“If you want to see how the poor die, come to Grenfell Tower”

No truer words spoken in this time of mourning where almost a hundred people have died in Grenfell Tower. Each passing day fuels me with anger and sorrow for the Grenfell victims. This didn’t need to happen.

This shocking incident highlights the injustice and negligence practiced by those in high positions, those who seek to cut corners in order to fill their pockets, and do so at the expense of innocent lives. The government and Theresa May’s reaction has been nothing short of useless and beyond disappointing, a “failure” as quoted from the Prime Minster herself. If that building was a multimillion pound luxury apartment full of wealthy people, the fire would have been put out in a blink of an eye. In fact, there would have been fire extinguishers on every floor, sprinklers fitted, fire alarms up-to-date and working, adequate fire escapes and there certainly would’t be flammable cladding on the exterior of the building.

These people like you and I, died long before they actually met their horrific deaths, they were dead to the council and the government, it only just manifested itself on the 14th June 2017. They died the moment their pleads for safety were ignored.

The events that lead up to this incident, during and after plays into the idea many of us have held onto for some time now. London is undergoing a social cleansing, this has been the agenda of the Tories since coming into power, profits over people is their motto. Evidence unfolding from this tragic event only prove this once a speculative idea, to be in fact true. Day by day more incriminating details emerge, from the constant complaints and worries voiced by the tenants ignored by the authorities, the use of cheap flammable materials to make the exterior look less of an eye sore to its wealthy neighbours, today we found out that many of the victims were poisoned by cyanide, a toxic gas given off by the burning insulation, the same lethal substance used during Nazi Germany’s gas chambers. In the words of MP David Lammy “this was criminal”, an accident waiting to happen, arrests need to be made and quick. We need justice.

What pains me is that these were ordinary people and could have easily been anyone. Many on the brink of a breakthrough like the talented artist Khadija Saye, 24, who lived on the 20th floor with her mother. Her beautiful work is on show at the Venice Biennale. Syrian refugee Mohammad Alhajali, 23, was studying civil engineering at the university of West London, lived on the 14th floor of the block. His brother Omar, 25, managed to escape from the fire after becoming separated from Mohammad, who was unable to get to safety. They fled from one tragedy just to meet another. Many untapped talents, if given the opportunity to reach their potentials could have easily been able to move out of Grenfell and into one of the million pound houses that the tower overlooks. Now we will never know.

“In this age of austerity, the poor die for other’s prosperity” – Ben Okri 

#JusticeforGrenfell

 

Samuel L. Jackson needs to take several seats.

To say I’m disappointed with Samuel L. Jackson is an understatement. With all that money and travelling you mean to tell me he still doesn’t know or understand that issues of race are not exclusive to African Americans? Really Jackson?

In a recent  interview with Hot 97, Samuel L. Jackson made some rather bitter remarks about Black British actors who take on African American roles in the American film industry. It all came out when asked about Jordan Peele’s hit horror film “Get Out” which stars Black British actor Daniel Kaluuya. He went on to say some things that I thought were unnecessary, ill informed and down right ignorant.

Daniel Kaluuya played an African American guy whose white girlfriend has psycho parents (in a nutshell), Jackson said “I tend to wonder what that movie would have been if it were an American brother who really feels that…some things are universal but not everything”.

Pause. Take a deep breath. Yes, Samuel L. Jackson did just insinuate that because you as a Black British/French/Italian/Brazilian person are not African-American you couldn’t possibly understand what it feels like to fall victim to racial discrimination and prejudice, even if you did it’s not legit because you’re not African-American. Now, the struggles we face as Black British people do differ to that of African Americans, I agree, but nonetheless the fight for equality and diversity for Black people is global. It is not just a US problem, it’s here in the UK too, in other countries it’s even worse!  *cough cough Brazil*

If you really want to talk about everyday struggles and hurdles we face as Black British people let’s do that: It’s been reported that some people have had to change their ethnic sounding names to stereotypically white names so that their CV’s don’t get thrown in the bin. He insinuated that everything in the UK was all dandy and fine because… we’ve supposedly “had interracial dating for a hundred years”? Wow. You want to speak to interracial couples who were around 5, 10, 20 years ago, society is only now coming round to the fact that love has no colour. About the same time you were seeing signs like “No Blacks” littered across America, over here in the UK we too were seeing the infamous “No Blacks, no dogs, no Irish’ sign across the UK, being beaten, harassed, murdered all because of our skin. Not too long ago an incident involving an unarmed Black man and the police sparked the London Riots, resulting in days of unrest and confusion. Not too far from where I live I was shouted at, called a ‘Black monkey’ and ‘told to go back to Senegal’, even though I’m of Nigerian heritage. I know of innocent young Black men that were framed and locked up for no reason. The list goes on.

