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There was a hashtag on twitter a couple of months ago started by relationship blogger Oloni called #sluttygirlfears, tackling some of the taboos surrounding women’s sexual desires and dismantling the idea that women shouldn’t enjoy or want sex in the same way men do. I initially looked on as an interested outsider of sorts, but quickly realised that I could actually relate wholeheartedly with the jist of many of the tweets.

I can’t remember the age when I started believing that good girls don’t like sex, but by age 13 I definitely knew it to be true. I don’t remember thinking  too much about sex before 13. It wasn’t that my household was one where the topic of sex was taboo or forbidden. My Dad was (still is) and old school Jamaican man, whose idea of the sex talk was telling me, gruffly, on the way back from a sleepover age 12 ,”I don’t want to find you with any boy behind a bush”. To which I obviously replied “Why on earth would I be doing ANYTHING behind a bush?”

My Mum, on the other hand, encouraged us to ask as many questions as we wanted and she was never shy about giving answers, even if the answer was “I’ll tell you more about that when you’re older”.I had a very good working knowledge of the birds and the bees by the age of 6, thanks to the “GROWING UP”  books she had left around the house, littered with very graphic and clinical diagrams of, as they described it (1986 edition books), ‘coitus’. 6 year old me was unphased and uninterested in intercourse, although I would gladly tell you that men produced sperm, women made eggs, and that it took approximately 9 months for a baby to develop from their joining.

Unfortunately, March 23rd 2003 and the onset of puberty came upon me suddenly. One minute I was reading Harriet the Spy complete with my Marks and Spencer’s training bra, and the next minute hormones, bleeding uteruses and teenage acne attacked me. Shortly after that assault commenced,  I was sitting in the living room at home one afternoon and I stumbled across some porn on the T.V. I was intrigued and disgusted by it at the same time, but honestly probably more intrigued than disgusted. Fascinated that I could finally put the cartoon graphics of “GROWING UP” to real faces, I watched through half squinted eyes for a minute before telling my Dad that something had got fuddled up with the Christian cable box (yes, it was on a Christian cable box) and he should probably get the cable guy to fix it,

I’m sure I was aware of my own sexuality before then to some extent – I knew that when the boy I liked at church had to hold my hand during the prayer my heart would get a bit racy, but I think age 13 was when I really realised that I probably was going to really like sex when I finally had the chance to do it.  The problem was, I was pretty sure I wasn’t really supposed to like sex.

The early 2000’s were the hey day of the ‘True Love Waits’ movement that swept across America’s evangelical churches. Teenagers were signing pledges, writing vows of virginity with menstrual blood (not really, but i wouldn’t be surprised), wearing promise rings and doing Daddy daughter dates to make sure that they had enough non sexual male presence in their life to stop them having sex with men they actually fancied. It was a bit of a #fail, because the pregnancy rate in schools with abstinent only education ended up being the same or higher than schools which taught more about contraception.

Being a young, Caribbean-British Christian, specifically Seventh Day Adventist, I had my own purity woes to contend with. The American books on waiting didn’t exactly resonate with the environment of my South East London private school. I wasn’t being constantly pressured to have sex and having to valiantly run out of high school proms clutching my bra strap and my dignity.

The overwhelming message I heard about sex in church was pretty simple though – “Don’t have it, try not to think about it, and if you do do it, don’t have an abortion because that’s a sin. But once you get married it’s great and a gift from God and you can think about it all the time”.

Age 27, this is no longer serving me.

I’m fed up of us pretending that only single men struggle with wanting sex. The narrative that women seek companionship primarily and sexual intimacy is a pleasant but secondary consequence is frankly, more archaic than leather condoms. It’s hilarious that in 2017, we’re still doing relationship seminars with young Christians where we pull the boys into one room and talk to them about masturbation and porn and pull the girls into another and talk to them about modesty and ‘guarding their heart’. Women of this generation are often as visually stimulated as their male counterparts, much more aware of their sexual desires and definitely not just ‘giving sex to get love’. 15 year old church girls are performing oral sex during the week and sitting at the back of church every Saturday. Get real.

I’m not going to be boxed in by these #sluttygirlfears anymore, being scared of the disapproval of church folks who are in denial about their own sexuality and the sexuality of those around them.  Some women in church have had sex, and are having it right now. Some of them have had lots of sex with lots of different people. Some of them haven’t had sex, but want to. Some of them might even be asexual. Most of them probably really enjoy sex, or at least the thought of it. It’s time to accept it for what it is.

