I try to pay as little attention as possible to the Daily Mail as I can. But almost every other week without fail a Mail headline will pop up on my Twitter timeline. Not because I follow anyone who reads it (I don’t think I do) but usually because someone has quote tweeted a racist article. Grime artist, Stormzy, has been a frequent target of the Daily Mail’s racist attacks. Since he has risen to prominence, the Daily Mail has tried to slander his character in every way possible. Several weeks ago, Stormzy won British Album of the Year at the 2018 Brit Awards. It was a massive achievement for the artist who became the first grime artist to reach number one on the official UK charts. However, the Daily Fail, I mean Mail couldn’t resist once again trying to tear him down.
The article in question was headlined “Platell’s People: Can’t you show a scintilla of gratitude, Stormzy?” It was written by Amanda Platell, an Australian journalist, who writes an opinion column for the Daily Mail, based in the UK. What firstly grabs our eyes from the article is the hypocrisy and double standard. The article begins “Michael Omari was born in a council house in Croydon, South London, in 1993.” It doesn’t seem to be entirely accurate information as I highly doubt Stormzy was literally born in a council house but rather in a hospital nearby. Details aside, Stormzy was born in South London and grew up in South London he is British by default. The author, however, is not a British citizen, was born and grew up in Australia and only moved to the UK when she was 28. A fair question can be raised: how can she have the gall to demand gratitude from a born and bred Brit as an Australian immigrant without citizenship? The reason why a lot of Black Brits call themselves Nigerian, Ghanaian or Jamaican more often than British is because they don’t look like what a lot of White Brits consider to be British whether they were born and/or raised in the country.
Platell uses Stormzy’s background to attempt to cover up her blatant racism. She mentions that his “mum emigrated from Ghana to Britain in the hope of giving herself and her family a better life.” She suggests that “whatever your background, this is a country that provides opportunities” but fails to see how she’s benefited from white privilege as a white woman from Australia. She is viewed as an expatriate because she’s coming from a majority white country whereas Stormzy’s mother coming from Ghana as a black woman will be viewed as an immigrant. Despite Australia and Ghana both being commonwealth countries, migrants from Commonwealth countries such as Australia and Canada to the UK are viewed more favourably than migrants from African Commonwealth countries such as Ghana and Nigeria.
Platell’s bone to pick is to do with Stormzy’s performance at the Brit Awards where he says “yo, Theresa May, where’s the money for Grenfell and you got the cheek to call us savages, you should do some jail time we should burn your house down and see if you can manage this.” Personally, I was blown away by this performance, I thought it was incredibly powerful to see not only a Black British artist but a grime artist (or any artist for that matter) brave enough to challenge the Prime Minister and the Conservative government on mainstream television. Using a common Daily Mail tactic, Platell brings up the artist’s past. “Stormzy got six A*s at GCSE level and A levels before he left school and entered a world of gangs, drug dealing and violence.” Platell fails to understand the lives of many working-class Black British youth growing up in low-quality council houses and lacking the opportunities to better themselves. Or even lacking the ambition and believing it is possible to even achieve such great things.
Platell ended the article with “Is it asking too much that he show a scintilla of gratitude to the country that offered his mother and him so much? Instead of trashing it.” Amanda surely must’ve forgotten colonial Britain once colonised the 90% of the world and that Britain also sent convicts to the country she is from. The devastating lasting effects of the British Empire is still evident in most sub-Saharan African countries today. British history is Black history. Britain, as we know it today, does not exist without the colonisation of Africa and its people. Just over a month ago, news broke about DNA analysis of Britain’s oldest complete skeleton “Cheddar Man” which revealed the first modern Britons, who lived about 10,000 years ago, had “dark to black” skin. Black British Twitter revelled in the glee that racist White Brits would be angered to find out they may have ancestors with dark skin. While I found these tweets funny, racial classification as we know it is a relatively recent Western European invention from the 18th century. Last year the BBC four-part miniseries Black and British: A Forgotten History traced the thousands of years of Black British history. I however, think revisionism should be avoided. While there has been a presence of sub-Saharan Africans in Britain for thousands of years, we know that large-scale migration began in 1948 with the arrival of the Empire Windrush which carried hundreds of West Indian migrants to Britain. Most Black Brits today are descendants of West Indian and African migrants who arrived in large numbers in the second half of the 20th century.
Sadly enough, black brits know they will never be considered fully British. For an instance, there has been an unfolding scandal around the treatment by the Home Office of a group of people who arrived in the UK as children from Commonwealth countries being told to go back. Here, I recall a live show of the literature and pop culture podcast ‘Mostly Lit’ co-hosted by AlexReads, Rai and Derek Owusu, when they discussed Afua Hirsh’s book Brit(ish) and ask themselves a question, ‘where is home’. AlexReads’ response was funny but also poignant, “home is wherever I find plantain.” It is true, plantain is a food which connects Black Brits of West African and West Indian descent. It is also for many of the black brits including myself, especially first, second or third generation because we will never be considered fully British, so we hold on to our original culture. The ‘regular’ Brits will demand black Britons to show gratitude for being allowed to live in their glorious country. The co-host, Derek Owusu of Ghanaian descent however, who used to identify himself as English having been born in England and growing up in foster care now identifies as a Ghanaian in London for the same reason AlexRead finds home where he finds plantain. But think about it, if the British government was to revoke his and black Britons’ passports where would they go? Where would be home?
We don’t need to prove to White Britons that we belong here because many will never consider us fully British even if we were born here and grew up here. So Amanda Platell, no, Stormzy need not show gratitude to Britain because he accomplished his achievements in spite of Britain not because of it.