Archive for May, 2012

“Who shot Biggie Smalls/ If we don’t find them, they gon’ kill us all.”

Princess Diana & Dodi Fayed

I remember exactly where I was in August 1997 when I heard that Princess Diana had died.  (Psychologists call this a flashbulb memory).  I had stopped the night at my mother’s house and she awoke me with the news that Diana and her boyfriend Dodi had been killed in a car crash in a tunnel in Paris.  My immediate response was ‘it was a hit’. It’s not that I’m a natural conspiracy theorist, but bearing in mind the events that had led up to this dramatic event, it seemed entirely plausible. Diana, mother of the future King, had become a major embarrassment to the Royal family, exposing the infidelities of her former husband and heir to the throne in a television interview, and subsequently cavorting with a series of high profile boyfriends.  Front page pictures in the tabloids of her in a bikini sunbathing on Al Fayed’s yacht, and rumours that she was now pregnant with his child, must have been too much for the House of Winsdor to bare.  In short, she had to be taken out! Or so I saw it.

In the intervening 15 years there have been many more such conspiracy theories.  The most popular being that the attack on the World Trade Centre in September 2001 was not a surprise attack on America by a loose band of terrorists led by Osama Bin Laden, but was  infact either allowed by the U.S. government who knew it was going to happen, or was orchestrated or staged by government agents in order to justify their longed for ‘war on terror’ overseas, and the implementation of draconian security measures at home.

In the words of former MI5 agent David Shayler

“I used to think they let it happen.  I have come to believe that they made it happen.”

The 9/11 Attacks – terrorist attack or government conspiracy?

Not even the President of the United States (P.O.T.U.S) is immune from such conspiracies.  Whilst the right wing racists in the US argue that Obama wasn’t even born in the US and as such, is not eligible to be President, some Black people believe that he another puppet of the Illuminati, or even an illegitimate child of George Bush Snr. And so rather than being a radical change in the status quo, he is simply carrying on the rule of the old establishment.

President Obama – is he even American?

There is nothing new in these types of conspiracy theories.  Similarly to the 9/11 attacks, way back in 1941when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbour, there were some at the time who argued that this was no surprise attack, but was allowed to happen by the President Roosevelt in order to justify America entering into World War Two, to which there was much domestic opposition.

Many Americans believe that John F. Kennedy was assassinated not by lone gun man Lee Harvey Oswald, but was infact hit by the mafia collecting unpaid debts, or even the C.I.A/ F.B.I/ right wing elements of the American establishment, who didn’t like the direction he was taking the country in.

J.F.K. – killed by lone gunman or Mafia hit?

Likewise Marilyn Monroe didn’t die of an accidental overdose, but was assassinated on the orders of JFK to cover up their affair, or by a Mafia don who was angered that she left him for the Kennedy brothers.

Although the aforementioned conspiracy theories are popular with many white Americans, recently many Black folk have jumped on the conspiracy bandwagon and are now riding it till the wheels fall off!

Rap group Dead Prez rapped on their classic track ‘Hip-Hop’,

 “Who shot Biggie Smalls/ If we don’t find them, they gon’ kill us all.”

On the same album they assert that Bob Marley didn’t die of cancer.  Do they know something that we don’t?

Mary J. Blige was quoted as saying that she was devastated by the death of R&B singer Aaliyah in 2002, and was convinced that she would be next.  If Aaliyah died in a tragic plane accident why would Mary feel that she would be next?

Aaliyah – killed in plane accident or something more sinister?

Unless she felt that it wasn’t just a random accident but infact part of an orchestrated campaign by unseen powers to take out Black music stars that had previously succeeded in removing Otis Redding, Jimi Hendrix, Marvin Gaye, and more recently Biggie and Tupac. (Personally I prefer Chris Rock’s take on those last two cases.  “Malcolm X and Martin Luther King were assassinated – them two niggas was shot!”)