While God gives us boundaries for our sexual behaviour, we don’t help Him along by either pretending that they’re easy to live within, or that we don’t have any sexual desires in the first place. Our inability to accept and acknowledge female sexuality doesn’t lead to righteousness or repentance, but to guilt, shame, self loathing and fear.

I apologise to the women I’ve hurt, spoken badly of, or looked down on because I couldn’t come to terms with the fullness of my own humanity.

To the church girl who has slept with that guy she shouldn’t have, watched the porn video last night or thought a few things that would make the head deacon blush, know that you aren’t strange, abnormal or irredeemable. There are lots of us here, walking this Jesus walk with you, trying to heal from the lies that were told us about our sexuality from those in church and those outside church. You are wonderfully made. God designed your body to desire sex and to enjoy sex as much as any man. You are not a slut. You are formed into wonderful femininity, holding inside of you the breath of God.

I wholeheartedly believe that God’s ideal for us is sex within marriage, with one person who loves us, cherishes us, and forsakes all others. I really want to have that experience one day. It would be great if my sex drive could turn on on the wedding night and stay off before then, but that’s not realistic, and evidently not how I was made. So until then, I’m slowly allowing myself to accept all of my humanity, including acknowledging and celebrating my sexuality – and so should you.

Here’s some great reading material I’ve found helpful:

  1. Real Sex by Lauren Winner
  2. Flame of Yahweh, Sexuality in the Old Testament  by Richard Davidson
  3. Letters to Young Lovers by Ellen White
  4. Songs Of Solomon

 

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I haven’t blogged in a month or so. I definitely haven’t blogged about race. Why? Well, you could say I’m suffering from racial fatigue – I’m tired of analysing, deconstructing, resisting and boycotting white supremacy in all it’s myriad manifestations. I’m sick of noticing how pervasive it is. I’m fed up of having to deal with the internalised anti-blackness within my community. I’m just sick of race.

Unfortunately, there’s no escape route.

James Baldwin said it best:

“To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time. ”

Because it’s literally everywhere. And thanks to the resurgence of more overt forms racism in the last few years and the ever reaching hand of social media, the depressing reality screams in my face every day. I can feel it’s breath on my cheek the minute I open a newspaper. I can smell the stench from the biased journalism on my TV screen. I have to exchange smiles with its passive aggression at work every morning. It even manages to invade the sacred spaces of my faith.

There have been a few times in my life where I wished I wasn’t black. Not because being black isn’t beautiful and defiantly joyous in an almost miraculous way, but because to be black and to fight to love blackness can be tiring. To be black and to love yourself and your people and to see the daily and consistent assaults on them – not the videos of black men being shot, or the MP who ‘accidentally’ uses the N-word, but the almost imperceptible drip of a system that attempts to erode at the concrete of our self-worth, is heartbreaking.

Sometimes I envy the people who don’t see it. How don’t they see it? Do they see it and don’t care?

But I’m realising that one of our greatest acts of resistance against any evil is to be able to see all of it, the ugliness, the hatred, the accidental bigotry and the calculated dismissal, and refuse to let it define our existence or steal our joy.

I’m starting to believe that although it’s necessary to understand how white supremacy affects us, our conversations about white people’s acts of overt or covert racism are far too centred on white people. Somehow, we still believe despite all the evidence, that the more information white people receive about us, the less likely they are to be racist, and we direct our conversations about race under that basis. We have become trapped in a continual cycle of outrage in which a white person or people will commit an act entirely consistent with past behaviour, and black people evrywhere (and well intentioned white people), are outraged and angry, berate the offending party, and attempt to have ‘conversations’ about said behaviour. This can’t be healthy.

Racism is literally bad for your health. It is an independent stressor linked with physical and mental illness, and it does that by placing you in a position where you are constantly forced to be aware of the fact that you and people who share the same skin as you are perceived as inferior and therefore treated as such, and subtly suggesting that you must therefore ACTUALLY be inferior. In Britain especially, it is expert at being omnipresent but simultaneously encouraging you to question whether it really exists.

If you refuse to believe the false propaganda that it’s ‘not as bad as you think’  you WILL see it and it WILL make you angry. That’s stressful.

