noy into you

Yesterday, I was watching a conversation online about Christian dating, and one of the men mentioned that feminism and the rise of feminism has made it increasingly difficult for men to be leaders in their homes. While I agreed with him to an extent, it got me thinking about how the word ‘feminist’ gets used in Christian culture, particularly in more conservative circles.

I’ve stated before that I don’t choose to identify as feminist but despite this, I’ve been called a feminist several times. The word is often lobbied jokingly by Christian men at me in any discussion about sexism but the undertone is always the same. It’s an undertone of dismissal and disapproval.

Essentially, calling a woman a feminist in any conversation about how Christian culture, church organisation  or congregations participate and encourage unhealthy and derogatory attitudes or behaviours towards women is an easy way to shut down conversation and encourage others to label the person as a ‘liberal’ or ‘heathen’. It’s an easy way to prevent someone from bringing any concerns to the table. It’s an easy (and often sexist and patronising) way to suggest that a woman has been ‘brainwashed’ by popular culture and is clearly spending more time reading Germaine Greer than her Bible.

Instead of being committed to the truth as taught in the Bible, a lot of Christian men are committed to wordly power structures that give them license to exercise the leadership that Jesus calls them to with little of the servanthood he embodies.

This is why a substantial amount of white  Christian men could find themselves voting and supporting a man who boasts about grabbing women’s genitals and has had several sexual assault claims against him. This is why pastors in positions of power within our church can take advantage sexually of female members and are excused by the majority male leadership of our churches. This is why the rate of spousal abuse and domestic violence are pretty much the same in evangelical circles as outside.

There appears to be a concerted effort in some Christian circles to abjectly deny that there IS a problem in Christian circles with gender bias and sexism. It’s a lot easier to write off any attempts to address these issues as ‘feminism creeping into the church’ than it is to actually interrogate how the church as well secular society have strayed from the Biblical ideal of male-female relationships.

Yes, the Biblical view of men and women is distinct and often at odds with what modern liberal media espouse in many aspects and I don’t expect some feminists reading this to be entirely happy with what I believe, but that doesn’t mean that our own practices have been perfect. Why do we find it hard to believe that Christian culture, which historically has subjugated and demeaned people for centuries on the basis of race, would still have a perfect practise when it comes to gender? Why would we even for a minute, in arrogance think that it is impossible for us to have also gone wrong when it comes to our treatment of women? The civil rights movement of the 60’s not only changed the world, but changed the church. We acknowledge that the impact of this could only have been positive in the ways that it caused the church to take a look at racial injustice within its ranks. We still have a long way to go with addressing racism within the church. Is it not then possible, that the feminist movement although imperfect in many ways, could allow us to examine the injustices of sexism within the church?

But it’s not about feminism.

Tenuous claims of protecting the faith against feminism is just your excuse for continuing and excusing behaviour that has no grounding in the principles of your faith, but rather the sexism you’ve been taught-  which unfortunately extends across religion and culture. I’m not talking about gender roles and whether the man should be the head of his household. I’m talking about you sleeping with 10 women but viewing a woman in church who has slept with 10 men as ‘loose’. I’m talking about women who have been taken advantage of sexually by pastors who command power in congregations where a significant proportion of women are single and lonely being labelled as ‘Jezebels’ who have ’caused God’s anointed to stray’. I’m talking about women getting disfellowshipped for pregnancies out of wedlock but Pastors who sleep with congregants simply getting moved to another district. I’m talking about women paying the majority of the churches tithe but being underrepresented in decision making processes. None of these things can be excused by any Bible text.

I’ve heard people say that as a church we should be committed to spreading the good news of Jesus rather than tackling minor issues like sexism within the church. While I agree that as Christian individuals and a community that the gospel is our priority,  the idea that other ‘minor’ issues will just sort themselves out without any concerted effort is extremely naive. We have had centuries of preaching the gospel without any real attempts to address these issues. The results of this has been that we’ve had people become Christians and then worship at segregated churches. We’ve had people become Christians and also suffer sexual abuse at the hands of a church deacon. We only have to look back at the history of 1000 years of preaching the gospel to understand that sometimes, specific problems need to be specifically addressed. Most importantly because these problems actually are a specific hindrance in our attempts to reflect Christ to the world.

So next time you start to use the word ‘feminist’ to shut down conversation, chuck that word out of your vocabulary. Instead, ask what you have been told to ask. Which is – is it Biblical, is it true, is it good, does it reflect Jesus? And whether it’s feminist or not, if the answer is ‘Yes’, then it deserves to be listened to.

