dark woman.jpg

An article recently in an online hair magazine asked whether we had allowed bi-racial women to hijack the natiral hair movement. The resurgence of natural hair ‘movement’ in the early 00’s was a space for black women, specifically black women who had been told and taught that their kinky, napppy, coily hair was not enough to collectively celebrate their beauty. as time has gone on, the article notes that natural hair products and gurus are largely bi-racial  or light skinned women with looser curl patterns. The most popular youtube channels are of women who are either bi racial or, regardless of shade, have a curl pattern that suggests some proximity to a non -West African lineage. There are entire product lines that seemingly have as their main selling point the notion that you can buy a certain curl pattern, namely a pattern that suggests that you could plausibly have “Indian in your family”. Thousands of women with the kinkiest of hair textures drown themselves in a variety of curly puddings,  looking for the magical formula that will transform them from Lupita to Alicia Keys.

The article was somewhat controversial, which I find laughable and similarly upsetting. We are still as a community unable to acknowledge our blatant obsession with venerating mixed race people, more specifically mixed race and light skinned women, at every oppotunity, even to the point that we  confine black representation in black owned and controlled spaces to light skinned or mixed race women.

The natural hair movement is just one small part of a larger destructive w(hole). I can’t count how many times recently I’ve rolled my eyes at a thumbnail or trailer (because I refuse to watch most them for a variety of reasons) of yet another film or show where the black female romantic interest is, as per usual, no darker than  a brown paper bag or has wavy hair and features that conform to a European standard of beauty. Inevitably there will be a sidechick dark skinned friend who is always there in every film  as the wing woman and proverbial mammy for the light skinned woman to be comforted by. It’s imperceptible to some but glaringly obvious to me, that in the UK in particular (less so in teh US perhaps) dark skinned black women are pushed out of spaces and black female representation in media is almost exclusively mixed race.

I don’t blame the women themselves for it. On the contrary they are as light skinned black  or mixed race people, both victims and beneficiaries of a vicious system of colourism that we can no longer blame exclusively on white people for creating and promoting when we also uphold and perpetuate it in our own community. As dark skinned women, we have been emotionally and mentally disenfranchised from ownership of beauty – we are told that for us, it is only a commodity that we can purchase instead of owning innately while at the same time seeing others celebrated for features we naturally own. However, we cannot wait and expect others to do the work of acknowledging our worth.Whilst appreciating that society is invested in creating a narrative that we are less desirable, we cannot wait for society to change and beg for inclusion. Mainstream media will do what it wants but in our own spaces we must demand to be at the forefront and refuse to be under and unrepresented.

We are scared of being exclusionary maybe because we know the pain too well of being excluded. We do not want to be seen to be saying to mixed race or lighter black women with loosely curled hair that they do not belong, that they can’t sit with us, that they are not one of us.They too experience racial prejudice and profiling.  Rosa Parks, with her near straight hair and light skin sat on the bus and endured abuse for our sake too.But even her presence in the civil rights movement was one of privilege – lighter skinned black people had access to education and social circles that their darker brothers and sisters were more frequently denied access to. It’s not a wonder that many of the leading civil rights activists in the early and mid 1900’s passed the paper bag test. But it is no longer 1952 and it is backwards to demand justice and equality from those outside of the community while continuting to uplift the race based hierarchy inflicted on us by them within our community. This is not a work of exclusion, but one of inclusion. Dark skinned women, who make up the majority of black women are being disproportionately excluded from black controlled spaces. It’s beyond ridiculous.

The reason why we allow ourselves to be erased from our own spaces is because many of us simply do not yet believe in our own worthiness. We empty our pockets to give our hard earned cash to Miss Jessie’s in the hope that their curly pudding will allow us some proximity to the racial ambiguity that is continually celebrated in and outside the community. Whiteness is still so aspirational for us that in many aspects of our lives, beauty aesthetic being only one of them, we desire to assimilate to it.

Black women are berated for so many things,and I don’t want to add to the list by screaming “you don’t love yourself enough, why don’t you love yourself, your kinky hair, your round nose, your full lips??!!! Why don’t you love yourself??!!” We know that it is hard to love yourself when so many things militate against that love, but is possible. And its difficuly does not negate its absolute imperativeness. We must learn this love, for the sake of ourselves, our children, the men we love, even the black men who don’t as yet love our or their own blackness.

