LOCKS- Beyond the Binary
The growing pains of adolescence can feel like the worst of times: confusing, alienating, conflictual. In my book, LOCKS, Aeon, a sixteen-year-old mixed race boy from a leafy English suburb, finds himself in the heat of the forge.
It’s 1993, and Aeon has flown to Jamaica to escape the racism of his home town and to develop his own identity in a place where he will better fit in. Only, he doesn’t fit in. Within days of being in Jamaica, Aeon is mugged and stabbed, arrested, caged in an underground dungeon, and beaten unconscious while a gang of boys chant: ‘Fuck up the White man.’
Aeon, by the way, is based on me. I spent my seventeenth birthday in that Jamaican detention centre. When people hear me tell this story, they often offer some words of sympathy or pull a sad face. As if they think the experience may have damaged me. Or maybe they believe I was damaged from birth; a ‘tragic mulatto’ doomed to never fit in. However, when people read the book they come to understand (at least I hope they understand) that Aeon’s experience was a rite of passage, a necessary experience for him/for me to grow and develop his/our unique identity.
As I write this, in January 2021, it must seem to many that the racial divide is more entrenched than ever: Trumpism, All Lives Matter, nationalistic xenophobia and so on. And whilst I agree, these are fraught times, I would like to offer an optimistic analogy. What we are witnessing now are simply the growing pains of a culture in adolescence?
Our society is still young. The interconnected global community was only conceived 500 years ago, when western Europe started exploring the Americas, trading more in Africa, and venturing to the farthest eastern reaches.
But Europe was an angry, jealous, and violent father. Christianity had curtailed his creativity; on the Iberian Peninsula, he had been at war for 800 years; England and France had been killing each other for over a hundred years . . .
Now Europe meets this beautiful bride, overflowing with warmth, sustenance, and creative energy.
And so our society is born. Just like all babies, it only knows what it needs: ‘Feed me’ it cries, ‘Keep me warm’, day and night, with no regard for how its mother feels: ‘Love me’.
Europe, in order to control his less than willing bride and their cantankerous child, invents false doctrines that position him as the head of the family. And amongst the most pernicious of those doctrines is the pseudoscience of race.
In more prosaic terms, contemporary racism is the vestigial effect of slavery and imperialism, perpetuated to this day by outmoded oligarchs, their puppet politicians, and profiteering media moguls. Pretending racial dualism wasn’t an issue anymore was never going to make it go away. Lame phrases like post-race and colour-blind and multi-cultural were actually exacerbating the situation–you can roll a shit in glitter but it’s still gonna stink.
What we are currently experiencing is a culture in its adolescence, trying to overcome the strictures imposed by a tyrannical father and define its own identity. Those of us who remember being a teenager know that this is a turbulent, difficult, and totally necessary phase. The fact that peoples’ covert racist attitudes have been made overt is not a bad thing; it’s essential.
The conversation has now opened up. And this honest debate is the start of the growth process. And I for one hope we never again attempt to conceal this ridiculous doctrine of race in platitudinous glitter. We need to take in the extent of its odious stench, seek it out where it hides, and lovingly bleach the shit out of our floors.
And we shouldn’t expect that a culture in adolescence will never again foul our speckless veneer, or act outrageously self-serving. In LOCKS, it was Aeon’s birthright that his identity be constructed anew, around a unique framework that stands outside the momentary strictures of society.
Of course, not all adolescents do grow up. Some never survive their death-wish phase. So I cannot promise that we will live to see the end of this current divisiveness. But I do believe that we have an opportunity. And I believe that we are worthy of taking more responsibility for our own culture. And I believe that we must be honest about who our parents are and forgive them for they are growing too.