Racism In The 21st Century

The Black Lives Matter movement has taken over the World, with over 600 countries coming together to protest the inequality, injustice and brutality experienced by the black community. Anything other than equal should and will not be tolerated, as we strive to unlearn our norms and educate ourselves on their experiences, it is necessary for white people to step back and listen, to acknowledge what has gone on for so long and the role we have all played in exacerbating it. What we don’t know we must learn and where we can act in support, we must do so.  

Some people have tried to counter this movement with “it’s America’s problem” or “it doesn’t happen anymore”, so we caught up with Marquelle, Aaron and Yinka to learn first-hand about their experiences with racism in the 21st century.  

MARQUELLE

33 years old CEO/Creative Director of The New Stereotype and Luxury Menswear Buyer. From North Carolina, currently living in New York, USA.

While I’ve been extremely fortunate to experience some of the most beautiful countries in the world like Monaco, Denmark, Morocco, the UAE, Lebanon, Egypt, Italy, England, Portugal, South Africa, Singapore, and Greece, I’ve never felt more like an outsider than when in my home country of the United States of America. I was born in a small, rural town in the state of North Carolina in 1987 to a single-mother in an impoverished community. I knew early on that being a black man was an icing on top of the “odds stacked against me” cake, so I dedicated my life to overcoming barriers.  

“I am my ancestor’s wildest dreams.” At least that’s what I thought as I finished my global luxury management graduate program in the south of France in 2014. Looking at the news in 2020, I would have to say that I was wrong. At a bare minimum, my ancestors would want equal protection under the law. At a minimum, my ancestors would want economic equity, justice, unbiased support and policies which support our advancement. One might assume that a person with no criminal record, who has 3 degrees and has lived on 3 continents would make for a model citizen; however, my skin experience has shown otherwise in the eyes of many. Being black means my skin is seen as a weapon and that my frustration or expression of emotion is automatically seen as aggression. It could also mean something simple like my love for sartorial clothing is constantly scrutinized and dissected.  A few years ago I went into a gas station and the gas attendant asked me “Where are you going?” I replied, “What do you mean?” He then replies, “Well you’re wearing a suit so you must be going to court to defend yourself.” I thought to myself why would I have to be going to court? And, if I were headed to court, why couldn’t I be the attorney?   

Working in fashion has had its fair share of inequities. Because I am often the only black person at a table, on the front row of a fashion show or in a meeting, I am regularly mistaken for having been in the wrong place. I recently met with a French-based luxury swimwear brand that told me I couldn’t possibly know much about swimwear because “black people can’t swim”. I was also attending a meeting with a luxury conglomerate and while waiting in the lobby, the person I was waiting for went around asking everyone, except me, if they were there for the meeting, because I just couldn’t be the one he was meeting with, right?  

For the past four years I have spent time working on a passion project called The New Stereotype (TNS). TNS celebrates and highlights the many diverse layers of black life in America through fashion, photography and film. Along with my business partner, Artistic Director + Photographer, Olushola Bashorun, we are now working on the next phase of the project called TNS: STORIES, which is a print-editorial collective. TNS: STORIES is a year-long story-telling journey highlighting black men and women across various industries here in the US in their most authentic form but through a fashion lens. We will shoot in NYC, Chicago, Washington DC, Los Angeles and a few other cities. We are excited to highlight people like the celebrity chef who cooked for Drake after sliding into his management’s DMs, an art director and photographer who self-published his own book on black male culture, a jazz musician who helped produce shows for Rihanna and Solange after graduating from Juilliard and a 17-year old ballerina who danced alongside Lizzo at the Grammys.  

It is my belief that we can no longer wait for the world to write our narratives for us. We will take the writing instruments of life and write our narrative and pen our future, while remembering the past, which put us on this turbulent yet promising path. 


AARON

26 years old, Model, born and raised in Manchester, UK.

As a black male, I live in a society where you can be judged just by the colour of your skin. As humans, we should all be able to work together, we shouldn’t have to put ourselves in situations where we must constantly enter into debates about our ethnicity. The division that is happening right now in society is not the way forward for a stronger, more hopeful society.  

I have been a victim of racism since a very young age, not just in England but also whilst being on holiday in Spain, France and many other countries. I stress that you should understand, this not just an issue for America; this is worldwide.  

Racism is something that has affected me mentally, but it has not stopped me from being proud of who I am or how I look to help others deal with negativity and hate. It has made me learn valuable lessons and how I should treat people. 

One question I will ask – If there was no police brutality, racial discrimination and deaths of innocent people, would there be any protests or riots occurring on the streets today? The answer is no.  

Slavery and corruption have been around not just for decades, but centuries and the power it holds has taken a toll on our society today. It continues to stop minorities getting access to the support and help that they need. Slavery still exists today and Libya is one example of where things haven’t really improved.  

If you believe that racism does not exist in society today, I want to tell you from my own experiences that it does. I have been called so many racial slurs, directly and indirectly. As a black male, all I want is peace and love. This is the chance for our race to gain equality. Educate yourself with the history and facts that surround us all and also educate others. Do not be prejudiced towards people. Do not hate.

A few Iconic people that I am inspired by and recommend researching are; Angela Davis, Kathleen Cleaver, Marcus Garvey and Huey Newton. I have grown up reading and learning about these people who had an impact fighting for justice, they made you realise just how long we have been fighting and how far we have to go.


YINKA 

27 years old, Artist from Mauritius, East Africa. Currently living in Salford, UK.

I was born in Mauritius and grew up in the UK. Looking back at my childhood ‘my world’ was predominantly white. I was adopted and brought up in an open-minded white family, where no one saw colour they just loved me for who I was so when I first experienced racism it came as a shock. 

When I came to the North West looking the way I did, people felt like they had the right to interrogate me on my heritage. It seemed like someone always had an opinion on my skin, my facial features, my eye brows “so thick”, my lips “too big” or the fact my skin is a different colour to my parents. In primary school someone called me a “dirty little black girl” and it really upset me, at one point the comments got so bad that I put bleach on my legs because I felt so ashamed of them. Growing up seeing all these pretty Caucasian women on TV, I felt like I had to look like them. But how could I? 

Since my first year up North, I’ve been called all sorts; p*ki, ni*ga, negro, dirty muslim and can’t help but wonder, do these words make the people saying them feel good? Do they know what it feels like to be terrified to leave your house in fear of racism? It’s the worst thing in the world to have someone hate you because of the colour of your skin. Something you simply cannot change. It makes you think “what’s wrong with me?”

I was out with college friends one evening and whilst saying goodbye I went to hug a guy who had joined the group that evening and he said “why would I hug her she’s black?” I remember the feeling of shame, upset and disbelief as I got in the taxi to go home. My friends were outraged. But I remember going to the pub a couple of days later and someone invited him! This is what makes racists continue to act the way the do. People ignore and normalise racism. It Is Not Normal!

There was another instance during university where a man tried to grab me on the street, when I asked him to leave me alone, he replied “get back to where you came from you fucking n*gga!” I was so shocked I ran away and my whole body was shaking. I rang the person I was dating at the time and when I told him what had happened he said, “get over it Yinka it’s not a big deal it happens all the time”. That person made me feel like I deserved to be treated that way, like it was fine and that man had done nothing wrong. 

The recent events regarding the Black Lives Matter movement have really moved me, and as an artist I felt it was my duty to act in the best way I know. I’ve begun a project regarding the issue of racism and have spoken with some friends who have been directly affected. I have created a series of illustrations to represent their personal stories and hopefully help open peoples eyes to the action and change we so desperately need.