It is possible. I know it is because I’ve done it. I absolutely love my skin colour, I absolutely love my curly, coily hair, that does not look like Tracee Ellis Ross’s (although her hair is beautiful too). I genuinely think I’m beautiful, and it did not happen overnight. It happened with some good contact lenses, youtube tutorials and a relationship with God that gave me a God-fidence that defied anything any magazine, BET show or ignorant man can say to me. It also happened with looking at a few pictures of beautiful women who looked like me on Instagram and Pinterest and rarely, on TV. It happened through my Mum and the fabulous women I saw in my every day journeying who had a sdilent confidence that refused to be diminshed.

That is why I demand to be seen and I demand to be acknowledged. I demand to write and tell other women, to remind myself, to create a memory, that I am present and I am more than enough.I won’t be silenced by those who claim that speaking about this is redundant or divisive or hateful, becuase I know I am motivated out of a great love for myself and for others. I write this because, in the words of Zora Neale Hurston, “If you are silent about your pain they will kill you and say you enjoyed it”.

I am a dark skinned black women. I refuse to be erased.

burkini

I was up later than I should have been a couple of nights ago and I can no longer blame it on the disrupted sleep pattern my body was forced into by two night shifts a couple weeks back. It’s not the rota coordinator’s problem anymore, it’s all me. I’ve failed to self regulate and I find myself meandering into intemperance and insomnia more nights than is healthy. On this particular night, I had just finished watching a documentary on Donald Trump (will he become President, won’t he? Is this all a dream?)  with my dear old Dad, and casually flicked through the channels with the intention to head to bed. As I flicked, I came across 3 naked women, standing in booths, and another woman scrutinising their bodies as a presenter teased her, asking what she thought, who she liked best. I saw the title of the show, Naked Attraction. Ah, this was the show I had heard others talk about and had determined not to watch. The nudity wasn’t as shocking as the sheer banality of it all. Clearly, TV has run out of ideas. And when you’ve run out of ideas, naked women will generally keep the party going for a bit.

We’ve all seen nudity on screen, be that via an X rated site, a film or even an advert for washing up liquid. This generation of westerners is suffering from nudity fatigue – we’ve seen so much nakedness it no longer excites in the same way.  The existence of Naked Attraction is just one more story to add to the particular secular liberal narrative that wants us to believe that nudity (women’s in particular),  is sexually liberating.

France’s recent ban on the burkini, a modest swimsuit cleverly named to allude to the burqua, was met with astonishment and derision by many liberal media outlets.  It’s a shocking display of disregard for religious liberty. It polices women’s bodies. It makes Muslim women bear the burden for the atrocities committed by a few renegade terrorists who many Muslims would not even consider to share their faith. It’s oppressive. I agree with all these statements, but I wonder how we can separate the ban from the prevailing attitudes towards female bodies and sexual liberation that we have incubated in the West for the past 50 years, as if the two aren’t directly correlated.

The reason why the burkini is so ‘other’ is not merely becuase of the head covering although this is significant part of it. It’s also because of the idea of modesty and covering the female form that is such a stark contrast to our current social norms.

We live in an age where some women can propel themselves into fame and fortune sheerly off the back of sex tapes large bottoms and where women, (black women especially) with considerable musical talent often face overt and subtle pressure to act in an extremely sexual manner in order to achieve success. (I specified race because fuller figured black women who sing better than Adele and like her, aren’t overtly sexual, are not achieving her level of success, and yes, it’s at least partially a race thing).

Despite this being to my mind obviously oppressive, there is a relentless insistence from some sectors of society that these women are sexually liberated and concurrently, the subtle suggestion that modesty and covering are rooted in oppression. Although many liberal pundits in the wake of burkini will loudly proclaim that it’s a woman’s choice whether or not she dresses modestly, we have created a culture where uncovering is by design. Our fashion magazines, our shops, our advertisements and our media all propel us in a direction of nudity under the guise of freedom and despite declaring that we support women in whatever choices they make, we have created a culture that celebrates, orchestrates and rewards nudity. Is it any wonder then, that in our subconscious mind, the burkini is an assault on our ‘value system’? Could it be that despite condemning France for her actions, we have as a collective, played a part in facilitating an environment where to be modest is to be constantly othered?

