Black Spending Weakness?

money.jpgI came across a brilliant post on the Electronic Village blog last week about black spending power. Although written from an American perspective, many of the points made on that post apply also to Black people living in the UK. We have increased spending power, yet our spending is not benefitting or flowing into our own community.

So, although we are seen as more economically ‘powerful’ by brands and those who profit from our spending, in truth that kind of spending (i.e. consumerism) makes us weaker because it diverts essential funds from our collective wealth and is not invested in areas which need it. Black people don’t need more mobile phones, clothes or designer goods. We do need more businesses, more educational funds and more initiatives to build up and support our own.

I looked for some stats on this, and found a paper written by a marketing agency on ‘tapping into the multi-cultural market’. Although it didn’t specifically talk about the spending power of the African-Caribbean community in the UK, it did say: “The need for brands to understand and communicate with ethnic groups in the UK has never been greater, as they represent a growing audience of around five million and it is expected that by 2010, ethnic minority spending power will reach £300bn by 2010“.

That paragraph is important to me because, apart from reinforcing the fact that ethnic minority groups in the UK (which I believe in this paper refer to African Caribbeans, Indian and Chinese groups) have more money to spend, it also clearly shows that the brands are watching us carefully to see just how much of our money they are able to get their grubby little hands on.

I can’t blaim advertising and marketing for people’s spending habits, but I will not be naive enough to deny that there is serious power in their messages. Brands spend a lot of money on understanding people’s psychology and manipulating it through their marketing campaigns. Unfortunately much of this is reinforced by Western society’s deeply ingrained consumerist/materialistic attitudes which both subtly and overtly tells us that we are what we buy.

I believe (maybe controversially) that many black people consume to compensate for an internal feeling of lack. Why would we spend more money on disposable, meaningless yet prestigious (i.e. ones that look good to the outside world) items when our own community, and often even we as individuals, are suffering? If I’m correct and that is our mindset, then we are even more susceptible to those marketing messages.

So whilst I agree with Electronic Village that we need to divert our disposable income to where it is most needed, I also think that we have to tackle our own mindset about spending and consumerism. We need to teach, know and understand what true wealth and prosperity really is. We have to teach, know and understand that consuming is not how we prove our worth or value but that true worth and value comes from investing in ourselves. We must know that for as long as our millions or billions of pounds and dollars are ending up in the hands of big brands who see us only as cash cows, we will continue to be weak. Only when we really get that will we see money flowing back into our own communities, where it really belongs.

Africa: The Next Chapter at TED Global

ted_logo.gifThe TED conference is pretty much my idea of heaven – the world’s greatest thinkers and doers from the Technology, Entertainment and Design worlds coming together every year to discuss and spread their ideas. I hope one day to attend, and even to speak.

My good friend, David McQueen, is blessed enough be attending TED Global (believe me it’s extremely difficult to get a place at TED so big time props to him) which this year is focussed on Africa. Held in Tanzania this coming weekend, TED Global this year is called “Africa: The Next Chapter”.

In their own words, TED Global say: “Instead of relying only on development aid, Africans across the continent are beginning to take matters into their own hands. Ingenious solutions are being applied to tackle some of the toughest health and infrastructure problems. Businesses are being launched that are capable of transforming the lives of millions. New communication technologies are allowing ideas and information to spread, enabling markets — and governments — to be more efficient. And the numbers suggest that incomes are starting to nudge up in some countries and real growth is on the way. A new Africa beckons.” This is what everyone there will talk about.

It is fantastic to see a conference that will come together to discuss and show off what is positive about Africa and how empowering changes are being made in the continent by Africans, for Africans. It is set to be a phenomenal few days with high profile speakers from a range of backgrounds including arts, music, journalism, business, science, technology. I can’t wait to hear all about it when Dave comes back.

Once the conference is done, I will post some of the talks on my blog because they are always truly inspirational. Fanastic work to the team at TED for putting this on and long may inspiring and uplifting dialogues on Africa continue.

Brixton Blues

brixtontube1.jpgSo once again my Friday evening activities have taken me to the bright lights of inner city London. Brixton specifically. I spend a lot of time in Brixton and have done so over the years. Sometimes I love the place and sometimes I absolutely hate it. You get those days – usually in the daylight hours – when it makes me smile to hear the reggae music pumping out from a stall on the market, see the barbers hanging outside their shops, clippers in hand talking to passersby, and the Brixtonians, with a handy can of Red Stripe, just chilling in St Matthew’s Square.

However, at night time, I am often led to believe that Brixton was what inspired Dante to write the Inferno. Night, you see, is when the crack addicts come out and when the seedy, shady side of inner city life in modern day Britain rears its ugly head.

Tonight as I walked down the High Street trying politely to avoid the homeless people asking me for change and the man, clearly high on something or other, crawling on the pavement, I thought “someone has failed here big time”. Someone – more likely a number of people and institutions – has failed in the UK’s inner city areas in a very major way. I wonder how Tony Blair would feel walking down Brixton High Road this evening or any evening for that matter. I wonder how he would feel to see the deprivation and the rampant proliferation of drugs and crime in that community. Ashamed I hope, and so he should.

I’ve always wondered how it is that London’s large inner city communities, many of which are so highly visible and publicised in the media precisely because of their issues, are able to continue in such a state for decades. I’ve spent a lot of time in Brixton over the past 9 or so years mainly socially but also professionally (I once worked for the Lambeth Crime Prevention Trust where I was confronted with the area’s problems on a day to day basis). On one hand, I have seen its gentrification, observed the dramatic rise in the area’s house prices and noticed the general increased desirability to live in the area. Yet on the other hand, there has been little or no abatement of the drug dealers who blatantly push their wares to all and sundry outside shops and even at the bus stops, the crack addicts lying dribbling in the doorways of buildings or smoking pipes at the train station, or the other people wondering around the area who clearly have serious mental health problems.

