In 2009, I made a vow. A solemn vow brokered by God. I vowed never to dance mbaqanga with the rich and famous anymore. This is why. In 2009, I wrote a chastening article. It was wounding in its narrative. It was strident in its helplessness. It was titled cheekily. I asked, “Where Are The Black British Millionaires?” Then the dam burst. It was received with blinding anger, scorn and the pointing of accusatory fingers for what amounted to the hanging of fellow black brothers’ dirty linen for the world to see. I received rude emails. Readers questioned the moral message of my advocacy. I was labelled an absconding traitor. And by the way, who made me the devil’s advocate for the unsuccessful black British?
In the fountain of their emotions, I detected a kind of shaming feeling for black British. The kernel of the article is direct enough. Why are we hewers of wood and drawers of water in the lottery of wealth in Britain? What is keeping us back from becoming millionaires like both white and Indians? Why are we represented disproportionately in the crime and anti-social league table of shame? Do we have entrepreneur thinkers? Do we still have black people with vision, determination, courage and intelligence to bring back black pride lost to ganja, gangs, ghetto music and bling?
Answers to my self inquisition are in the coloured pages of last week’s Sunday Times. Rupert Murdoch’s cash cow – Sunday Times – has further made another startling revelation of our failure to become wealthy and rich. The Rich List 2012 – a definitive guide to wealth in Britain and Ireland – has more white and brown faces than blacks.
The dusty memory of 2009 flashed across my mind. Do I still need to encourage collective race attack on my literary honesty? Am I ready for another condemnation? Do I need to self-censor my conscience and shield my pen from angry losers and moaners? Is there a compromise between pious idealism and tough-minded realism of our entrepreneurial failure in Britain?
The Rich List 2012 passed the test of prediction. I am yet to be formally declared a prophet. My confident intuition paid off. Pages after pages, I saw smiling white faces. Some caressing their yachts moored on the Pacific oceans. They look robust, real and ready. They look beautiful, bouncy, bright and brilliant. Why not? They are the risk-taking, movers and shakers of this sceptre isle called Britain. They are fanatical about wealth, power and influence. They are smart and egoless. They earn their money in Britain but ship out to Cayman Islands to worship the sun, sea and sex. Oh yes, in an atmosphere of privacy and careless abandon. Oh…money! Nothing smells better than money!
Philip Beresford the compulsive compiler of the rich list is unabashed in his investigative pursuit of the wealthy. For him, it is a kind of heroism to trudge through several references like Forbes List of Billionaires, Canada Rich List, Australian Rich List, Quote 500, Greek Rich List and Wales Business Insider to delight us with the riches of foremost Britain’s money moguls. Again, as I turned the pages, I began to see British-based Indian millionaires. The usual rags-to-riches story commonly associated with my Asian sojourners. In their humble eyes, you will see confidence, competency, competitiveness, dedication and restlessness. Many of them are runners or deportees from the wasteland of Africa.
The undimmed memory of hard knocks from Kenya, Malawi, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia has been able to mark the twilight of their lives in business and wealth acquisition. They came. They saw. They conquered the dragon at the British gate. I felt a slight relief. The Rich List 2012 is shedding its image of a whitewash. There is a small tribe of Asian or brown skin people to spread the British wealth across different gene pool. Consider the moving story of Ratheesh Yoganathan. As a 15-year-old refugee, he moved to London from Sri Lanka. In 2001, aged 25, he set up a telecom company called Lebara with Leon Ranjith and Baskaran Kandiah. Now 36, he is worth a staggering £120million and rated 624 richest man in Britain.
That is an encouraging success story for someone whom the world of Britain once elected to dismiss as a nobody. Cheered by this gripping story, I sped across the pages looking for someone of my own colour – black person – to make me worthy. Then my unspoken fears were confirmed. The unsmiling mug shot of Mo Ibrahim stared at me. In 2009, the Sudanese telecom overlord was the only Negroid African to make the Rich List. There is no language to illuminate my vexing disappointment at what confronted me in 2012.
Is the wealth of black people in Britain in perpetual pause? Again, Mo is listed in 2012 as the only Negroid to win an entry into the glossy pages of the rich and opulent. Mo Ibrahim, made his wealth through mobile phones. He sold his Celtel operation in 2005 and grossed a whooping $3.4billion fortune. That is a tidy sum to encourage a life of limitless fun, fornication and fantasy.
It is sad to watch with horror the vanishing pride of black British. There is a disgusting and dreadful sense of abandonment which constitutes guilt. This must be permanently etched on white British conscience. The British ignored their own – the black British – on the altar of pigmentation. How can white and brown – both colours – be millionaires and the colour of black remains perpetually darkened by dirt and poverty?
Are black British the irrational and aggressive oddballs whose hands are forbidden from getting into the British cash tills? Are they victims of persecutions, prejudice and financial blackout from lending banks? When would the new generation beat a retreat from the destructive paths of over-reliance on the counter-culture of ganja, guns, knives, bling, mugging, sagging, swagger, rappernomics and rude boy attitude? When would our seventeen year old teenagers whose attention are divided between the immoral lyrics of Kanye West and the theory of Emile Durkheim realise that gaining A in Sociology is far more soul lifting than been seen as street smart sociopaths?
What then for the black British millionaires? Where can we get the most illuminating explanation for the virtual extinction of black British millionaire moguls? What is the cause of this malaise? This sorry story of exclusion from British wealth, power and influence? Why are we shut out from tapping into the wealth of Britain? Could it be in our collective gene? Could it be in our competitive shyness?
Could this be the result of slavery harvest? Could it be racism? Is Africa’s glorious antiquity the cause of this programmed poverty and neglect? Is it right for the Sunday Times to cause a yearly impolite disturbance among the black community? Or are we to applaud the Sunday Times Rich List for creating a brooding mood for self-interrogation? Are we the used chattels of the old, colonial British empire without hope of breaking into the rarefied zones of industry, retailing, banking, Internet gambling, food, distribution, fashion, high finance, property, investment, steel, diamond trading, supermarkets, construction, aviation, media, pharmaceuticals, horse racing, hotels, packaging, insurance, electrical goods and transport?
Are we destined to be minstrels, rappers, dancers, boxers, sprinters, footballers and care workers in an oasis of limitless opportunities? Are there lessons for the black British to learn from the alarmingly ambitious Asians who have leapt outside the box to become co-owners of British wealth? Or has Christianity taught black British to reject renaissance materialism that puts self above all else?
Yes, the black community has the guns. It has the knives. It has the sagging trousers. It has the ear ringed rappers. It has the crack. It has the crackheads. It has the flowing, chunky, bling pendants. It has the Black Berries. But excuse me, where is your wealth? Wh
ere are our self-made black British millionaire heroes to put an end to the envy and emotional trauma that have me in yearly confinement? Without wealth we are unseen. Without wealth we are treated brusquely. Without wealth our complexities are trampled upon. Without wealth our identities are ignored. Without wealth our existence is treated with raw indifference. Without wealth we are placed out of sight of mankind.
Will my evocative flourish go in vain? I still desire to see new generation of black British groundbreakers and risk takers to stem the shaming feeling I had to contend with each year when I leaf through the Sunday Times Rich List.