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Has black culture made British society cool?

EVENT: Notting Hill Carnival first began to celebrate caribbean culture in the UK

Each week we ask two writers with contrasting opinions to answer the question...


JASMINE DOTIWALA
YES

For the purposes of this column, with tongue very firmly in cheek, I am going to tell you what you already know but would probably be too scared to voice. As a neutral bystander that is neither black nor white living in the western world, I can, from an observer’s point of view, clearly see that the rest of society embraces black culture, celebrates it and often makes it their own.

Without black music, language, food and fashion, the UK today would be totally different. Let’s take a look at the list of evidence. Black culture gave the UK Notting Hill Carnival-the coolest, biggest European street festival for many years, until recently.

In the sports world athletes like Usain Bolt and Mo Farrah gave the UK a massive global cool factor at the Olympics with their personalities, recognized victory poses and a feeling of unity, pride and joy across the country.

Dances are dictated by black culture: bogling, the electric slide, there are British girls of every ethnic background ‘dutty wining’ and jumping up on stage at Tim Westwood raves to ‘win a prize for gyrating. Without the Lindy Hop and the Charleston, white folks wouldn’t have the jive. Even the English National Ballet is street dancing!

Body image - why else would non-black women want to inject poison to make their lips, butts and boobs bigger? Japanese companies are now selling underwear and jeans with butt implants in them! White culture used to be obsessed with bony chicks, now they’re obsessed with butts. Don’t even get me started on the fact that every person with a skin tone that is fair is slapping on sun tanning lotion or spray tanning before they go out. Look at fashion, from breakdance obsessed 90s tracksuits, to reggae red, gold and green garms, to designer brands like D&G emulating dancehall queen fashion.

When it comes to food, doesn’t everyone now own some jerk spice in their larder and say “oh yes I love jollof rice’’ around their black mates. In the 1990’s I even remember my white mates coming back from New York with bucket loads of Kool Aid because they thought it was cool.

Furthermore, look at the country’s names list. Adding ‘Isha’ and ‘Niqua’ on the end of an ethnic name was commonplace in the past. But now I interview people and assuming by their names that they will be ethnic – 50 per cent of the time they’re white!

Similarly, how about slanguage? Throughout my whole life slang that was started both in the Caribbean and black communities of America have been adopted by the rest of society - ‘‘wicked’’, “gwan!’’, “big up.” Even high quality print press use words like “swagger” and “diss” now.

Music... Elvis stealing Lil Richard’s sound. The first time I realized Elvis’ Nothin But A Hound Dog was a bopped up version of Big Mamma Thornton’s original Nothin But A Hound Dog was definitely a moment.  Modern pop music is all soul, gospel, R&B and hip-hop - shout out Justin Bieber, Joss Stone, and Eminem etc.

However, there are some areas that people who are not black just shouldn’t go. Afro hair is perfect for cane rows, Caucasian hair isn’t. The tourists who sit for hours to get their hair braided by the locals only for them to end up looking like scarecrows are not cool. Young teenage drunks in Magaluf shouldn’t keep shouting YOLO! That’s not cool either.

Alternatively, things that the wider community will probably never copy from black culture but should embrace include: keeping your kids in check if they bad mouth you, running away from a disaster instead of confronting and exploring it, not putting your hands in other’s food or drinking from a stranger’s cup, not walking barefoot in a dirty public space and not letting your dog lick your face!

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ROSA DOHERTY
NO

Without black culture society would never be as cool?

So… I can only assume I am approaching the debate, tongue in cheek. There are obviously other factors that exist, bar the commercial success and widespread popularity of hip-hop in the past 20 years, that make British people cool.   

While there is no denying black culture is cool along with other cultures (mine for example *cough Irish, Jewish *cough) and is often adopted by others in a bid to be cool, (nods to Ali G, thank you for eternity) it is not a crowning reason for coolness. No one culture is responsible for ‘cool’.

There are interesting and exciting things in most cultures that people adopt because they are ‘in’. For example, in the 1990s I wore cheap red imitation silk Chinese dresses because fashion told me to. Adopting a particular culture’s traditional way of dressing because fashion tells you to has been happening for decades.

Our current favourite dish as a nation is a curry on a Friday night. Tourists dash to a local fish and chip shop to experience one of the coolest British staples. People flock in groups to do yoga, one of ancient India’s oldest disciplines because it’s the new cool way to keep fit. And while we do seem to take being cool to new extremes recently with the big bum implant inspired by the likes of Niky Minaj, I haven’t seen one mainstream magazine (arguably the dictator of cool) ditch the archetypal skinny white girl on the cover.

The idea that Jay Z headlines Glastonbury and suddenly people who once rolled around in mud on ecstasy are, or think they are, cooler, is sillier than the initial drug taking and rolling in mud itself. In actual fact, it could be argued that Jay Z was made cooler by the largely white middle class hippy festival in the first place.

It may be hard to miss that the moment of cool we seem to be living through is heavily influenced by what some would call ‘black culture’.

This is no new thing. Fashion comes in waves, what’s in fashion now wasn’t in fashion for our parents’ generation and I know back then people probably felt they were the height of cool in the 1960s as they smoked lots of weed, sat in protest and wore Biba clothes. 

Many of them would even argue now (possibly through a haze of smoke) that they still are the coolest dudes around, as without them, coolness would not even exist. Point being that without ‘black culture’ there are still things people think are cool. 

If society thinks black culture is the definitive of cool/and we wouldn’t be cool without it, why are there women from all cultures willing to ditch their natural hair and spend hundreds on European hair extensions? 

It’s also important to point out that there are aspects of black culture that some would argue are synonymous with it.

These would include things such as rap music, flashy lifestyles and new language. But while the media would like to dwell on these cosmetic factors they are NOT the things that define black culture.

THE 'HEAD TO HEAD' COLUMN IS BY THE LONDON 360 REPORTERS
. To find out more about what our reporters are up to go to www.communitychannel.org/london360
-WE ARE LONDON!

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