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The trouble with being black

PASSIONATE: Scandal creator Shonda Rhimes hit out at a TV critic who questioned whether “ethnic casting” in TV shows this year has been “too much of a good thing”

RACE RELATED issues have been the order of the day for many media outlets of late.

Last week on Channel 4 we had the Trevor Phillips documentary The Things We Don’t Say About Race That Are True, and yesterday (March 24) in an interview with Radio 1, British singer FKA twigs reflected on the racist abuse she received on Twitter.

Even more recently – today, in fact (March 25) – famed US screenwriter Shonda Rhimes took to Twitter to blast an “ignorant” article that questioned whether “ethnic casting” in TV shows this year has been “too much of a good thing.”

Essentially, the writer of the offending article on news website Deadline, suggested that the casting of black actresses including Viola Davis, Taraji P. Henson and Tracee Ellis Ross in lead roles this year was excessive.

PRIME-TIME HIT: Actress Taraji P. Henson plays the character of Cookie in Fox's Empire

“…as is the case with any sea change, the pendulum might have swung a bit too far in the opposite direction,” writer Nellie Andreeva reasoned.

“Apparently, some white actors have been disqualified from certain roles based on their race alone,” she continued. “Does this sound at all familiar?”

Rhimes could not have been more accurate in branding the article “ignorant.” It is, surely, the only way to describe anyone who would dare to suggest that a handful of black actresses landing lead roles in one year is worth questioning.

For years, TV viewers, black and white, have watched a plethora of programmes that had white actors in leading roles.

Meanwhile, black actors made do with being ‘the friend’, ‘the side-kick’ or some other stereotypical part. Yet there was little complaint from mainstream media about the position of said “pendulum” then. Funny, eh?

But sadly, this is just one type of ignorance we face in the black community. Throughout our lives, we often have to navigate our way through challenge after challenge relating to race or culture – and sometimes, it comes from within our own culture!

With this in mind, it seemed fitting to list a few of the scenarios – both frivolous and infuriating – so many of us have faced, and continue to face as black Brits. See how many you can relate to:

Browsing in a store and realising that a member of staff has appeared out of nowhere to suddenly start ‘tidying’ an area right next to where you’re standing. You wonder how much actual tidying she can get done when she’s got one eye on you, but hey, she must know what she’s doing.

English people asking you where you’re from and then – when they’re not satisfied when you reply, for example, “Birmingham” – they proceed to ask: “No, where are you really from?” Clearly, to them, your heritage is of more relevance than your actual place of birth.

English folks asking you: “Can I touch your hair?”

Walking down the street, unintentionally catching up with an elderly English person, and feeling the need to slow down your pace, for fear that said elderly person might think you’re following them with ill-intentions.

For the brothers in particular: Seeing elderly English women clutch their handbags when they see you walking towards them in the street.

For the sisters: Walking into a black hairdressers you’ve never been to before, and feeling awash with intimidation as 'Pinky', the main stylist, stares at you blankly – while plaiting another customer’s hair – but fails to say anything, leaving you to nervously make your request. Turns out Pinky is quite nice, but why couldn’t she just say ‘hello’ when you walked through the door?

For the corporate sisters: Desperately wanting to put your hair in plaits (it’s time to give the weave/relaxer a break), but knowing that your boss/colleagues might deem your hairdo too ‘ethnic’ for the company.

Faithfully giving regular custom to your local African/Caribbean eatery, even though the staff always seem put out when it comes to serving you.

Expressing your view with passion and being told that you’re aggressive.

Police stop and search – nuff said.

Receiving poor or plain rude service from non-black staff in hair shops because they take your custom for granted.

Having to deal with the lack of black-interest programmes on mainstream television and yet…

…The BBC won’t bring back the ready-made hit series The Real McCoy.

But folks, despite our challenges, we created some of the greatest forms of music (that we can dance to with rhythm); we boast an array of cultural cuisines; and non-black folks are paying good money to achieve the full figures so many of us have naturally.

Our hair is versatile, we age well (black don’t crack) and our style has spawned countless global trends.

But what is, perhaps, worthy of the greatest note is the fact that, despite a horrific history and challenges we still face from day-to-day, we can still walk with our heads held high.

So unleash your inner James Brown and sing: “Say it loud, I’m black and I’m proud!”

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