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Black/white, boy/girl

February 01 2023
Thanks to Chris Bird for this untitled, urgent piece. © Chris Bird Thanks to Chris Bird for this untitled, urgent piece. © Chris Bird

Drawing parallels to the injustice and prejudice he faced growing up, Mat Amp examines a new wave of hatred targeting a vulnerable group of people

I’m happy, to be honest, that my Dad chose to move the family back to Nigeria when I was eight-years-old. England was a very different country back in the ‘70s and being mixed-race wasn’t half as much fun as it is these days.
I grew up during the late ‘60s, travelling between the small market town where I was born, Hereford, and Lagos, my Dad’s home patch. The primal soul of Africa lit a fire in me, but it would be quickly doused by the sharp shock every time I returned to the UK. The cold weather and that shit brown ubiquitous WHSmith’s signage was an anti-sensory overload. Back then the high streets were dead and empty on Sunday afternoons, so we would smoke fags behind the bus shelter in the shivering, bone-chilling cold and driving rain. Strikes, power cuts, no central heating, class war, tepid PG tips, fish fingers and beans and three channels of shit telly.

England in the ‘70s was a difficult time to be a mixed-race family. It was a time when the term ‘Paki’ was thrown around like one of those plastic orange frisbees that were all the rage at the time. Die-hard racists hate people who are a different culture or colour, but they reserve a special place for us mixed-race folk because we’re nature’s inevitable ‘fuck you’ to their ridiculous idea of apartheid. I mean, every extended family, be it black or white, is eventually going to end up with a brown baby somewhere in the family tree.

But we were brown kids a long time before it became cool in this country. My older brother was dark-skinned with an afro, my younger brother had loose blonde curls and was fair-skinned. I landed somewhere between them on the colour spectrum. Aged 19, my Mum spent a lot of time pushing the three of us around in a single flat-deck pram. We even came up with a family rhyme about the three of us in that thing. “She’s got one black one, one white one and one with a bit of shite on.” Yep, I was fully aware that was me. That’s how we coped with it: we laughed.

The public perception of my Mum was of an unwed teenage Mother of three kids from three different Fathers originating in three different continents. Some of the insults slung at her were vile, but as a family we dealt with prejudice. We never accepted it, never letting it control how we felt about ourselves, each other or the world. It meant that I grew up with a keen realisation of what bullying is and the harm it can do.

More recently, I’ve noticed a pernicious, cruel and occasionally casual rise in the hatred against trans people and it is bothering the shit out of me. People used to talk about gay people like this when I was a kid, labelling them freaks and faggots. Podcast presenters, sports pundits, blokes at the gym, dustbin men, tinker, tailor, cobbler, thief, and then there is the church at the forefront of this anti-trans fanfare. For fuck’s sake, what has anyone questioning their sexual or gender identity ever done to you? If you feel like they’ve insulted your God, he’s a big boy, he can look after himself. He doesn’t need you goose-stepping over someone’s vulnerability to right the scales of celestial justice.

I understand misdirected anger because the twisted mist of trauma and pain can ignite an inflammable primal rage deep within the soul, but there is no forgiving some of these talking heads in the media. They peddle hatred for ratings and encourage a truly dangerous army of casual haters out there. I have a close friend who identifies as trans and she has taught me a lot in the last few years. I fear I owe her an apology after she told me about the way that an insidious transphobic movement has developed in both the media and society itself. Since she pointed this out, I’ve noticed it repeatedly, and to be honest, I’m shocked.

It is the same type of hatred that used to be directed at mixed-race people, aimed, as it is, at our right to exist. Girls, boys, black, white. To try and empathise I thought back to the way it felt when I was young to have my existence dismissed in this way and it triggered a massive realisation. The support from my family that I took for granted is something that very few trans people have when it comes to dealing with this type of prejudice and hate. For the most part, they deal with it on their own and many end up homeless at a young age, rejected by parents who fail to understand.

It’s the type of hatred that wears a thousand hats and is as comfortable at dinner with the King as it is at a gypsy bare-knuckle fight staged at a car park in Stoke-on-Trent at midnight. It can spew forth from the lips of a preacher, like hot bile wrenched from the gut of a Hells Angel with a white-hot pitchfork, or it can tiptoe through the threads of rational thought with smart justifications disguising its true intent. People, more often than not, point out the most vulnerable amongst us before anyone else decides it is them. Either that or they are passing judgement on people for questioning God’s omnipotence. God made you an X or a Y, how dare you challenge that?

While I am. I challenge God to meet me round the back of Asda on the Old Kent Road. I know it’s less far for me to travel, but I haven’t got a car, let alone a fleet of angels to hitch a ride with. Or can you teleport by now, hey God? Either way: car park, Asda, 3am.
Anyway, my scrap with God aside, please just think before you engage in hating on people whose existence you don’t much care for. It’s lazy and it causes people an awful lot of pain. In the ‘90s there was a massive push towards connection and for a while it became cool to be kind. In the last ten years, we seem to be regressing when it comes to compassion and acceptance. Don’t be part of it.


Support

  • If you are a member of the LGBTIQ+ community and are currently experiencing homelessness, support is available to you.
  • In London, The Outside Project runs numerous services, including night shelters and support groups. Find out more on its website here: lgbtiqoutside.org
  • In Scotland, Stonewall Scotland provides support, guidance and resources. Find out more on its website here:
    www.stonewallscotland.org.uk

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