It was the early hours of the morning yet I could still hear voices outside the bedroom window, on the street. Who’d be arguing these past three nights at the same time each morning? On the third night, I’d had enough and decided to see what was going on. My annoyance surpassed curiosity; I’d not only peer out of the window to see who the offenders were but also remonstrate with them about not being able to sleep. But there was no one outside. Since the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent lockdowns, the road was deathly silent. Turning back towards the bed, my wife was fast asleep. She hadn’t heard anything – but she always slept more soundly than me anyway. Since childhood, suffering from recurring nightmares after our family breakdown and moving with my siblings to live with my mother; awakening to the sound of front doors being kicked off their hinges by delinquents looking to burgle or exact revenge on an unsuspecting enemy, or simply being alert to police raids, made me a perpetually light sleeper until this very day. A dripping tap, ticking clock or any slight noise while trying to get to sleep, proved an irksome distraction. I became fixated with the sound, familiar with whatever rhythm punctuated its regularity – and I hated every second of it. Alcohol or drugs usually remedied this insomnia but I gave both up a lifetime ago.
I lay down and closed my eyes. The voices returned, only this time there was something different… I felt my closed eyes welling up with tears. Images merged with the voices. There was shouting, anger and panic in the cacophony of voices. I was reliving an incident long forgotten and buried in the recess of my memory – until now.
Images of George Floyd’s dying moments at the knee of a law enforcement officer had not only preoccupied my waking moments – as it had done with countless others who witnessed the horrific incident beamed globally across media channels – it had invaded my psyche to the extent that the trauma I’d suffered 31 years prior was triggered. Hearing my friends, shouting and fighting with police as they tried to protect me from the violence meted out from police batons as I was arrested came flooding back. Being pulled onto the underground platform by two officers twisting my neck in one direction, another pulling my left index finger with such force that he dislocated it, alongside at least four others slamming me to the platform face down before placing a boot firmly on the side of my face to subdue me, were memories I never expected to resurface – not like this. I thought I’d gotten over it.
I spoke to my wife the following morning. She suspected I was enduring some type of trauma – my fixation and anger with George Floyd’s murder, my withdrawal from interacting with my children and my recent prolific writing spell and media interviews – a number of articles, interviews almost every other day for 2 weeks, a 3-part series on identity; these were among the activities I’d embarked on to numb the inevitable. The only thing is, I didn’t know what the inevitable was until the meltdown. I’ve since been advised that this is what PTSD looks like; however, I’ve never received counselling – I didn’t believe I needed it and besides, black men don’t do that, do we? We’d survived too much already, hadn’t we? What was yet another arrest? After all, I’d experienced police harassment growing up as a teenager, but not as violent as on this particular occasion. This time was different. I had more to lose; my family, my career, my life…
Anthony, Tony, but my friends call me T
Born 10th January 1966, the year of my birth witnessed patriotism, with England winning the World Cup and militancy, with the establishment of the Black Panther Movement in America. Patriotism and militancy continue to define me more than 5 decades later; however, what should have been a pivotal springboard upon which to develop as a Black Briton instead became a tug of war with conflicting identities between two seemingly opposing constructs that would punctuate much of my childhood and youth. The ensuing difficulties were easy to surmise; namely, challenges in reconciling my self-perception with society’s stereotyping of me.
The prevailing mantra from racist Britain was that ‘there ain’t no black in the Union Jack’, however, this belies a stark reality: Black Blood courses through the foundations and fabric of this society and what once contributed to making Britain ‘great’. Knowledge of such rich history helped imbue black personalities like mine with a sense of belonging, ownership and purpose, something of which is unfortunately – but understandably – lacking among many young 2nd and 3rd ethnic minorities today. Acknowledgment of this historic reality enables Britons of various ethnicities – including predominantly white communities – to engage on equal terms regarding what being British truly encapsulates.
Abdul Haqq, Dr B – whichever you prefer
My conversion to Islam in 1990 actually strengthened my sense of citizenship, galvanising me to take unprecedented and public stances in opposition to extremism – evoking anger among some co-religionists who were initially resentful about my speaking so unequivocally against fellow Muslims whose extreme interpretations of the faith lead to their terroristic actions. In contrast to the confusion and sense of alienation felt with the conflicting identity constructs as a child, my new faith provided an even sharper, spiritual focus and path for growth that incorporated all aspects of my identity. Such focus was reinforced by timely advice from a religious teacher and scholar, who counselled me:
“…not to be like the gazelle that is always looking back to see where the predator – the cheetah – is, because this slows it down and makes it easier to be caught. It is faster than the cheetah and need only focus on the path ahead while having peripheral vision and knowing what’s within range beside it.”
Inclusivity in Sport: A Redemption Song?
Returning to my favourite sport, football, it continues to provide key timelines in my life and, from England winning the World Cup in 1966, to the 2020 Euro finals, 54 years later, it is disturbing to witness the insidious disease of racism continuing to pervade the beautiful game. In 2020, my lifelong team, Liverpool FC, won the Premier League after a 30-year hiatus and since they last lifted this trophy’s equivalent as champions of England in 1990, the cultural landscape of sports has shifted dramatically, where athletes of colour are now intrinsic features of our country’s multicultural mosaic. Today’s teams encapsulate the multiplicity of identities that include British, Black and Muslim sportsmen and women. However, where the current England men’s team should be celebrated as a reflection of today’s multicultural mosaic and how far we appear to have progressed as a society, the reality is far different, with non-white representation being relegated to mere aesthetics:
“…an ugly eruption of racist gibes against some of its black players was a reminder that not everyone glories in the diverse portrait of the country that this team reflects.”
For almost 20 years, I’ve been encouraged to write about aspects of my life growing up in a UK that was markedly different from what it is today. Growing up in a society experiencing challenges that many young people – particularly black youth – continue to face can, perhaps, provide insights on how they best navigate, tackle and where necessary, confront the status quo that prevents them from succeeding, being understood and heard. As opposed to hearing literally whitewashed narratives of history, it is about time that we narrated our own.
To be continued…
 Reccine, C: ‘After Defeat, England’s Black Soccer Players Face a Racist Outburst,’ The New York Times, 12th July 2021: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/07/12/world/europe/england-european-championships-racism.html