Arguably, the situation in other countries that are less secular ,where women are forced to cover is far worse than what we currently have in the west. I would be the first to say I would much rather live in a country where I could be naked or burqua’d without retribution (and France is now excluded from this), but oppression is not always as bold as morality police and Taliban soldiers. Both societies have failed to reach a place where women’s bodies are not dissected for mass consumption, where women’s bodies are fully their own without the enduring threat of breaking under standards that are constantly placed on them without regard for their emotional, mental, even spiritual well being.

When I cannot walk into a high street shop and with ease find a dress that does not have a random hole cut into it, a thigh high split, or plunging cleavage, in a not-so-subtle way, I am being told how I should be as a woman. There are a thousands of items of clothing, but so few that allow me to not be forced to conform to the narrative that I a freer when I am less covered.

We may rightly condemn France but we are wrong if we do not examine how, maybe almost imperceptibly to some, we have all allowed this to happen.

workoutI sit here and eat chocolate covered cornflakes as a write this. I deserve these. Why? Because I worked out for almost an hour today  (I don’t actually recommend eating them after you workout.Or ever really). This is a special achievement for me because although I really enjoy working out once I get started, the process of me getting from the couch, into workout gear and then actually proceeding to work out, is about as arduous as trying to convince someone that Melania Trump’s speech wasn’t blatant thievery (see how I slipped current affairs into something completely unrelated?). Now I’m very happy for all of you who have no problem motivating yourself to get that rear end in gear, but for the rest of us, here’s a few hints I’ve found helpful:

  1. Cancel your gym membership

You know, every day people lie to God and lie to themselves. I once was one of those people. I bought a 3 year, yes 3 YEAR membership to the sports centre at university and I probably used the gym roughly 3 times. But paid over 300 pound for it. The only place in the sports centre I frequented often was the sports massage therapist’s room. I had no injuries because I did no sports. I just wanted massages.

If you’re lazy, are you really leaving your house every evening to go to the gym? No. You’re not. So stop trying comfort yourself by hanging on to that Pure gym membership. Get practical.

2.  Buy some new workout gear

Now that you’ve cancelled that useless gym membership, you have some extra cash to spend. I always find that if I buy an outfit I like to wear it at least a couple of times. Working out in that raggedy ‘ I love Jamaica’ T-shirt and your pajama shorts is doing nothing for you darling. You look awful. You feel awful. You want to sit on the couch and eat popcorn. Wearing something cute to workout can be a great motivator – you don’t have to be slim to find something figure flattering. It doesn’t have to be expensive either. I just bought a top and leggings that set me back about £15. They’re fashionable and they match my trainers – it allows me to convince myself that in time, I could be a Instagram model. This might not be true, but who cares as long as it’s an extra push to get me to do some cardio?

3. Youtube is your friend.

I have paid for maybe 2 classes in the past 5 years. All my classes are completely free. There’s a friendly lady from Los Angeles who corrects my form and tells me I’m doing great. “Thank you”, I reply, and she smiles back at me through the screen. The great thing about youtube is that you can pick from thousands of different workout styles. I’m easily bored so I tend to choose different things every. So far I’ve done kickboxing, yoga, 5 mile walks, Pilates, and even dancing workouts.  Some of my favourite workout gurus are Kierra La Shae and Cassie Ho. They do short 20 minute or 10 minute videos as well as longer ones. All you need is a yoga mat and your body.

4. Rope your friends in

You don’t have to workout with friends, that’s not always convenient although it can be great fun. What can help, is having someone else who you know is working out at the same time or who can give you some motivation. Text a friend and tell them you’re going to set a goal of 15 minutes every other day for the next week and would they like to join you? Or instead of driving to your friends house, jog there (obviously if you’re not tight like that and can’t use her shower or let her see you all stibky then maybe not)

5. Try and eat clean

Working out is all about feeling healthy and looking good. I won’t say there’s no point working out if you’re eating badly because at least you’re doing something – but I will say that you’ll feel much better if you don’t eat truckloads of chocolate covered cornflakes. I eat a mostly pant based vegetarian diet and I feel my best when I’ve had loads of fruit and veggies, good wholemeal carbs and a good week of working out. My skin glows, I’m more alert and I feel better about myself.

