence and power. Then there is Huggy Bear, ‘the goto negro’ for Messrs Starsky and Hutch.

When they needed the ‘lowdown’ or 'the word on the street’ as characterised by Charles Dutton in Crocodile Dundee 2 the Leroy Brown character (an eighties Huggy Bear) were drafted in to provide an insight on the nefarious activities of the criminal underworld. Then moving onwards and upwards in the criminal hierarchy to Nino Brown played by Wesley Snipes in New Jack City and their counterparts of the nineties such as Boyz in Da Hood depicting strong Black Male leads in a range of roles but mostly in the role of King Pins or Drug Dealers and Pimps sometimes a combination of all three.

Then there came Spike Lee who brought a refreshing yet seemingly not too dissimilar depiction of ‘Blackness’ in an era that brought Black Americans closer to their African roots. But at the same time Jungle Fever depicted the issues of interracial relationships in the seemingly enlightened times of the day.

The films mentioned all had an air of negative stereotyping of Black Americans being of a particular ilk. Now after a some time of being away from such content the discovery of Black Americans being depicted in positive roles and positions, being family oriented, in loving relationships, dealing with issues of love, life and the existential; dealing with the issues that we all find ourselves in regardless of race is a step change for the better.

Its been a long journey, and its the first time in human history that our collective lives have been reflected in our art, our culture, our entertainment, on film, on TV, on demand.

What has Black Britain had to contend with in comparison to Black America; nowhere near the degree, scale or viciousness or pain meted out. Opportunities, healthcare, education and housing have been so much better for Black Britain and multicultural Britain as a whole that we have a huge amount to be thankful for; both the minority ethnic population and the white majority also.

We never dealt with the in-grained centuries old blatant bigotry and outright hostility of that which occurred across the pond and for that we all can be thankful. Our influence over America, in our contribution to, culture, literature, openness and an example of how multi-culturalism can work, without so much violence and despair.

There are issues in British society, in multiculturalism, and the fears of many. The fact is that Britain is a beacon of light that shines across the world and whereIts@London aims to continually reflect that now and for many years to come.


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