Or have you heard the theory, that when the levees broke in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina that led to the floods in New Orleans, this was not the result of a natural disaster, but rather caused by direct action (or deliberate inaction) from the US government in order to drown/wash away the poor Black community that had remained stuck there.  (Personally I prefer Kanye West’s infamous assessment of the situation – “George Bush doesn’t care about Black people”).

Beyonce – surely not a satanist?

More recently I received e-mails telling me that Beyoncé is a devil worshipper and the artwork for her album I Am Sasha Fierce is full of satanic iconography.  As if that was not bad enough, apparently her husband Jay Z is a member of the Illuminati.  The diamond symbol that he likes to ask the crowd to ‘throw up’ at concerts, is not the innocent symbol of his Roc-A-Fella Record label, but is infact Illuminati symbolism.

The Roc A Fella symbol – illuminati symbolism?

So why are Black people so fond of conspiracy theories, and does it even matter? Even if they are all proved to be false, isn’t it just a bit of harmless fun?  For some perhaps, but for others it can be the thin edge of the wedge.  The problem is not in the theories themselves, but in a way of thinking that they encourage.  We all know people (usually of the older generation) who refuse to use Facebook, or supermarket reward cards, or shop on-line, for fear of corporations secretly collecting data on them.  Or to chat their personal business over the phone because ‘the feds might be listening.’ It’s a small step from being cautious, to being hyper-vigilant.  And then from hyper-vigilance to paranoia. And from paranoia to paranoid schizophrenia, which is a particular problem for Black people.

The Fourth National Survey of Ethnic Minorities (FNS) shows a higher rate of psychotic illness for Black Caribbean people than for white people, with Black Caribbean people being twice as likely to be diagnosed with psychosis. According to American Psychiatric Association schizophrenia represents a group of disorders characterised by the presence of thought disorder – more specifically misinterpretations of reality; delusions and hallucinations; inappropriate emotional and social response; and withdrawn regressive, or bizarre behaviour.

Although delusions vary, they tend to encompass a small number of themes.  The most common type is persecutory or paranoid in which the individual feels himself the victim of some kind of malevolent plot.  The imaginary persecutors are sometimes people known to the patient, but more often institutions such as government bodies or criminal gangs or ideological groups.

Legendary 70s soul singer Donny Hathaway suffered from schizophrenia, and its reported that on the day he died, he had complained that white people were trying to steal the music from his head, before he threw himself to his death.

Donny Hathaway – suffered from schizophrenia.

The problem is not so much the conspiracy theories themselves, but rather in the world view that they encourage. Have you noticed that the people who cling to these kinds of theories the most, are the ones at the margins of society? The very ones at most risk from developing mental illness.

Another thing that historically Black people have been particularly fond of, is religion. Religious people say that faith is belief in something in the absence of proof.  I would go further and argue that faith is belief is something despite facts that prove the contrary.  People cling to their beliefs despite contrary evidence because it fits in with their world view.  I was so willing to believe that Diana was assassinated, because it fits in with my view of the Royal Family as a murderous villainous dynasty.  Christians cling to Creation Theory despite the contrary evidence from Carbon dating, Geology and Archaeology because if the creation story is proved to be wrong, then what else in the Bible is wrong?  If they let go of that, then they may have to let go of their whole belief system, their whole world view, the whole religion that defines them.

Christians still adhere to the Creation Story despite evidence to the contrary.

If such beautiful and talented people like Aaliyah, Princess Diana, Marilyn Monroe can die in random accidents, then it could happen to any of us.  If the P.O.T.U.S. can be assassinated by a mad lone gun-man, then so could any of us.  For some, that is too terrible to contemplate and so they create a larger more comforting story to explain these events.

Similarly, how is it that Beyoncé has had such a long and successful career when most R&B chicks come and go like fashion?  She must have sold her sold to the devil!

