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5 September 2007

Posh and black

Operation Black Vote director Simon Woolley is the latest contributor to newstatesman.com's series o

By Simon Woolley

There will always be a tension being posh and Black. And so there should be.

Many people who would be described as being posh have come from or aspired to be part of the British ‘ruling class’. A class which some 400 years ago took global slavery to an unprecedented level by forcibly transporting and enslaving 20 million Africans around the world. When, after 200 years, that grotesqueness became unpalatable for their Christian sensibilities, it was repackaged as Colonialism. Same exploitation, but without the lash. Only in the last 50 years, – in South Africa’s case 13 years -the ruling class, a posh class, were forced to give up direct control of the invaded sovereign states, but not without keeping the financial and trading infrastructures in place to ensure slavery’s legacy of exploitation and domination continues well into the new millennium.

Central to the ruling class notion of being posh, which has had little to do with meritocracy or humility, is a blood line that could ensure exclusivity. The invention of ‘blue blood’ or aristocracy, was further used to consolidate the idea that they were somehow born better.

The tension therefore, for Black people, has come from the fact that to belong in such a group, which for more than 400 years deemed you inferior on the basis of nothing more than your skin colour, leads some to self hatred, and an exaggeration of who they wanted to be. In V.S Naipaul’s novel, ‘The mimic men’, he perceptively describes, a fictional Caribbean county in which both Asians and Caribbeans vie, in a sometimes preposterous manner, to be like their former colonial masters.

Closer to home, we’ve seen the unedifying spectacle of Chris Eubank sporting monocle, jodpurs, and cane, prancing around without a hint of irony. It was also painful to watch the Black Tory candidate and barrister, John Taylor, tell the world’s media in a rather pompous accent that his 1992 general electoral defeat in the safe Tory seat of Cheltenham, had nothing to do with racism. That after a local Conservative member stated they would sooner have a Lib Dem politician rather than a MP who was a ‘bloody n…’. Taylor went on to become a Lord.

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Thankfully, society, and particularly the Black community, are constantly redefining being posh. Gone has the self-hatred and colonial caricature, whilst the trappings of being posh – style, property portfolios, and private education – are being embraced, often with a branding that is Black.

Ozwald Boateng’s bespoke couture suits, for example, have their roots in the great Savile Row tradition, but with a pizzazz that is almost uniquely Black. The same is true for a growing number of British born African and Caribbean entrepreneurs, who no longer look for acceptance from their white peers, but challenge each other and set up their own business networks such as the Executive Professionals Network – EPN.

But perhaps, the best example that we’ve moved away from the John Taylor era is highlighted in Wilfred Emmanuel Jones, AKA the Black farmer; A Black Tory candidate who is comfortable talking tackling racism within his party as he discussing a referendum on the Euro, or inner city crime.

We should be pleased to see this new Black generation comfortable with their success and their trappings of being posh, but we should always remind them whatever colour they are that social and financial status does not, make you any better than anyone else.

Read more from our series looking at the issue of class and ‘poshness’

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