Is It Because I'm Black?

The dark brown shades of my skin, only add colour to my tears

Ooh oh

That splash against my hollow bones

That rocks my soul

Looking back over my false dreams, that I once knew

Wondering why my dreams never came true

Is it because I’m black

Somebody tell me what can I do?

Something is holding me back

Is it because I’m black

  • Syl Johnson- It is because I’m black



Many are familiar with the stereotype of the black individual who reverts all situations back to the colour of their skin. It’s easy to ‘eye roll’ in these scenarios. It’s hard to prove, after all, that skin colour truly played a role in a black individual’s interaction with another race or with an institution, company etc...  


Jokes of this nature are often used as a comedic vice by black people and can easily be dismissed as overused and potentially flat. Indeed, oppression has a whole plethora of consequences, including appeasement of those who are not racially oppressed by making light of difficult topics. Indeed, I have felt compelled to appease my white counterparts since childhood in a whole array of circumstances and this has impacted my ability to speak up, be assertive and stand up for myself. Laughing off darker racial issues is also a consequence of this compulsion to act a certain way, as a black person, in order to mitigate discrimination.


Underpinning these behaviours is the fact that the mind of the black individual is paranoid. We are plagued by rational paranoia built upon history and personal experiences which lead up to that seemingly lighthearted statement: “What? Because I’m black?”


Let’s debunk this- the black mind in Western, ex-colonial society was built upon fear and anguish. The history of our people in the West and during colonisation sits on the periphery of our daily activities, especially our minds, almost all of the time.


I digress...‘Is it because I’m Black’ is a soul tune by the legendary Syl Johnson. It speaks of the helplessness felt by black people due to social immobility caused by institutionalised racism and the history of our people in the West. Indeed, the stark relevance of the message is highlighted by the origins of soul itself and its westernisation.  After all, soul, jazz, blues, funk etc… were all invented by blacks and yet their white counterparts who utilised and westernised their music saw much more success and wealth in their careers. ‘Is it because I’m black’ refers to the innate disadvantages black individuals suffer from in education, the social welfare system, career prospects, social mobility, the criminal justice system and more. The statement “is it because I’m black?” isn’t just black people being ‘salty’, it pertains to the institutionalised, societal disregard and assimilation of the black community.


Stemming from colonialisation and slavery, modern day fickle acts have proven to have the same sentiment as those who colonised, murdered, raped and enslaved our people. Paranoia, fear, anger and grief are rife within the hearts of black individuals in the West and often comic relief is the avenue taken to express these emotions. After all, these emotions will sit with us for life and constantly drawing attention to them in a serious setting often seems inappropriate or even unwanted by those around us. A fact which I have had difficulty stomaching in the past is that everything is racial and the society which has formed was largely manufactured by the elites- it was no accident.


Statistically speaking, the sustained inequalities suffered by blacks in society point to undeniable conclusions. For example, ‘in 2018/19, the Social Metric Commission found that 46% of black African and Caribbean people and 32% of those with a mixed ethnic heritage were in poverty compared with 19% of white British people.’ Similarly, black children are 4x more likely to be arrested than white children. Moreover, ONS reports from 2016-18 demonstrated that ‘while white British people had an average household wealth (including property, savings and pension) of £590,400...black Caribbean people had only £379,200’ and ‘black African people had £147,300.’  Indeed, it appears that it is because we’re black that these inequalities arise.


Past conceptions of the black individual as innately inferior creep into the rhetoric of those who benefit from Western society. This belief has served, upheld and defined the Western society we live in. Systematic oppression is not going to make itself known to you. It is, by nature, covert. Black people have never had the innate propensity to commit more crimes, commit more violent acts, or disproportionately rely upon the social welfare system compared to other races. We have been backed into a corner and asked why we are not happy with subordination, albeit perhaps less obvious and less debilitating than the past 300 years. The Conservative, Thatcherite ‘get on your bike’ mentality is the product of privilege, not ambition. Like the working classes, we must try much harder to hope to get the same. This is demotivating in and of itself. We remain neglected and feared. Fearful and feared. We have wilted in silence for too long.


I identify as a black individual despite my mixed half white half Zambian heritage. This is not only the result of the labels my white counterparts have given me but also my pride in my African heritage. I was asked as a child, to my dismay, what I “was” to which I relied, out of fear, upon my half white, half black heritage. I didn’t want to be black, not because I was ashamed of my heritage but because my education had never highlighted the joys of African and Afro-Caribbean culture. Our existence outside of the realm of the white, Western eye is largely ignored. Africa is painted in the UK as impoverished, violent and a victim of the West. Our enriched culture, our wealth and our positive contributions to the West are hugely understated. I am extremely proud to be black yet, having grown up in the West, this took a lot of work and self discovery, partially at the cost of my mental well-being. I am ashamed to say that I have not always held my heritage so closely to my heart.


Referring back to my initial point, jokes made by black individuals about their race often relate to our deepest trauma. The normalisation of these conversations is important but I’m conflicted as I feel as though the use of these topics in hip hop and social media makes it all too easy to brush aside and normalise the black struggle without any positive change. I personally don’t always want to talk about race yet I do bring it up a lot too. It’s strange and I’m conflicted about it all the time. I guess it comes with a lot of frustration. Sometimes I want to scream and cry, sometimes I want to die, but at the core of how I feel is only sadness. A deep anguish which I will never rid myself off until the day I die. My advice to those with racial privilege in the West is to simply have compassion for your black counterparts and to try to understand and notice the ways in which race impacts almost every waking moment of a minority’s life in the West. Jokes are jokes and I’m not advocating taking a serious approach in all conversations about race, it depends on the individual and the circumstances.


I must also highlight once more that I am of half white and half black heritage, I wrote this because I am passionate about this topic and I believe that my views mirror that of many black individuals in the West. I am, however, only writing from personal experience and I must acknowledge my privilege in the West as a half-white half-black person.

Thank you for reading.


The dark brown shades of my skin, only add colour to my tears

Ooh oh

That splash against my hollow bones

That rocks my soul

Looking back over my false dreams, that I once knew

Wondering why my dreams never came true

Is it because I’m black

Somebody tell me what can I do?

Something is holding me back

Is it because I’m black

  • Syl Johnson- It is because I’m black

 1 ‘BME statistics on poverty and housing and employment’, Institute of Race Relations (2020) <https://irr.org.uk/research/statistics/poverty/#_ftn1> accessed 4 December 2021

2 Youth Justice Statistics 2018/19 England and Wales, Youth Justice Board / Ministry of Justice, 30 January 2020 <https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/862078/youth-justice-statistics-bulletin-march-2019.pdf> accessed 4 December 2021


Holly Mapana

26 Jan 2022

POLSIS in Colour /

Is It Because I'm Black?