5. Just do something.

Often we’re intimidated by people who claim to do an hour every day, lift weights, have super sculpted abs and can contort their bodies into these amazing yoga positions. Good for them, but they get paid to do that full time. You’re a regular human with a 9 to 5 job, be realistic. Not every day 2 hours. Some days 15 minutes in the morning and plan to do another 15 in the evening but never get round to it. That’s ok. Start small and work your way up. I started off doing 1-20 minutes each day and now I can go for about 45 minutes. Sometimes I miss a day, but I try not to beat myself up, I just start again the next day! All progress is good.

6. Congratulate yourself!

Health is wealth! Well done for reading this blog! Maybe it’s a first step to doing something really good for yourself. Every time you workout, you’re looking after your temple and  you’re learning to love yourself. Every step counts, even the baby steps, so don’t procrastinate, start tomorrow!

What are some of the things you find helpful in motivating you to workout?

rosaparksnah

 

So #brexit happened. Cue weeping, wailing, gnashing of teeth etc. The leave campaign have effectively galvanised over 50% of the voting population with a campaign that was essentially a single issue campaign – immigration. Those of you who voted leave for various other reasons are at this point protesting- not all of you voted on immigration, it was do with democracy, sovereignty, freedom, TAKING BACK CONTROL!!!! Sure. But regardless of your very legitimate reasons for voting leave, all the polls show that the majority of people voted based on immigration or issues related to it.

Since #Brexit, many have noted that xenophobic and racist incidents have been on the increase. It’s not Eastern Europeans that are the only targets for xenophobia (which I would add is different from racism and we should no confuse the two), but Black and Asian people have been targets of both xenophobia and racism. People are tweeting that they have been told to go back to their country. I myself have walked into shops in my local area in the Midlands and felt an atmosphere of tension that is palpable – more palpable than before.

What’s fascinating and frankly slightly hilarious,  is watching mainstream media collectively lament this new dawn of racism that has apparently been ushered in by Brexit. The white working class are demoralised and disenfranchised, they say. How awful that neglect from the left wing politicians that were supposed to look after them has pushed them into fear and bigotry. How can we rectify this? By creating more jobs, by ushering in a new semi-socialist dawn. We can TAKE BACK CONTROL!

This is a complete and utter piffle.

White working class racism has always been there. It was there in the 60’s when my Grandad walked through Wolverhampton with his six children and had rubbish and bottles thrown at them. It was there in the 1970’s and 80’s when gangs of working class white youth used to target and beat up young black men and women. It was there in the 90’s at Milwall football matches. It was there when, age 7, my next door neighbour who lived in the bottom flat of the house next door that had been split into council housing, threw a knife at my head and called me a nigger. It was there when a few months ago a patient called me a Paki. It was there when a few weeks later another patient told me the last doctor who screwed up his treatment was coloured.

Framing post-brexit racism as something new is another way of the white middle class pushing the stigma of racism onto the working class instead of admitting that white supremacy is part and parcel of what this country has built it’s legacy on. Overt racism from the white working class is no better than the institutionalised racism legitimised and upheld by the middle and upper classes. The foundation for bigotry was laid many hundreds of years ago and there has been little attempt to destroy the foundation- only half-hearted efforts to build flimsy structures of seeming equality over it’s rotten core.

The positive outcome of this is that maybe for many of the younger generation of African-Caribbean’s this referendum has been a wake up call. Perhaps, the casual xenophobia and racism that has been unearthed will serve as a timely reminder of how tenuous our position is in this country. Too many of us have been comfortable in an identity of Britishness based on the fact that we felt accepted and at home in the bubble of big-city diversity. The cosmopolitan nature of London  is not reflective of the mood of the rest of the country. In London you are British. In Devon you may well not be considered so. For some of us, we are adamant that we will not allow what is British to be dictated by the prejudice of others. For others, myself included, we have decide that Britishness is a label that is fairly dispensable depending on its utility at any given moment and feel uncomfortable feeling attached to a country where a good proportion of the population seem to be uncomfortable with our presence. However you decide to define yourself, now more than ever is a time where we can focus on unity as a community. We need positivity, support and kindness towards each other at a time when the atmosphere seems to be one of hatred and fear. We don’t need to prove to others that we are worthy of respect. We don’t need to beg for acceptance.

Brexit was a reminder that as sinful humans, we react with fear when we feel we have less than others. We lash out and hurt others when we think they have something we should have. We become insular and closed instead of open and warm. I am determined that I will never excuse or be sympathetic to the racism that was always present before Brexit and that will be there long after the dust has settled. Poverty does not excuse bigotry.  I will not be more sympathetic to anyone’s racism because they have less than I have. I will not allow myself to be fearful or hateful. They have chosen to do that.