Who is being called to task on this? Who is responsible for Brixton and what is going on there and in other such areas? There is a police station literally on Brixton High Street yet I can count on one hand the numbers of police officers I see in the area on a regular basis!! People openly deal drugs on the street yet they are not arrested. Why not?

Is it that those in power simply don’t care?  Maybe – like Mr Blair’s view on so-called Black on Black crime – it’s something that is confined to a specific problem within a specific community. After all, this is not an issue that really affects the average middle class British suburb but generally poor, deprived areas with high concentrations of immigrants, and usually immigrants of African and Caribbean descent.

Food for thought eh. I want some answers and am going to go in search of some… I’ll let you know once I’ve found them… Watch this space.

Oh Brother!

bar.jpgI had a very interesting experience on Friday night in a bar in Brixton, South London, in which I was surprised, impressed, disappointed and enlightened within the space of 15 minutes by my conversations with some brothers.

The first one, I’ll call him Mr X, started his game by telling me he had high standards for his women. For a start, they had to earn over £25,000 per year. (Wow, he’s really aiming high…) I asked him, tongue in cheek, how much he earned and he told me – proudly – £32,000. Plus a bit more from his side job. I asked him what his side job was. “Hustling”, he told me. I asked him what “hustling” entailed. He told me “Fraud, innit”, as if I ought to have known… He then tried to make a long story short by telling me that it basically involved him transferring money into and out of different accounts until it reached his. He did it because, despite his £32K a year salary, he was “poor”. He was the “black robin hood” stealing from the rich to give to the poor (i.e. himself). He didn’t want to end up in prison though, because he’d already been there twice before. *sigh*.

What to make of that conversation?! I could have started a mental rant along the lines of “the problem with brothers is…” but I didn’t. I felt saddened and disappointed – for him more than anything – particularly because it’s not the first conversation of that type that I’ve had (do I look like the kind of woman who is impressed by criminal activity?!).

However, I was pleasantly suprised and impressed when I got into the next conversation with another brother, Mr Y. We talked about the “hustling” mentality, but this time the brother gave me a well-thought out, intelligent and thought-provoking analysis which encompassed, amongst other things exploitation of people in general, the World Bank, business and consumerism. It turns out Mr Y is the general manager of a large and successful internet company. What to make of that?!

At the end of the night, having exchanged phone numbers with Mr Y of course (I’d like a few more of those conversations thank you very much), I reflected on both interactions… I came to the conclusion that we hear so many negative stories about Black men, some of them perpetuated by Black men themselves, that it’s so easy to think those stories must be right. There are a lot of people – Black women included – who are very down on Black men these days for that very reason. 

However, my evening just reinforced to me that there are good and bad apples in every cart. We shouldn’t be so quick to dismiss and embrace those negative stories, even if we meet those who may appear to confirm them. At the end of the day, sometimes we forget, that people are just people!

“You Drink One, Africa Drinks One”

red-picture.jpg“You Drink One, Africa Drinks One” is a headline that I saw on today’s Evening Standard news stands. I believe it’s to promote awareness of a charitable cause to “help” Africa. I don’t know the exact details of the cause, but it got me thinking about the subtle ways in which the West still retains and perpetuates its paternalistic and outdated attitudes towards Africa.

If it’s not Bob Geldof on his trail of self-promotion in the name of the African people, or the G8 and its “debt relief”, the perception that Africa’s future and survival lies in the hands of the West is still so clearly prevalent. Even the language used (“aid”, for example) speaks of a continent which is helpless and dependent. 

Furthermore I’m so tired of seeing visual depictions of African people as either diseased and starving, or wearing only loin cloths and/or traditional clothing. Not to say neither exist, but they are not a balanced or realistic view of modern day African people.

The advertising campaign run by American Express for Bono’s RED Amex card (above) is a fantastic example of stereotyping.  It features Brazilian supermodel Giselle Bundchen next to a very dark skinned African person who is dressed in what seems to be some kind of Masai clothing. To be honest, you would not see your average city dwelling African person wearing such dress.  Maybe in a (very traditional) village (in a particular part of Africa), yes, but not all Africans live in villages. Sadly, the advert is very revealing of Western ideas of what it is to be African.

I’m not bemoaning that people in the West want to help Africa, but I do bemoan the way in which it is done and the subtle (negative) undertones that come with it. I also bemoan the West’s perpetuation of the idea that Africa can do – and does – nothing to help itself. We rarely, if ever, hear the success stories coming out of Africa of which there are too many to mention, or the real-life, everyday stories of Africans in 2007 that exist outside of famine, HIV, corruption and civil war. And yes there really is African life beyond those things!

In this blog I’m going to promote and highlight as many African success stories as I can… I believe I am already one of them 🙂

Something 2 Say

Something 2 Say is a multi-media entertainment company, built around the talents of Lola Adesioye.

Through her Something 2 Say Group, Lola aims to: “Uplift. Inspire. Entertain” through the power of the positive word, whether spoken, sung or written. A multi-talented singer/songwriter, entrepreneur, music industry consultant, writer, budding author, motivational speaker and broadcaster, Cambridge University graduate Lola Adesioye definitely has Something 2 Say!

Lola’s desire is to uplift all she comes into contact with, but particularly young people of colour both in the diaspora and in Africa. She is also keen to challenge the negative stereotypes which persist in the media and society at large about the potential and actual achievements of African and Caribbean youth, and about Africa as a continent.