 

 

fried chicken

 

I have to commend myself on my progress in my continuing quest towards enlightenment. 3 years ago at the tender age of 23  when I first started writing this blog,  I would have had a very different initial response to a viral video of a young black man taste testing fried chicken from various KFC imitation outlets.It would have been something along the lines of..“*rolls eyes* Yet again mainstream media picking up on every negative stereotype about black people, why has this idiot decided to go cavorting around London sampling wings and Fanta – can’t he find himself some kind of gainful employment and stop embarrassing us?

3 years later, my response is somewhat different.

For those of you who haven’t the foggiest idea what I’m on about, Elijah Quashie is rumored to be 23 (he will neither confirm or deny his age, perhaps he’s worried that taste testing Sam’s in air max’s  will be seen as juvenile?) and has  in the space of a week morphed into an internet sensation with his witty take on the quality of chicken, chips  and burgers in London’s many fast food shops. His youtube series the Pengest Munch shows Quashie, presumably filmed by one of his friends (man dem) sampling chicken from a different shop in each episode and rating their food offerings out of 5.

He is obviously charming, funny (‘burger sauce was a myth’)  and rather charismatic, not to mention innovative – he states that he was inspired by the ‘bald guy from Masterchef’, questioning why Greg Wallace’s opinion on food held any more gravitas than anyone elses, which inspired him to start his own series.

I’ve heard a bit of murmuring on the interwebs about the series promoting the same old tired stereotype about black people liking fried chicken and also a negative portrayal of young black men as lacking aspiration. Additionally, in a recent interview with ITV the chicken connoisseur perhaps performed the ultimate  negative stereotype – the interview ended with him pulling  gun fingers. In the past I would have probably agreed that not only was it embarrassing, but irresponsible on his part.

I’m not so sure anymore.

In fact,  I think that he said something particularly profound during the interview which was that he made the web series for people who eat like him, talk like him and live in his area. This wasn’t made for white mainstream consumption. Unlike some members of the black middle class who are forever obsessed with how they are perceived by the white mainstream and how the actions of inner city or working class (not necessarily mutually exclusive) black people reflect negatively on the race as a whole, Quashie’s  (initial) attitude completely ignored the white gaze. His initial audience was never the mainstream. He was making content for ‘his’ people. And ‘his’ people, are inner city, mainly black,  young people.

While I agree that mainstream media is a lot quicker to broadcast and give a platform for media that conforms to the same repetitive stereotypes of blackness, I would also argue that ‘educated’ black people often place the burden on black people of other backgrounds to carry the weight of how the race is perceived and in turn burden themselves by being embarrassed when in their eyes, the portrayal isn’t positive enough. Unfortunately, positive often means holding middle class white culture as aspirational,.Part of being black in a white supremacist society is that we  will all  be viewed via the lens of negative stereotypes – it’s inescapable. Part of living freely though,  has to be trying to live as unburdened as possible by these stereotypes. It’s exhausting to pretend to not like things you do like just for the sake of not conforming to stereotypes. A lot of young black people in inner city London do seem to like fried chicken. Weirdly enough, so do the white and Asian kids. I’m probably more concerned about what the quantity of deep fried wings is doing to Elijah’s arteries than I am to what it’s doing to reaffirm the stereotype about us and chicken.

A more important conversation that needs to be had is why inner city areas seem to be flooded with these cheap chicken shops and why healthy food is so overpriced and often scarce in these areas. It’s not true that young black people don’t care about their health.  A lot of young black people go to the gym, work out and aspire to look like an ‘Instagram baddie’ complete with flat abs and a rear end created by a million squats. They aren’t completely immune to the clean eating, soaked quinoa, fitness trend just because they live in Peckham. (I’m not even sure if Peckham counts as a black area anymore). When Caribbeans and Africans first came to this country, there weren’t an abundance of chicken shops and we definitely don’t own or start up most of them. The demand for this food isn’t really organic, the market has been created. I would love to see more conversation being generated about public health and health education and what we can do to create a more positive behaviours towards food in inner city areas.

