The Young and Respect in Black Britain

January 13, 2024
4 mins read


By Sarah James-Cyrus

Tuesday, August 31, 2010.

What is your perspective on the word- RESPECT? Even though you may not be aware of it, it’s a seven letter word continuously used through people’s everyday words and actions. Take a minute to think of the last time you heard or used that word. Adults hold their head in disgust, muttering the words “It wasn’t like that in my day”; blaming the crime rate, level of teenage pregnancies and lack of manners, all on the lack of respect they believe the youth have today. 

Parents are told to install the importance of children respecting adults. The government promote the importance of respecting other people’s property and the environment. Walking down the street, it’s not unusual to see boys greet each other with a fist and the words “nuff respect bruv”. Settling down to watch the television, you might have noticed that it is littered with kids back chatting or disregarding  their parents  and if you turn on the radio, the music industry is filled with artists demanding respect albeit  by the gun or through power. But what is it all about? AND do we all have different definitions as to what we think it is?

Respect is understanding that every human being has value, a sense of worth and should be treated with high regard, consideration and esteem. It means taking others thoughts, needs and feelings into consideration, acknowledging and listening to them. Let’s be honest, in an ideal world, everyone would live with the motto: “Do unto others as you would have other s do unto you”, unfortunately, there are rappers like Fabulous who make statements like:-“ I’ma have to kill someone just to get some respeck.”

 As a child growing up, I had so many Aunts and Uncles, but it was not until I was 12 that I started to wonder why they bore no resemblance to my mum and dad. At 15, I realised that neither one of my parents had siblings that actually resided in London. I felt a little cheated, so one day I approached my mum and she explained that she taught me to address all adults similarly, as it would have been disrespectful to address them on a first name basis. I didn’t get it, but when I studied languages, I realised that even the French and Spanish use different words to greet elders.

 I was talking to a friend and he always thought that respect was something that was earned. I, on the other hand, was taught that I did not have to like everyone I met, but I should be the first to give respect and only withdraw that if they did something to make me feel undervalued, worthless or disrespected. I struggle with both of these ideas. My friend’s idea means that at a young age, you put yourself on the same platform as an adult, forgetting that as parents, teachers and people of authority, they have the maturity and experience that we lack. However, no-one simply deserves respect. Otherwise I would have grown putting people like Myra Hindley, President Mugabe and Hitler in the same category as Nelson Mandela and Malcolm X.

I think respect is on the border of both these ideas.  It‘s the showing of respect by considering others, but knowing who is actually deserving of esteem or admiration. It is something that is earned and mutual and can never be forced through fear.  Which means that the rappers, gangsters and dictators, who talk about gaining respect through violence, harsh words and guns; have it all wrong. What they are promoting is fear. Fear is a strange emotion. It creates the false illusion of friends, power and respect. Take it away and you’re left in a prison cell alone, or worse, in a coffin, with no one mourning your death! There is one point in everyone’s life where you are forced to make a decision or a judgement call and I guarantee that the respect you have for that person will influence your decision.  

Do you remember the first lines from the film, ‘The Godfather’:

“One day the kids from the neighbourhood carried my mother’s groceries all the way home. You know why? It was outta respect”

I remember thinking that members of the Italian Mafia held their family with such high regard, they were loyal and had a close knit community, but behind the glamorised violence was the lack of respect for women, the law and human life. Rappers talk about respect from others because they can spit better lyrics, whilst gangs promote respect through beatings and owning postcodes. The reality is, respect is not about pulling a trigger or standing still after a beating. You’ve done nothing to deserve admiration or respect: you are nothing more than a bully who gets an adrenaline rush from causing other people misery.

Women are told to respect themselves and not to indulge in promiscuous behaviour, as you lose your value. In 2009, we acknowledge how far females have come, but whilst we continue to promote women’s liberation, there are the few who are proud to bare all in music videos. If we want men to respect us, we have to understand that we have a different biological make-up; it is not for us to start holding black-books and comparing notes with our ‘girls’. In the 1990s, I loved the tune – “I love your smile “by Shanice. But today’s male rappers rap about women’s intimate parts, without batting an eyelid. Instead you get that cheeky grin and the girls who fall for it. Just as you take pride in your hair, make-up and your clothes, you should extend that to any potential boyfriend. Take pride and take the time to know who you are, investing only in people who have the time and the ability to bring out the best in you.

On a wider scale, the evidence of disrespect is obvious. Teachers are afraid of their pupils and children refuse to give up their seat on the bus for elders. Police stand guard at schools and are attacked on the streets and the saddest of all – children beating, spitting and disrespecting the people who gave them life.

I think we should stop throwing this word around and sit down and think about it. Respect is something that everyone strives to get and no-one wants to lose. It can be lost a lot quicker than gained through words and actions. We have to stop living in this ‘I’ mentality world and start using the word ‘we’. To really have respect for others we have to admit mistakes, ask others their opinions and agree to disagree.

Sarah James-Cyrus is a trainee barrister and currently works as a Communications Officer for the Metropolitan Police Service in London.


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