You have a right to your anger. You have a right to sit in your righteous anger at injustice. In fact, I would even advocate claim that, as one young brave women said, if you’re not angry, it’s because you’re not paying attention. There will always be people of all races who are uncomfortable with anger directed at racism. They will frame it as concern about the angry party, when for most of them, their concern is about their own comfort, their own sense of guilt and their own love of white supremacy in its various forms – whether that be Charlottesville style or “light skin is just my preference” style.

But love in its right season is just as defiant as anger. Black love is rebellious and obstinate in its refusal to give in to a system that claims that blackness is unlovable.

Black lust is everywhere – dissecting, carving and reselling bits of blackness to be consumed by the highest or lowest bidder. The objectification of blackness in the form of caricatured celebrities or funny viral videos is not black love. Black love can’t be reduced to learning how to twerk or reading one Maya Angelou book.

Real black love gives birth to black joy and it is being confident, so confident, that existing in this skin is as Divinely willed as any other act of God. Black love isn’t limited to romance between black people, it’s loving black people and black culture despite being subtly told that blackness is undeserving of love.

So while I can and will be angry, and reserve my right to,  I’m trying to be more invested in finding the love and the joy that exists in my community as much as possible. I’m laughing out loud at the woman in the Caribbean takeaway. I’m dancing in my room to Lauryn Hill. I’m letting my favourite gospel song carry me into my prayer time. I’m reading black authors that make me think and cry and giggle. I’m hugging my friends and family. I’m appreciating the good-looking black men in their suits at London Bridge (don’t judge me). I’m being joyful.

One of my favourite passages of scripture, Nehemiah 8:10 says “The Joy of the Lord, is your strength”. I’m holding on to the promise that we are at our strongest when we are at our most joyful.

What things do you do that bring you joy?

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I really hate when I get angry. I’m not talking the kind of angry when I see a video of a kid being bullied or a police officer shooting an unarmed black person. I’m not even talking about the kind of  irrational anger when there’s an unidentified object in my bagging area and I have to wait that incredibly, infinitely long 47 seconds for one of the assistants to type in their little code only for it to happen again 3 items later. I’m not even talking the kind of angry when the lady threading my eyebrows decide to go renegade and experiment with my facial expression for the next 2 weeks (it’s always some sort of variation of permanent surprise). No. All these angers are, frankly, justified. Righteous indignation – be that at the ruination of my eyebrow or a much more serious injustice, I can live with. I would even argue that well placed anger is a healthy and necessary emotion.

But I hate being angry when it comes to my interactions with strangers and  especially the people who I love. I hate being the kind of angry where I feel completely out of control, where I say things that I don’t mean, the angry where I can see the words flying out my mouth and whacking the other person in the place where it really hurts, but I can’t seem to reach out fast enough to grab them and stuff them back into hiding.

Which brings me to Love and Hip Hop. If you haven’t seen it, it chronicles the lives of Hip Hop and R+B musicians and their partners, many of them black women, I don’t watch Love and Hip Hop routinely, but I’ve definitely come across it while flicking through channels. (I’m not perfect when it comes to my TV habits and I have my trash TV guilty pleasures that I’m trying to break, but Love and Hip Hop just ain’t one of them.)

Black women, apparently, alternate between anger and emotional breakdown. In the popular imagination we’re rarely in neutral gear we’re always accelerating somewhere,  whether that be some grand display of strength in the midst of adversity or a fit of rage involving wine glasses, hot grits, baseball bats, setting our ex-man’s car alight with petrol or dragging out weave. We’re also really good at ‘telling people about themselves’. Love and Hip Hop and other shows of their ilk are expert in displaying all these streotypes in the form of ‘reality’ television.

The natural response to this is to reply that this is simply a ugly stereotype, that black women aren’t any more angry than anyone else and to a large extent I agree with this.

However, I have observed in recent years an increasing tendency especially for young black women in certain socio-economic brackets, to model their behaviour in ways that seem strangely similar to the tired tropes that we seem to be seeing on our screens. There appears to be a trend for applauding rudeness,  which is framed as plain talking, aggressiveness which is classed as keeping it real, and a lack of ability to maintain friendships – cancelling the haters.

Wait, what are you saying? Are you suggesting that something a simple as watching Love and Hip Hop or  Real Housewives, can cause young black women to become angry?

Well, sort of, yes.

