Jeffery Boakye: The History of Race and Identity

Written by Grace – Year 12 Student

Edited by Weza – Year 13 Student Editor

Editor’s note: Students at GSAL were able to attend a talk by author, broadcaster and educator Jeffery Boakye. According to his biography online, “[he] is an author, broadcaster, educator and occasional journalist with a particular interest in issues surrounding education, race, masculinity and popular culture.” Year 12 student Grace attend Jeffery’s talk on race and identity. The following written report is their account of, and reflections on, the content of this fascinating and engaging talk. Mr Dodd – Staff Editor


On Friday 8th October 2021, we had the pleasure of having Jeffery Boakye speak to the school regarding Black History Month. Before Boakye gave the remarkable assembly to the whole school about the black history of music, he gave a special talk on race and identity starting from 400 years ago. Although he only had half an hour to give us the extensive history of race and identity, he exceptionally elaborated the history of this topic leaving many of us students learning more about race and identity than we had ever learned in school. This review will give you an insight into the influencing factors and origins which has led to the identity of race in society simply succumbing to labels such as white and black and how these labels have damaging connotations attracted to them.  

The origins of racism

Race is a social construct which was only really introduced around the 16th century by white men such as the Swedish Carl Linnaeus. These men were European colonisers with lighter skin and the countries they colonised and people they enslaved and exploited were that of a darker complexion from continents like Africa; they instilled the belief that race and the stereotypes associated, were natural aspects of human biology. The racial term originated from the continents people were from, for example the origins of white people being ‘Homoeuropeas.’ These colonisers were at the forefront of creating labels such as black and white, labelling black people as inferior and white people as superior. The motivation? Capitalism, a ‘scientific’ ticket to colonise, enslave and brutalise, anyone that was not European or as they would call it, ‘white’.

Their intention consisted of the manipulation of generations of societies, into believing that black was inferior to white. This was in order for them to avoid people questioning the atrocious acts against humanity, against ‘black’ people, in a bid to profit from human beings, the motive was money e.g., colonialization and slavery. The only thing that separated the ‘superior’ and ‘inferior,’ was the labels ‘black’ and ‘white’, yet we were all human, therefore reiterating that race is socially constructed, holding no scientific basis. In Boakye’s delivery of this important piece of history shaping societal norms today, he emphasised the impacts labelling haw on humans, who are all the same. 

This false categorisation of humans into, essentially, different species, drives false social narratives and stereotypes, further exasperating the dehumanisation of black people – this was the gateway to further oppression.

Stereotypes of black people and where they stem from, as mentioned previously, are an excuse to mistreat and disregard the human rights of humans with a different skin complexion for their own gain. There are many stereotypes, some of which are as follows; zoomorphic stereotypes, white slave traders often referred to slaves as ‘black cattle’ evoking conations of the commodification of black people in which they were perceived to be animals to be put down; the hyper sexualisation of black men and women, the idea that black women were sexually promiscuous by colonisers, was used to justify the rape of enslaved women by their owners, and in black men this was in the form of violence, portraying black men as dangerous and rabid. Eexamples of this include the case of ‘Central Park 5’, five falsely accused black and Hispanic teenage boys, prosecuted for the attack of a white woman, later: “[w]e were convicted because of the colour of our skin. People thought the worst of us.”).

The dehumanisation of black people has taken many forms, it has been embedded into the framework of our society, meaning it is not just a micro but a macro issue, weaved into institutions, where systemic racism stems from.

How does racism impact society?

This manipulation in which black is inferior to white, and stereotyping, has infiltrated society, the oppression of black people and other people of colour, in the form of their proximity of whiteness and this is presented as systemic, institutionalised racism, in which false stereotypes and poor representation exacerbate such oppression.

The labels black and white, superior versus inferior, means the proximity to whiteness relates to the amount of privilege you have; the epitome of privilege, being a rich white straight cis man. 