Why do we have to justify and prove that we have hurdles to overcome as Black British people just like you do?

My dear African American brothers and sisters you are not alone in this fight for equality and diversity in the film industry, if anything you are much better off, at least you get to have your stories heard. Who on this earth doesn’t know that African Americans are the biggest exporter of culture, you dictate how the world sees Black people. You dictate what the world deems cool. If only you knew how much power you have.

We’ve had slavery here too, like seriously what country was heavily involved in slavery and colonialism (Hint: The UK). You produced the phenomenal movie ‘Roots’ showcasing the harsh treatment of Africans in slavery, despite it being common knowledge to many that slavery was rampant here in the UK, we’ve had…nothing.

Contrary to popular belief Black people had been in the UK long before the Windrush but our stories aren’t heard and our contributions are heavily downplayed.

The films Hotel Rwanda and The Last King of Scotland were lead by African American actors Don Cheadle and Forest Whitaker, many Africans didn’t care about the fact they were American, we were just happy that the best people got the job to tell such compelling stories. Now, when we had a problem with African Americans playing an African character, Nigerian for that matter, was with Will Smith’s movie ‘Concussion’ (That accent…LET ME NOT EVEN START).

I grew up watching African American films like Love & basketball, Best Man and the episodes of Fresh Prince, The Parkers, Kenan & Kel, One on One, My Wife and Kids the list goes on, it was the only time on TV where I’d see faces that looked like mine. Why do you think we do the American accent so damn well. The point is YOU get to tell your stories, for us Black British people we don’t often get the opportunity but through you we do.

Black British actors are going over to the US should tell you that the UK is still struggling with the idea of diversity in the film industry. Oh, you didn’t hear about the whole Idris Elba and James Bond thing? Or the time when racists attacked Noma Dumezweni for being casted as Hermione in the West End play Harry Potter and the cursed child?

To my dear Mr Jackson, the struggle is indeed universal and the sooner you realise the better. Your stories are ours too and ours are yours. From America to the UK, the struggle for opportunities, equality and diversity remains. Don’t pit us up against each other, we need to work together.

I will not dispute the fact that as a country, here in the UK we have made progress overall, slow but nonetheless progress, we can only hope that it gets better even in the midst of this tense political atmosphere and Brexit. I love the UK, London is home I was born and raised here, and wouldn’t want to be anywhere else (…not going to lie Lagos doesn’t sound too bad though, need a bit of sun).

For someone who has built a legacy and is all about Black Power, rather than being divisive, Jackson should use his influence to help. There is no obligation but it would be better if he used his voice to address this issue of diversity in the film industry rather than pit us Black people against each other and call our talented and hardworking Black British actors “cheap”.

Instead of talking about people like David Kaluuya, David Oyelowo, John Boyega, Naomi Harris, Thandie Newton, Sophie Okonedo, Idris Elda (hey boo) ‘taking’ roles from African-Americans you should rather see it like this, they are coming over to the US for jobs, man, how bad must it be for a Black person to get a break in the UK? As Idris Elba will tell you it’s quite bad.

Besides all that what it ultimately boils down to who is right for the role. Forget about the whole Black British vs African American debacle, in the words of the great John Gboyega it is a “stupid a** conflict” that we just should not entertain. The person who gets that role has done so out of sheer talent and suitability for that role. So Mr Samuel L. Jackson needs to take a seat, several for that matter. Our Black British actors are more than worthy and qualified to take on these roles at the end of the day its not called “acting” for no reason (SO IN YOUR FACE!)

I could go on and on but I’ll leave with this, racism is a global disease that doesn’t just start and end in the US, we all need to unite and uplift one another not have a competition of who struggles the most and downplay one another.

The worlds irrational fear of diversity is just that, irrational. This myth that Black actors and directors don’t sell films continues to be dispelled and proven wrong. Over and over again. Writer and director Jordan Peele has just smashed the coveted $100 million box office sales. But I guess like the US, it seems like the only time society doesn’t have an issue with diversity is when it comes to who is filling up their prison cells. *Sips tea*