I’m not suggesting that after watching Nightmare on Elm Street age thirteen, I had to fight against the constant desire to become a serial killer but there’s fairly good evidence that television has an effect on the behaviour of children. Research has linked increases in anti-social behaviour with children who have increased television viewing time, and violent behaviour with violence seen on television. There’s even research that suggests that watching violent behaviour can impact adults as well. The good news is that there’s also evidence that children model good behaviour that they see on television.

In humans we know that the frontal lobe which is involved with conscious behaviour such as sexual behaviour, judgement and emotional expression isn’t fully developed until our late 20’s. This means that up until our late 20’s we’re particularly susceptible to influences in these areas. The hundreds of thousands of teenagers who watch shows like Love and Hip Hop and Real Housewives of Atlanta are inevitably affected by the behaviour they see. Arguably, the closer the on screen representation, the more likely a person is to model the behaviour seen. Is it surprising then if young black women who have an extremely narrow range of representation in mass media, are more vulnerable to modelling their behaviour on archetypes of angry black women?

In some black cultures (African American and Caribbean) black children disproportionately grow up in single parent households. I would like to think that most of us are sensible enough to not see many of the couples in these shows as #relationship goals (there may well be couples who are positive examples, but from what I deduce most aren’t) but unfortunately our subconscious mind is slicker than freshly laid edges, and what we see will influence what we do.

Hoping that teenagers and young black women will be able to sift through the negative ways of relating to others portrayed on these shows is wishful thinking and certainly not rooted in any knowledge of psychology.

It’s pretty simple really. Who are you? What do you want from life and what do you want your relationships with those around you to be? Make sure what you habitually watch reflects that. Your mind is stronger than you give it credit for.

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In a rare, but frankly predictable moment, the police chief of the Minneapolis police force stepped down in the wake of the death of Justine Damond, an unarmed white woman killed by a black police officer. Speaking of Justine, her attorney stated that she was the ‘most innocent victim of a police shooting”.

The statement was shocking in its disregard for the black children who have been fatally shot by police officers – Aiyana Jones was 7 when she was killed by a police officers in a raid, Tamir Rice only 12, not least for the countless innocent black men and women who have been killed by police.  Shocking, but predictable.

White women are always innocent.

In the case of Justine she truly was, and as with any other victim of police brutality her and her family deserve justice.

But white women are innocent even when they’re not innocent.

A recent study on perceptions of black girls that was widely reported on gave evidence to the fact that “adultification” of black girls begins as young as 5*. Black girls are perceived as having less need for nurturing and protection compared with white girls. Stereotypes of black women as angry, more masculine and difficult to deal with are projected onto young black girls.

But this as much about stereotypes of black women as it is about entrenched beliefs about white womanhood.

Since before slavery, white womanhood has carefully crafted a propaganda of innocence, supported by white men initially for their own sexist purposes (which I won’t detail here) but often used by white women to absolve themselves of responsibility in a myriad of situations. White European women are perceived as delicate, fragile, pure, kind and well intentioned despite historically being wholly complicit in some of the greatest atrocities against other humans, many of them black or brown.

White feminism has tried with some level of success to rewrite modern history as a story in which all women are united in a struggle against the evils of a white male patriarchal system, when the truth is that white women have often used this system to their benefit to abuse black men and women. Slavery was not a white male institution. Colonialism was not a white male institution. White women stood alongside white men during slavery, during colonialism and during segregation. In England, white women posted signs on their doors saying “No coloureds, No Irish, No dogs”. More white women who voted, voted for Trump than Clinton – yes, at least half of white women voters were more committed to upholding a white supremacist narrative than a seemingly feminist one.

But white women are always innocent.

A younger friend of mine recently told me of situation in which she was called defensive and aggressive by a supervisor who has been bullying her at work. She didn’t have to tell me what happened. “Let me guess”, I said, “She called you aggressive and said you were intimidating”. More than several black women have had the experience in the work place of being constantly goaded by passive aggressive white women who employ racial micro-agressions and bullying as a form of emotional abuse, and then, when the black woman finally gets angry she is told that she is being ‘hostile’. Because inherent in white womanhoods propaganda of innocence is the idea that black women are the antithesis of it. Even when we are the victims, we are the aggressors. Our inherent masculinity in the white imagination positions us as the constant perpetrators. Even during slavery when white men were raping black women in droves, black women were accused tempting white men away from their wives. Even rape was not enough to make us victims.

The propaganda has been so successful that even in the black community we associate white femininity or proximity to it, as innocence.

