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18 Mar 2022

A Review: Guardian documentary 'The Black Cop'

Recently, documentary-drama "The Black Cop" won a BAFTA. The short film follows former Met officer Gamal "G" Turawa as he recounts his prior encounters with homophobia and racial discrimination within the Met. The film begins with G saying, "I joined because I wanted to be white."

The Metropolitan Police have been in the news a lot in recent years, for arguably more bad than good. This short film, and it’s major recognition, arrives at a pertinent moment to illustrate some of the difficulties from inside the force, in a frank and searing light.

G grew up in a time when many West African children and babies were cared for by private foster parents, since their own were working or studying. It was entirely permissible to place a kid in care without telling the authorities during this period. This practice was informally known as "farming", white families being paid to care for black children.

Some children predictably struggled with identity and discrimination, while many had a great experience – G can identify with both. "I see a mixture of joy and sadness”, he recounts. G recalls a lack of understanding and sensitivity; his foster mother once joked: "don’t send him down to the coal shed because we’ll never find him again." Many viewers today will relate to this mocking of a darker complexion. Shrugging this off may seem easy, but at such an early age this subtle undermining unconsciously moulds you and therefore G grew up aspiring to be white.

G transitions from living with his foster mother in an all-white setting to meeting his father and moving to an all-black one, where he struggles to comprehend the new dynamics of living: the cuisine was different, the people were different, the language was different.

The majority of people of mixed heritages and backgrounds, including myself, can immediately identify with G's struggle to assimilate into cultural norms. I was born in Congo and spent a large portion of my childhood moving between countries and families, before meeting my dad. I recall the first time I met him: around six years old with no idea how to respond or even whether he was indeed my dad.

G describes another occurrence from his youth when he first realised he was black, and what this meant in wider society. With a white friend they encounter a police officer, his friend runs up to him, they chat and the officer hands money to the boy. G, observing this, copies the behaviour, but he is met with an entirely different response that forms his hatred of policemen at a young age, continuing into his adolescence. 

However, this resentment eventually turned into a yearning for power and authority. Upon communicating his desire to become an officer to his father, he was silenced with a slap to the face. "They'll murder you," G's father said simply.

There's this odd thing with black parents disapproving of their children pursuing specific professions. I recall Chris Rock making a joke about how he told his mum he wanted to be President of the United States and she reacted in much the same manner that G's dad did. I'm not sure if it's out of concern for their children's safety or an old belief that certain positions aren’t for a black person – perhaps a mix. 

Regardless, G applied five times to the police and was turned down four times. He was admitted into the police training college, but his pride didn’t last long. Only four of the approximately 90 cops were from ethnic backgrounds. G was afraid to interact with other minorities as a result of being questioned about sitting with other ‘blacks’. These microaggressions are still present in society today.

As a young probationer, you were required to get a specific number of "stops and searches" in order to advance to the next stage of development. This prompted G to target his own community, both to meet the quota and to fit in with his white colleagues. G was constantly attempting to demonstrate that he was not a member of the black community, despite appearances.

Hearing G discuss cops being obligated to conduct a certain amount of stops and searches immediately transported me back to my high school days. It's bizarre since G's tale occurred over 40 years ago, but the same behaviour persisted throughout the police department long after. I attended a school in South London, and I used to dread most days due to police harassment; I was stopped and searched regularly for perhaps three or four years in a row. As was the case with G, it felt as though the officers were simply attempting to make up the requisite numbers.

Simultaneously, G was used in a lot of campaign and publicity shots in this period, a kind of exploitation still very common for many black people today. G was wheeled out to stand with whoever was visiting the station, whether it was a politician or a celebrity. He used to enjoy this new-found spotlight, but later recognised feeling like a "performing monkey."

Now that G has retired from policing, he decides what performances he makes and delivers incredible talks on his life experiences – a role model to many.

I strongly feel as though G’s life experience speaks for many minorities in the UK. The abuse he faced as a child, the confusion of identity as an adult, and the desire to be accepted by others. The film explored many issues that are still present today and brought back certain memories that myself and my colleagues had forgotten about until we heard G’s story. Due to past experiences with the police and racism, I tend to find films like this hard to watch and distressing. Nevertheless, it’s so important that stories like this are told and not hidden. Education is key to moving forward and studying the past makes for a better future.

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