Ghetts’ Black Rose: Colourism, Diaspora Blues and Fatherhood
Veteran east London grime MC Ghetts eloquently touches on a broad range of experiences growing up young, black and the child of immigrants in his new single Black Rose featuring Kojey Radical. The single is from his upcoming album Ghetto Gospel: The New Testament, a sequel to the 2007 Ghetto Gospel EP.
Through warm, homely visuals he tells a story of raising a young black girl and the need to positively affirm her existence due to the constant hatred dark-skinned black women receive from both ‘society’ and their own ‘brothers’. The sincere and reflective depiction of the ignorance that fosters within our own communities when it comes to blackness and colourism has been a much needed visual display of affection and reassurance towards black women from black men.
The music video opens up with his daughter asking, “Daddy, how come there’s no dolls that look like me in the shop?” – a question many young black girls, myself included, have asked as we slowly come to realise that we are different.
The lack of diverse toys is one of the first ways children are racialised and stripped of their innocence. Sheine Peart, a lecturer at Nottingham Trent University, told the BBC that “if there’s a black child, and they see no black toys, it almost creates a colonial environment and that effectively says, ‘there’s no place for me'”. There is no great epiphany when you realise your blackness as a child, it is more a series of small annoyances or microaggressions that chip away at your sense of self-worth and subsequently influences the way you see and experience the world. It’s important for black children to just be children. Studies show that black girls are seen as more mature and in less need of protection, comfort, nurturing and support, in a process called ‘adultification’. Part of the ‘adultification’ of black girls encourages people to see them as stereotypically ‘strong’ and able to take on more than a child normally would. This filters into the way people feel like they can speak to, and insult, black girls.
Ghetts contributes to the conversation on colourism and hatred towards dark-skinned women in a way many of his musical equivalents have failed to. With the lines, “Everyone’s entitled to their own taste / But every time you pricks make a statement I can find a rival in my own race”, he fiercely snaps back at those who insist on ignoring the lived experiences of black women who’ve explicitly highlighted the disrespect they’ve received from their own communities as well as white people. This song and video comes at a time when black male rappers and MCs have been called out for their lack of support for black women, not only in the music scene but in wider society. Through lyrics and music videos black women are erased and degraded – particularly those who are dark skinned. Very few people have been able to publicly contribute to this conversation in a way that takes ownership of the issue at hand. Though Ghetts constantly repeats “Have mercy on my brothers,” he reminds us that they must do better by asking: “So who’s fighting for the sisters then? / When their brother keep on dissing them”.
Recently, YouTuber Zeze Millz called out the way that black artists do not do enough to prop up black women in the music scene. She spoke about the way that many black male artists have featured on Amelia Dimoldenberg’s Chicken Shop Dates and continue to support her but the same support has not been given to black women – particularly dark-skinned black women in the music scene. After addressing this on her channel she was called a ‘bully’ by Giggs and a slew of names in the comments section. When Chip was called out on the lack of black women in his video, he called his critics insecure. He then commented on Instagram retorting that his whole family was black, a means of absolving himself from any real responsibility. However, this is exactly what Ghetts is saying when he raps that black men are “disrespecting women who remind them of their mothers / Disrespecting women who remind them of their sisters / Disrespecting women who remind them of their cousins”. Despite being raised and loved unconditionally by black women, the internalised anti-blackness will make you hate your own. When conversations about colourism and identity are brought up it is often thrown back in the faces of dark-skinned black women as they are painted to be bitter.
The video displays beautifully interlocked radiant black bodies in a range of grey, black and white hues that add depth and vulnerability. The candid images of black women and girls with slicked hair and piercings give a refreshing view on the black British experience that for so long has been typified by black men and their struggles. It is very rare you see black bodies displayed affectionately in mainstream media, particularly black men with their children. On the back of consistent black trauma on the internet, and the general disregard for black bodies, this wholesome imagery provides a much needed counter-narrative. These visuals complement the affirming lyrics: “Baby keep doing you / Don’t let the world ruin you / No matter what they say you are beautiful.” His video dismantles the racist myth of black absentee fathers, reminiscent of Ashley Sylvester’s photography project Dad: the Forgotten Parent.
Following on from family and heritage Ghetts ends the video by reminding black Brits that we are never British, we are black British, and that permanent prefix is a constant reminder that we are other. That other, our ‘black’, for many is also unfamiliar, particularly for those who’ve grown up with little to no contact with families in Africa or the Caribbean, and for those who feel left in a limbo. When Ghetts says, “Really I’m from Africa but I don’t know my country I’m a lost man / Where the hell are my locks at” he speaks to the idea that as a diaspora we are not only burdened with the idea of feeling unwanted in our own countries but we have a disconnect with our homelands. He closes, “Got me looking at a dashiki like what’s that / And still I’m Django to you house niggas,” providing us with the closure that though we may feel disconnected with our countries of origin we can stand proud in our blackness.
Black Rose is a necessary and powerful piece of art that beautifully comments on major issues regarding race and identity. It leaves us wanting more as we await the much anticipated release of Ghetto Gospel: The New Testament.