Institutions are organisations founded for a religious, educational, professional, or social purpose such as the judiciary (criminal justice), healthcare, education etc… Institutionalised racism is systemic, built into these institutions, embedded in the laws and regulations of a society or an organisation. Examples of institutional racism are evident in all aspects of society. In regards to the US judiciary, the 13th amendment is an important example; it was supposed to be the abolition of slavery but, it did not extend to prisoners. In an economy, built on the back of slavery, slave labour was lost which was essential in the economy so, the 13th amendment was used as a loophole. The USA now has modern-day slave labour established within the prison industrial complex, upheld by the mass incarceration of African-Americans, which is enabled by systemic, institutional enablers such as the school-prison pipeline and the policing system. This is a big issue in both the US and UK; whilst the US has the highest incarceration in the world, there are more black people jailed in England and Wales proportionally than in the US, seven times more black people per population are in prison yet in the US the number is just four times as many. This is also significant in highlighting the extent of racism in the UK, which is normally minimized by using comparisons such as the US, despite Britain being the ‘birthplace’ of its torturous colonial empire and involvement in the slave trade. Did you know that as recent as 2015, British taxpayers finished ‘paying off’ the debt of the compensation to British slave owners in 1835 due to the abolition of slavery?

Institutional racism is also prominent in sectors such as housing. The US redlining is an important example of institutional racism; ‘redlining is the discriminatory practice of denying services (typically financial) to residents of certain areas based on their race’. The infrastructure of majority white versus majority black neighbourhoods varies drastically such as the Texas power grid – in the February 2021 snowstorm, ‘Texas blackouts hit minority neighbourhoods especially hard’, in which ‘historically marginalized communities were among the first to face power outages.’

Institutional racism has also infiltrated the education system and healthcare as these two factors are both intertwined. There is a racial bias in medicine rooted in the dehumanisation of black people leaving people to think that black people were not as susceptible to pain. This is reflected in the racial bias in healthcare to this day, in which black women’s pain is not taken seriously, leading to the lack of black maternal health; in both the USA and the UK with disproportionately high rates of death related to birth. (In the US, black women are three to four times more likely to experience a pregnancy-related death than white women; and in the UK, black women are four times more likely than white women to die in pregnancy or childbirth. VBAC calculations also play a role in this; because of the variables, in this case,  black women are more likely to be offered a C-section over natural birth, which is major surgery with greater risks and a longer recovery period.)

The way in which healthcare professionals have been educated are using archaic false ‘scientific’ narratives on the anatomy of black people. It has a considerable influence on many aspects of the US healthcare such as; the blood oximeter (not treating all skin colour equally- black patients are three times more likely to have an inaccurate result), black patients being four times more likely to suffer from kidney failure (less likely to qualify for a kidney transplant because of their race), under-recognised skin conditions on darker skin (African Americans are 10 percent more likely to show the late manifestation of the deadly Lyme disease.)  The dehumanisation of black people means that they want to preserve life like most people, however religiously or philosophical belief is made redundant to an extent, and this along with many other reasons is why racial bias in medicine has gone this far.

Another, perhaps contentious point Jeffrey made, is that white people are also victims of racism. This is because generations of socialisation have embedded racism into everyone’s mind whether that be conscious or unconscious. Therefore, it is a collective responsibility for everyone to address the issue of racism and not just black people.

A question you may ask is, where do we go from here? 

Overall, whilst generations of socialised institutional racism have had a firm grip on the frameworks of societies, the answer lies in the problem itself. The institutions. This may seem radical at first glance, yet it remains the truth. Institutional racism is upheld by systems that are the corrupt models and frameworks built into society; the existence of racism is one of the main pillars in upholding such institutions. Abolishing racism means reforming the current state of our institutions, and so we should be focusing on building from the ground up. This is why when beginning that conversation of racism, we go back to the labels of “black” and “white” and recognise that there is no plausible biological basis or inherent differences that one should discriminate between any races, but rather we are all equal in society. Thus, to change systems to treat all races in an equitable way. Grace – Year 13

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