The Police’s Ban on Bashment Reveals Their Fear of Blackness

by Shane Thomas

When thinking of police interactions with black citizens, one often visualises the nuisance of harassment and the tragedy of death. But long held anti-black maxims also appear in their involvement in the most innocuous areas of British life.

The Metropolitan Police were recently in the news after they allegedly instructed Dice Bar in Croydon to stop playing bashment on the premises[1] – or, to use their words, “What this borough finds unacceptable forms of music.”

Croydon is a racially diverse borough, and the Jamaican diaspora’s presence is nothing new. But when the language of integration is a feature of our national discourse, anything incepted by people of colour is on trial, an object lesson in how diversity isn’t an automatic synonym for fairness.

Further understanding can be gleaned in the treatment of another form of black music: grime. Shereen Abyan addressed how the genre has had to deal with the established press trying to partition the music from its blackness. More pertinently, it’s struggled to find a live audience as a result of police interference, with the 696 form impeding grime artists from performing.

This partly explains the difficulties black UK musicians have in piercing the national consciousness, as well as the dearth of black headliners at our music festivals. The only black music welcome to all is a hybrid of the Capital/Kiss FM playlist; mellifluous singing, not the viscerally bellowed stanza.

In addition, we have to look at the ongoing gentrification of huge swathes of London, with Croydon being no exception. Bans on bashment and grime, which are seen (maybe erroneously) to only appeal to the working class – of all races – fortify the town’s attempts to entice a more affluent clientele. Owen Vince sagely described it thus: “The public are only as useful as the money they carry and spend.”

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However, when looking to comprehend the Met Police’s actions towards Dice Bar, there’s an exigent factor we can’t afford to overlook. It’s the issue of sex.

Thinking back to my university days, I distinctly remember a white associate who would grouse during the brief interludes of bashment on nights out. When asking him why he disliked it so much, he derided it as “black sex music”. Britain’s uneasy relationship with sex metastasises into a perverse anxiety when coupled with blackness.

The notion of black sex (not just in Britain) can be terrifying to the psyche of whiteness. Intersecting with patriarchy and respectability politics, it incites fear of sexual inferiority[2]. First, with the specious stereotype of black sexual prowess, and second, the potential of our sexual involvement with white cis women.

This tendentious perspective has positioned bashment as a siren song that puts all who listen to it in a debauched frenzy, with white cis women helpless to control themselves in such an atmosphere, corrupted by the aroma of lust. The congenital priapism in black heterosexual males is something they must be shielded from. Of course, this reasoning is total nonsense, but note that even if it were true, it’s only white cis women that apparently need protecting.

The guise of safeguarding white women was a regular justification in the habitual lynching of black men. Many anti-black measures (such as the sterilisation of black women) were motivated by the white vexation around black sex, although today the reaction will more likely be prurience, rather than overt violence. To quote Mark Twain, “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.”

Look at how the video(s) for Rihanna’s recent single Work garnered plenty of attention for the dynamic between her and Drake. It’s instructive that even when the director clarified that the video has cultural resonance beyond the carnal, the chief focus from a largely white commentariat alluded to the area located between the torso and the thigh. Size may not only matter, but viewed through a white prism, size also stupefies.

bashmentposterCroydonThis may all seem trivial compared to something like the Panama Papers, but it’s hugely significant when the police define this culture as violent and squalid. Does this need to “enforce order” spawn from an orientalist view of Jamaica (and the Caribbean) as a carefree, but ill-disciplined and infantile place? Their modes of expression must be baptised for the safety of our public?

Referencing Frantz Fanon, Race Reflections spoke of whiteness concocting a “negatively loaded irrational Blackness that exists independently of who we are, what we do and, which forces black bodies into racist fantasised worlds.” Or as Claudia Rankine put it: “Blackness in the white imagination has nothing to do with black people.”

Our culture only gets the space to flourish when the white gaze says so. Until then, blackness requires a pre-emptive response. It matters not what you’ve done. It only matters what you might do. While these assumptions can also be internalised by black people, the stereotypes are a result of white cultural production, the same cultural production that the police were forged in.

The irony is, when the Notting Hill Carnival takes place in August, we’re sure to see police officers dancing to the very same music that they seem to find so disreputable.

[1] – I would hope if you’re reading Media Diversified you already know what bashment is. For the three of you who don’t, it’s this.

[2] – And fear of black procreation.

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“Two Weeks Notice” is Shane Thomas’s bi-monthly column encompassing Pop culture to sport, and back again“ Shortlisted for EI Arts, Culture and Entertainment commentator of the year

Shane can be found on Twitter, both at @TGEISH and @tokenbg (and yes, the handle does mean what you think it means).

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3 replies

  1. Of all the problems afflicting the Black community the writer seizes on the ‘right’ to party; to play loud music; to annoy the neighbours; come on. The dearth of British Black physicists should worry you my friend; the dearth of bankers, doctors, entrepreneurs; the crime that afflicts the community, all these and more should worry you. I have a suggestion, instead of bashing, why don’t you read a book?

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    • Read a book? But which one? There are so many to choose from.

      Despite your obtuse comment warranting little more than my initial glib response, there is something important to address in it. This school of thought that rears its head whenever one talks about an issue that focuses around social enjoyment – or sometimes sport or pop culture. The, “you care about this thing, so you clearly don’t care about this other thing!” mindset. The, “the thing you talk about is minor. The thing I talk about is important. Why aren’t you talking about the important thing?!” approach.

      It’s extremely simplistic to think because I wrote about bashment being banned in a club, that I automatically don’t care about any other manifestations of racism. In addition, I’ve little time for putting racist acts on a white supremacist scoville scale. Racism doesn’t pick specific areas of society in which to make its presence felt – it’s embedded in all areas of our world. If the fate of bashment in Croydon doesn’t interest you, that’s fine. But I’m not writing for an audience of one. It clearly interests much of our readership as (at the time of this comment) it’s one of our most popular pieces this week.

      By your rationale, the following link is a photo of a pair of timewasters who should be doing serious work. After all, what did James Baldwin and Lorraine Hansbury ever do to fight for justice, eh? – http://nicgrelli.tumblr.com/post/125682483539/may-your-sunday-be-as-epic-and-rockin-as-james

      The whole point of fighting against all oppression is ultimately so we have the choice (not the obligation, but the choice) to express ourselves in a way that makes us feel fully liberated, whether that’s dancing to bashment, or studying the work of Benjamin Banneker. Or both. Or neither.

      Finally, you see where my name is at the top of the piece? You notice how the font’s a different colour? That’s because it’s an embedded link. Click on it and gives you a list of some of the pieces I’ve written for this site. I’m not Media Diversified’s bashment correspondent. I’ve been here a while, and have written about many different topics. You would have known that if you’d bothered to check.

      Like

    • That might be true, but if you knew anything about music and what it does for your soul and mind. Notice sometimes how music can pick you up when you’re down? Notice how some songs give you a tingling feeling throughout your body. Well, that’s because music resonates in the universe and it resonates within the people.

      Therefore, it is EXTREMELY critical that he exposed the level of racism inflicted on people of color as it relates to their soul. Even so, it is important that ALL aspects of the community are uplifted including artists, produces, and anyone in the music community. Black doctors, lawyers of the community are also important, but don’t dissociate yourself with others of community.

      Like

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