When I was born, I was black. When I got older, I was black. When I’m sick, I’m black. When I go out in the sun, I’m black. When I die, I’ll be black. When you were born, you were pink. When you got older, you became white. When you’re sick, you go green. When you go out in the sun, you turn red. When you’re cold, you’re blue. When you die, you’ll be grey. And you’ve got the nerve to call me coloured?Black, Listed by Jeffrey Boakye (2019)
The tag line for Black, Listed, Boakye’s second book, after 2017’s Hold Tight: Black Masculinity, Millennials & the Meaning of Grime, is Black British Culture Explored. That, in itself is a hugely broad topic that seems impossible to narrow down to 394 pages of hardback exploration. What Boakye does, however, is very simple. He makes his approach personal; he deliberately provokes and along the way he entertains in ways that you never thought possible considering the provocations he lays on the table.
Boakye starts the book with a periodic style table courtesy of Sophie Hostick-Boakye, that contains a series of descriptors that have been applied to and by black people, or as Boakye himself suggests,
…a list of things that melanin-heavy human beings might find themselves referred to as, if they happen to be alive in the 400 year window that this book peers into.black, listed by jeffrey boakye (2019)
Boakye is, amongst other things, a teacher and if this book is anything to go by, his classes need to be mainlined to the entire nation.
Black, Listed scientifically unpacks everything from Official Descriptors (including Black, Black British, Afro-Caribbean, Mixed Race, Immigrant), Historical Descriptors (Moor, Negro, Black Boy, God), Derogatory Terms and Political Terms. He provides personal anecdotes, historical analysis and provides such clarity with his insight that far from being didactic, Boakye’s scrutiny of the language is never anything short of entertaining, illuminating and empowering.
Boakye’s greatest achievement with Black, Listed is his ability to name, deconstruct and analyse language. We are all familiar with the societal underscore of, “I was just joking” or, “I don’t mean anything by that.” Until it is understood that language is everything, whether used in a derogatory context or not, then we simply cannot expect to move forward.
By, “exposing the central nervous system of racial semiotics to shed new light and offer new perspectives”, Boakye has created a cornerstone of contemporary social and political commentary that blazes with significance. His prose are charming, eloquent, cheeky and bang on the money.
Black, Listed may well be one of the most important books you read all year.