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 – 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.”
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. 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.
This 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.
 – 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.
 – And fear of black procreation.
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