The idea that white men are the ‘enemy’ but that white woman are desirable, innocent, even potential  ‘allies’ to black men in their struggle against ‘the man’ often plays out in the ease with which black men partner with white women but historically have recoiled at the idea of black women doing the same with white men.

But white women have always known that the combination of their presumed innocence and black men’s presumed sexual deviancy could be used as a weapon against black men and women. Littered throughout history are the bodies of black men who have been lynched both literally and figuratively by white women who have accused them of being abusive, often sexually. (It goes without saying that not every accusation of rape by a white women against a black man is or was false). Alongside them are the black women who have had to mourn the loss of sons, brothers, fathers, friends not only through death but undeserved prison time.

The rape of black women during slavery is well documented, but less well known are the stories of black male slaves who were coerced into sexual acts by their white female masters. Rape isn’t always about physical strength but it is always about power. Despite white women’s protestations that they are victims of misogyny, it is completely ludicrous to ignore the fact that not only have they historically occupied a position of privilege and power in comparison to black men as well as black women, but that they have used white men’s misogyny as a form of deflection from their own complicity in racial violence. Just as black men can endure racism at the hands of a racist society and still practice misogyny in their own communities, white women have proven time and time again that their supposed innocence is simply a facade when it comes to their  racism.

As adamant as I am that the idea of white womanhood being inherently innocent is mythological I am just as adamant that black women are equally if not more so deserving of being typecast as innocent. While white women wielded their presumed innocence against us, black women often fed, defended, even nursed the children of these white women at their breast. Black women, despite the constant assaults on their womanhood and families, offered and continue to offer themselves as allies in feminist movements that refused to centre them or even peripherally serve them. The role of the mammy, the big black woman forever coddling and nurturing white children while themselves being asexual, undesirable and nothing more but a facilitator of white happiness continues into adulthood – from the sage black woman being a sidechick to white women in a popular film, to black women being asked to lay aside their specific concerns because ‘we’re all women’.

Black women in America, and likely in England also are some of the most faithful church goers. It is no surprise then, that we have been taught to presume that turning the other cheek means turning a blind eye. We sit under the watchful gaze of white Madonnas, benevolent and infantile, a fitting symbol of the propaganda of white womanhood if there was any. Mary, an unwed teenage Palestinian mother of an ethnic minority child, made a pariah by her community who are themselves colonised and governed by the Romans – is ironically almost always falsely portrayed as an innocent white woman.

No human or group of humans can claim inherent innocence. But if there’s any group I had to choose, it wouldn’t be white women.

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*Names and locations have been changed to protect identities. And because I don’t want to get shanked because I’m too young to die even though life gets hard sometimes.

It’s Sunday morning. You’ve woken up late because the post-church youth group hang out/ turn up was particularly lit and you drank too much Mighty Malt and Appletiser. Drowsy and blurry eyed from your non-alcoholic hangover, you reach for your glasses. The world slowly comes into focus. Your room is a mess. It’s because you’ve worked too many late shifts, because really you’re a tidy person and you like things to be in order, you tell yourself. You look at the time on your phone. It’s 0930 hours. You have an appointment to get your hair braided in exactly 20 minutes. The stereotype is that black hairdressers are always running late, but this hairdresser is gentrified and has a strict appointment policy. (More evidence that gentrification is traumatic and inconvenient for everyone involved except the gentrifier – which in your case has a Jamaican accent and is called Simone).

You tumble out of bed and manage to shower, lotion, brush your teeth, get dressed, talk to Jesus, salute your parents, say your daily affirmations and argue with your younger brother in exactly 8 minutes and 53 seconds.

You arrive at “Motivationz” at 1007, 3 minutes shy of the 10 minute cancellation policy window. As far as you’re concerned, you’ve arrived early and you’re breaking stereotypes.

The receptionist lady smiles concernedly when you tell her your appointment time and asks you to take a seat and wait, in order to make you nervous that your late arrival might result in you entering the working week with 2 large canerows and a headwrap as your only companions. This is all fake news. You are Simone’s first and only customer till 1230.

You are brought a cup of lemongrass tea and you browse your Pinterest ‘DOPE HAIRSTYLES’ folder to finalise the style you want.

Simone walks over to the chair. You exchange the usual pleasantries. She starts to run her fingers through your hair. “Do you know what style you want?”. You nod excitedly and show her the picture you’ve saved on Pinterest.

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