Kicking off the week with a very interesting guest post from author Ashleigh Nugent.
“1993 was the year that Stephen Lawrence got murdered by racists, and I became an angry Black lad with a ‘chip on his shoulder’.”
Aeon is a mixed-race teenager from an English suburb. He is desperate to be understand the Black identity foisted on him by racist police, teachers, and ‘friends’. For want of Black role models, Aeon has immersed himself in gangsta rap, he’s trying to grow dreadlocks, and he’s bought himself some big red boots.
And now he’s in Jamaica.
Within days of being in Jamaica, Aeon has been mugged and stabbed, arrested and banged up.
Aeon has to fight for survival, fight for respect, and fight for his big red boots. And he has to fight for his identity because, here, Aeon is the White boy.
How to Make Things Happen
The first line of my new book, LOCKS, is: ‘Something had to happen.’ The protagonist, Aeon (based on me), repeats the phrase throughout the book, along with variations: ‘I’d made something happen.’ ‘The thing I had to make happen had happened.’
Often, when I talk about LOCKS and the events that inspired it, I get the impression that people think I’m speaking metaphorically when I say, ‘I made it happen.’
I was a mixed-race teenager from a leafy English suburb, looking for a way to make sense of the black identity foisted upon me by racist police, friends, and the education system. But here’s the thing: even as I stood there in a stinking underground dungeon in a Jamaican detention centre, I knew that I had made the whole thing happen.
So why would anyone make something like that happen? And, indeed, how. How could I have made these things happen when I had no control over the actions of the boy who mugged and stabbed me, over the police who arrested me, the magistrate who decided to keep me detained in a foreign country for a minor crime, over the guards who pushed me into an underground dungeon, over the boy hit me over the head with a big stick, or over the other boys who chanted, ‘Fuck up the White man’ as he did so. Surely, to say ‘I made it happen’ makes no sense.
But I clearly remember being certain of my own responsibility in creating my own experiences. And this was in 1993, before I’d ever heard of phrases like self-fulfilling prophecy and law of attraction.
In 1993, I was an angry sixteen-year-old. I had already been arrested and detained three times by the racist police in my hometown. I had been diagnosed with ADHD and written off by the education system. The epithets I had been anointed with in school ranged from awkwardly polite – coloured and half cast – to well-meaning – ‘You’re not really one of them’ – to outright threatening: ‘nigger’, ‘koon’, ‘black bastard’.
My search for men I might identify with lead me to incredible artists like Bob Marley, 2Pac, and NWA. I still love these acts, and I seek healing from them daily. However, what inspired me most was their articulation of certain aspects of black masculinity: tortured, aggressive, and vengeful masculinity. It was an identity that fitted perfectly with what worried looking faces of girlfriends’ parents suggested to me, what the local police expected of me, and what my friends thought to be a natural phenomenon: that ‘All black lads have got a chip on their shoulder.’
So here I was, ensuring that the prophecy of my life’s trajectory propagated by my community would be fulfilled. I acted out a performance written for me by others: A self-fulfilling prophecy.
And everything we do attracts a reaction from others: our body language, our tone of voice, the words we choose, the places we find ourselves. We are constantly giving out signals to the world. And the world reacts. It affirms its own prophecy.
So, what was I signalling? I had to make something happen. And it had to be something big enough to make me worthy of being called a man, a black man; something worthy of Bob Marley’s on-stage paroxysms, 2 Pac’s self-aggrandisement, NWA’s vengeful fury.
And, moreover, I needed something to write about.
And so it happened. But, as I say in LOCKS, as Aeon is chased by jealous thugs on mopeds through the backstreets of Montego Bay, Jamaica:
The thing I had to make happen had happened.
But it was still happening.
And I didn’t know how to make it stop.
Making things happen within a world of endless unseen variables is, so I learned, not a tap you can easily turn on and off.
I was, finally, forced to skip bail and flee Jamaica illegally. When I returned home, my sister booked me a session with a therapist. After speaking with me, the therapist told me what I already knew: that I was absolutely fine despite my harrowing experience. He told me that if he could have given me psychological tools to ensure my mental well-being during the trauma, he would have told me to do exactly what I had done: find a way to make sense of the situation, always have something to look forward to, and maintain a positive sense of purpose even in the darkest moments.
Ashleigh Nugent has been published in academic journals, poetry anthologies, and magazines. His latest work, LOCKS, is based on a true story: the time he spent his 17th birthday in a Jamaican detention centre. LOCKS won the 2013 Commonword Memoir Competition and has had excerpts published by Writing on the Wall and in bido lito magazine. Ashleigh’s one-man-show, based on LOCKS, has won support from SLATE / Eclipse Theatre, and won a bursary from Live Theatre, Newcastle. The show has received rave audience reviews following showings in theatres and prisons throughout the UK. Ashleigh is also a director at RiseUp CiC, where he uses his own life experience, writing, and performance to support prisoners and inspire change.