In essence, there is room for more than one type of blackness and we need to let go of the idea that all aspects of inner city culture that other people might look down on are ’embarrassing’. The truth is, that like any culture, there are aspects that are negative and appropriately draw criticism. The truth is  that aspects of these inner city cultures are often co-opted, reworked and marketed to the mainstream without credit being given to the originators. The truth is that white people rarely feel embarrassed by what another totally unrelated white person does and we shouldn’t either. The truth is that Elijah Quashie is probably just living his truth. Which is that he likes fried chicken, and has eaten enough to be considered an expert. The truth is that as a vegetarian and health advocate, I’d rather he ate a lentil burger with a side of kale, but in all honesty, they probably don’t taste as…..well, peng.

sperm donor

Copyright: Creative Commons

A lot has happened since I last blogged. Well, one major thing has happened. Trump. Singular, but the magnitude of it means that a lot has happened.  I’m not writing about Trump though. There are a possibly a million think pieces already and I have plenty of thoughts but not any that I feel would shed any new light on the alternate universe we’ve found ourself in in which someone who only feels they need to be briefed on intelligence once a week because they think they’re ‘smart’, can be a viable candidate to run a superpower. I digress.

On Twitter (which  generates meaningful conversation more often than you’d think), I saw a back and forth about fatherhood. It started off as a series of tweets by a man about masculinity and black men needing to responsibility in order to build stronger families. Another man quickly responded, asking what the definition of family was,  suggesting that it was possible to have a family without a man, and that him not having a father didn’t prevent him from achieving in life and therefore “the broken family narrative is invalid”.

I could have ignored this as a one off – one young man with possibly unresolved emotions from having an absent father or who perhaps had a great family life despite his absence seeking to make sense of his situation by framing his father as an optional extra in his life. Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time I’m hearing this idea that men aren’t ‘nececssary’ for a family.

Now, it’s quite obvious that there are many families that operate and possibly even thrive outside of the traditional Mum, dad. 2.4 kids template. As far back in humanity’s existence as you can imagine, families have been far more complex than the template. Whether it be children growing up with Grandparents, an Aunty,  5 cousins or a family friend-become-guardian. While this has always been the case, what’s new is the push from certain sectors of society for a radical shift in how we think about what contsitutes necessary or perhaps optimal family structure.

I listened to a podcast last year and I was slightly shocked when one of the women angrily stated that “she didn’t need a black man to have a family anyway”. She claimed that she had other options including adoption and sperm donation that meant that having to deal with black men (and I gathered, in her mind – any accompanying misogyny) was uncessary. I emphasise being only slightly shocked because some strands of feminism in particular, seem to be extremely comfortable with promoting this idea. Now granted, men can be stressful, generally ashy and a complete waste of breath. There have been times post-argument or rejection, where the idea of reproducing asexually has sounded infinitely more appealing than wading through the circle of fire that is the male ego. Despite this, in the cold light of day I’m under no illusion that a present and active male figure is anything less than optimal if I want to have a thriving and happy family.

Not only  is the idea that men are optional to a family structure  insulting to men, it’s harmful to women,  indeed, perhaps even to feminism and goes against all the evidence we have so far – both academic and anecdotal.

In a world where we’re increasingly being told by various factions that gender is a wholly social construct with no clear biological markers as well as scientific advances in artifical insemination, it’s unsurprising that people can lead themselves to believe or want to believe that men aren’t necessary for families.

Whiel I agree that we have made some essential progress in not treating women who are single parents like social pariahs or failures, on the other hand, in response to societies negativity towards single mothers particularly black single mothers, we have almost begun to regress into a ridculous narrative where we not only have accepted it as the new normal but seem to be promoting it?

There is a need to continually pushback against the idea that a household in which there is no male figure is a perfectly normal and acepptable state for over 60% of our children to grow up in. This isn’t societal progress, it is (and I mean it as dramatically as it sounds) a state of emergency. Research into outcomes for children from single parent families  is complex and the evidence as to the vastness of the difference in outcomes varies, but one thing is fairly undeniable – your chances of having poor outcomes increases. Very often we argue that boys need men, but just as importantly, girls need men. I needed my Dad, and i still do. My Dad even by sheer virtue of joining his income with my Mum as well as the myriad otehr inputs, enabled me to fulfilll all the feminist ideals of being an interdependent (catch that?), educated woman with a a confidence that lies in my abilities regardless of my gender.

Someone will ask, “would you rather have children grow up in dysfunctional, violent or abusive two parent households?”. Clearly, the answer to this is no. I would much rather a child grow up in a loving single parent household and not be exposed to constant arguing or potential domestic violence. I salute the single mothers that are doing the best they can. I acknowledge that just because parents aren’t together, does not mean that the father isn’t active in the childs life. As I get older I’ve come to terms with the fact that I myself may not necessarily get married but I still definitely would consider adopting a child. However, no matter how active a father or  a mother is individually  a functioning two parent household will always be the ideal. That isn’t what we need to question.