How could two ordinary Black men, like Jay Z and Obama, both raised by single mothers like so many of us, rise to such heights, just on their own merits?  It is easier for us Black men struggling at the bottom, to believe that their success is due to  membership of some secret all-powerful organisation, rather than to acknowledge that it is down to their own hard work and talent. Because if they can do it, then why can’t we?

Conspiracy theories are rather like religion – although on the face of it they are nonsensical and ridiculous, they are actually reassuring as they give meaning and order to life.  Rather than believing that the world is a random, lawless, chaotic place where anything can happen, at any time, to even the best of us, it is more comforting to believe that some higher power is in control, even if they may not always have our interests at heart, and they sometimes allow bad things to happen for reasons our simple minds can’t understand. It is more comforting to believe a fantastical conspiracy theory then to acknowledge the bleak and terrifying truth. Sometimes planes and cars just crash by accident, no matter how beautiful or talented the passenger is.

As Elaine Showalter put it in her 1997 book Hystories: Hysterical Epidemics and Modern Culture……….

“Men and women, therapists and patients, will need courage to face the hidden fantasies, myths and anxieties that make up the current hysterical crucible: we must look into our own psyches rather than to invisible enemies, devils and alien invaders for the answers.”

For our own benefit and mental health, we must stop giving the credit for what happens in the world to unseen powers, and secret organisations, and give the power back to ourselves.

Lee Pinkerton

If you are concerned about Black people and mental illness I recommend checking this website http://www.hsconsultancy.org.uk  

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“EmancipateYourself  from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our minds.”                                                            Bob Marley – Redemption Songs

I’ve just recently seen the new documentary film on Bob Marley.  Usually when I see these kind of conscious docs, I put a review of it up on my blog, but since this film has had so much exposure in the mainstream media, I don’t think it’s necessary – after all the Blakwatch is supposed to offer an alternative to the mainstream, not follow it.

Never-the-less, it was a revealing film which I’d recommend.  Even for the long-time Marley fan like myself, there were plenty of tasty tit-bits of trivia.  Like the fact that when his white English father met his Black Jamaican mother she was just 16 and he was in his 60s! Or the fact that when he married Rita, he moved to Delaware the very next day, to work in a factory as a fork-lift driver.  Or the details of the time he spent in an exclusive clinic in Bavaria at the end of his fight with cancer.

But my favourite anecdote was about when he performed at the Independence Day celebration in Zimbabwe in1980. When the throngs outside the stadium forced their way in, tear-gas was let off and Marley’s band fled the stage.  But Bob remained, defiant and alone.  When the melee died down and the band returned, Marley apparently turned to them and said “now we see who the real revolutionaries are.” This nicely shows that Marley, like those other 70s musical icons James Brown and Fela Kuti, did not just regard himself as a pop star or an entertainer, but more a Black revolutionary.

But this film got me thinking on a deeper level (as all good art should do).  The early part of the film makes much of Bob’s mixed parentage, his white absentee father, and the stigmatisation, discrimination and ostracism he suffered for being the only ‘red-skinned bwoy’ in the district.  The suggestion of the film was that the ostracism that he felt, pushed him on a search for identity that eventually led him to embrace the philosophy of Rastafari.  But anyone who is familiar with Jamaican society knows that, far from being a handicap, being light-skinned or of mixed racial heritage offers immense advantages. As Malcolm Gladwell reveals in the epilogue to his excellent book ‘Outliers’.

Malcolm Gladwell – author of ‘Outliers’

“whites saw mulattoes – the children of those (mixed) relationships – as potential allies, a buffer between them and the enormous numbers of slaves on the island.  Mulatto women were prized as mistresses, and their children, one shade lighter in turn, moved still further up the social and economic ladder. ”

The same is still true today. You’ll be watching MTV Base a long time if you’re waiting to see a dark-skinned girl in a hip-hop video. From Josephine Baker in the 30s, to Lena Horne in the 40s, and Dorothy Dandridge in the 50s, to Pam Grier in the 70s, to Vanessa Williams and Lisa Bonet in the 80s, to Tyra Banks and Halle Berry in the 90s, to Beyonce today, when it comes to our Black beauties,  it seems the lighter the better. In this Eurocentric world in which we live in, mixed race is the acceptable face of Blackness.