“There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love.” 1 John 4:18

 

bearded man

 

Every girl remembers when she started her period. I remember that it was one evening in 1st year of secondary school. As it dawned on me that it had finally arrived, I ran down the stairs admittedly filled with excitement, smug in the knowledge that I was now a ‘woman’. As I got to the bottom of the stairs I put on my cool pre teen slouch and turned into the front hall, where I caught my Dad coming from the kitchen. It didn’t occur to me that he couldn’t be the first person I could tell or that it would be weird. It was Dad. The same Dad who had fumbled my afro into two very loose and very messy pony puffs when my Mum had gone away for a work trip (that school day ended fairly traumatically with a kind hearted teacher braiding my hair with multi coloured elastic bands  to rescue me from the teasing of my classmates). The same Dad who picked me up from school most days because he finished work earlier than Mum. The same Dad who taught me how to ride a bike and who, equally scared of dogs as I am, pedalled furiously beside me when we got chased by a pitbull in the park. . Who helped with my maths homework. Who horrified my Mum by buying a £99 school rucksack in year 8 because it had a lifetime warranty ( I still have it, 14 years later).

And so, unable to hide my excitement any longer I blurted..”Dad, I started my period!”. He looked slightly panicked and I could see him trying to compose himself. This wasn’t on his list of things he’d have to do. “Erm…well..has your mother told you what to do?”. “Yes”. I replied. ‘And you’ve got all the stuff?” “Yes”. “Well, make sure you do everything she told you to do. Erm..and make sure you tell her when she gets home, she’ll be happy to hear”. I quickly learnt that the easiest way to get out of any trouble was to tell my dad his only daughter was on her period. “Dad, Shade hasn’t done the washing up!” “Leave your sister alone…she’s on her period”.

Whether it’s been starting periods, starting school, finishing university or my first break up, my Dad has always been the most reliable man in my life. That doesn’t mean our relationship has been perfect. Me and my Dad have fought, and we’ve fought hard. There were times I’ve cried and screamed and been angry enough to burst. But he has always been there. Like the ticking of the clock on my wall, he has been a constant that I have never questioned. Not once have I worried that I would come home and my Dad would not be there. There may have been times I wish he hadn’t been there, but there he was – stubborn and stoic in that old Jamaican way, and funny and full of life in a way that is unique to him.

And why is this special? I know so many people who have not had what should not be considered a luxury. I should not feel lucky to have a father that has consistently provided for me. He should not be congratulated for doing what is good and reasonable for a father to do, which is offer basic care for the children he produced. My Dad has gone above and beyond that, but in a community where fatherhood is sometimes seen as a casual extra that may or may not exist, he stands out.

I don’t want to add to the narrative that black fathers are bad fathers. As much as I can say that I know many people who didn’t have their biological father in their life, I probably just as many who did and some who had fathering from men who didn’t share the same genes as them. Half, isn’t good enough though. It’s not good enough that half of my friends had fathers who were consistently there and half didn’t. It’s not good enough that on Father’s Day, my Facebook timeline was flooded with people shouting out their Dads, but a large enough group of my friends were silent (and not because they don’t use Facebook like that).

Marriages end, couples split up and animosity brews. I understand that the woman you once loved may turn out to be someone you feel you have no respect for. Not everyone has chosen to do what my parents have done and brave the storms of marriage for 30 plus years. For some, they never had the option to choose to do the battle that is learning to love someone for life, sacrificing and being unselfish and remembering vows you made when it’s the only thing you have to hold on to. Life happens.

But whatever life does, fatherhood is never trivial. It is never unimportant. You will always matter to that little boy or little girl. Or 20 years later, that big boy or big girl. No matter what voices scream loudly that you are a bonus, an extra or even just dead weight, I believe that fathers, all fathers, black fathers are essential. I would not be the woman I am today had it not been for my Dad.

Some of you have incredible children who have managed to do impossibly beautiful things with their life despite your absence or inconsistency. You should be proud and ashamed. And you should know that it’s never too late to try. Some of you have been like my Dad – imperfect, faltering, human but persevering in your efforts to be fathers. And I thank you. #BlackDadsMatter