Josephine Baker – toast of Paris in the 30s

Lisa Bonet – 80’s TV icon

Pam Grier – 70’s Queen of Blaxploitation

Those who are dark try their hardest to look as European as possible with hair weave and colour contacts. Black models with strongly African features like Alex Wek get no love.

Alex Wek – too Black?

Gladwell continues ……….

 “Mulattoes rarely worked in the fields.  They lived a much easier life of working in the ‘house’.  They were the ones most likely to be freed. It’s not surprising then, that the brown-skinned classes of Jamaica came to fetishize their lightness.  It was their great advantage.  They scrutinized the shade of one another’s skin and played the colour game as ruthlessly in the end as the whites did.”

It is a direct result of this process of racial hierarchy that, despite gaining independence in 1962, it was not until 1992 that Jamaica had its first dark skinned Prime Minister in the shape of P.J.Paterson.

P.J. Patterson – J.A.’s first ‘Black’ Prime Minister

And African-Americans are no better. Have you noticed that their leaders, no matter how radical and pro-Black they may be, from Elijah Muhammed, to Malcolm X, to Louis Farrakhan, to Martin Luther King, to Jesse Jackson, to Obama today, tend to be light-skinned?  It seems that African-Americans are unwilling to follow anyone darker than themselves.

Farrakhan – light enough to lead?

Such shadism occurs across the diaspora.  Wherever white slave masters plied their evil trade and propagated their wicked doctrine, the descendants of those slaves still carry the mental scars.

“Every time I hear the crack of a whip, my blood runs in me cold.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               I remember on the slave ship, how they brutalised our very souls.”            Bob Marley – Slave Driver

Laws entrenching the separation of the races have been long repealed, and slavery long abolished, but sadly many in the diaspora still carry the shackles of slavery in their heads.

When the white boss of Island Records Chris Blackwell got white musicians to over-dub more instrumentation on the Wailers ‘Catch A Fire’ album and wanted to promote them like a Black rock act, founding members Bunny Wailer and Peter Tosh weren’t as willing as Bob to compromise.  They eventually left the group, stayed in J.A. and joined the long list of roots reggae artists, while Bob toured the world and became an international superstar.

Bob with Bunny Wailer & Peter Tosh – The Original Wailers.

We see that same willingness to compromise from that other modern day, international superstar of dual heritage Barack Obama.  Recall that after a bitter campaign to be the Democratic Presidential nominee, Obama was quick to strike a deal with Hilary Clinton, offering her a top job as Secretary of State in his future government, in return for her endorsement.  And since becoming President, he has bent over backwards to compromise with his right wing opponents.

Barack & Hillary – enemies can become friends if you’re willing to compromise.

Was Bob’s international success due to Chris Blackwell favouring him over the other Wailers, or was their own relative lack of success down to their unwillingness to compromise?

Is it due to the advantages conferred on the light-skinned, or simply not being weighed down by the mental shackles, that has allowed bi-racial sporting heroes like Tiger Woods in golf, and Lewis Hamilton in F1, to break through barriers into sports previously the exclusive preserve of whites?

Do so many Black men in this country struggle to progress because of outright discrimination, or is it down to an unwillingness to do what is required to advance?

I really don’t know, but as a sign on the wall of the office of my old tele-sales job put it, “maybe the thing that’s holding you back is you?

Lee Pinkerton

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A big thank you to all readers of ‘theblakwatch’.  Thanks to the harnessing of social media we have managed to go from 81 hits in the first month (January) to over 200 in April, with some readers afar afield as Spain, the USA, and Australia!

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Lee Pinkerton