The question we do  need to ask ourselves is what are we NOT teaching our young people about relationships, about masculinity, about femininity that is allowing a situation to occure where so many relationships are unable to last the distance? What ideas about what it means to be a man are we teaching boys that means they can’t have successful relationships with women and vice versa?

Instead of acquiescing to a tide of broken homes, we can start having these conversations amongst ourselves. In our friendship circles, families, churches and mosques we can do the work. We can do the work of seeing  a counsellor to sift through our individual or relationship issues (I know being able to suggest that comes froma place of relative financial privilege), we can dig into the resources we have of the wisdom of older generations, asking them what worked and what didn’t. We can choose to reject media that constantly portrays and glorifies dysfunctional relationships for cheap entertainment.

What we can’t do, is allow our children to accept this new normal. It’s not normal.

 

 

i-saw-you-on-tinder

Snog, Marry, Avoid was a fairly trashy TV show which involved making over women who were deemed a bit trashy, and making them classy. The title hinted at the fact that dressing and wearing makeup in a certain way might get you a snog, but it wouldn’t get you a ring, and if you wanted him to put a ring on it you needed to shape up because the snap judgements men  made about the way you look could make you miss out.

I think I might have admitted this before, but in a moment of midnight madness and curiosity, I downloaded Tinder. It didn’t last very long, approximately 5 minutes. I don’t say this in a sneering way to belittle those of you who have used the app as an aid in your romantic (sexual?) endeavours. It just took all of 5 minutes for me understand that my particular demographic – black, female, born again Christian,waiting till marriage to have sex and looking for a man with similar values, was possibly NOT Tinder’s target demographic and that I was extremely unlikely to swipe and land on a 28 year old man who was currently deciding whether to read Revelation or Matthew next and investing his pent up sexual energy in 5 mile runs. It was swiftly deleted and I went to sleep.

I was watching a (fairly low brow) documentary this evening called Face Value, which explored how central our faces are to..well..life. Wars have been waged over faces. Millions of pounds have been earned from the simple genetic lot of facial features.Most importantly, in 2016 especially, potential life partners have been selected or discarded on the basis of their face.

I often hear people say that your twenties are the time for having fun when you’re dating. We get told not to get too tied down to one person, not to spend time being patient with someone who isn’t meeting our expectations, to ‘get it out our system’. The assumption is that once this period is over, we will be ready to settle down with a long term life partner. Once we’ve gone through a 10 year period of making snap judgements, impulse decisions and allowing ourselves slightly more superficiality that we would expect from a ‘proper’ adult, we can then go on to blossom into a a more mature connoisseur of  love and relationships.

Essentially, your twenties are your snog, marry, avoid years. Your Twenties are your Tinder years. You have the youth, the good looks amd the free time to swipe as you please. Your fertility can withstand your snap judgements and there is no receding hairline to force you into low expectations and settling. Some people are comfortable with moving from person to person because they have their whole life ahead of them to be boring and committed and tied down.

But what if you never get out of your Tinder habit? What if your brain becomes so accustomed to swiping, avoiding, hooking up, discarding and transactional sexual experiences, that come 35, no woman can hold your attention for long enough?  What if you find out too late that you haven’t learnt the steady, sometimes difficult uphill hike of learning to grapple with someones flaws and reflecting on your own?

Would it be worth it? Maybe we’re delusional in believing that our brains, marvellous in their ability to form habits and build neuronal pathways that reinforce these, can suddenly adjust when we and society decide that it’s time for us to grow up. I read a diary entry I’d written at age 14 – it  listed the things I liked about myself and the things that I didn’t like, things I wanted to change and work on. I’d scrawled in my notebook ‘I’m good at talking to people, I have a quick mind, I can be very loving…I can be selfish sometimes, I have a quick temper, I’m disorganised and messy’. I would like to say that I’ve changed dramatically, but apart from having a much slower temper (thank God) , I’m still a bit selfish and I’m still quite messy and disorganised at times. In fact, it’s frightening how many of both my good and bad qualities were solidified during my teenage years.

The fact that my temper has improved quite significantly gives me some hope – I prayed a lot about that and I’m thankful that I’ve changed. Change is possible. But the other things on my list serve as a warning to me that every day I’m making choices about who I will be in 10 years time. I’m fooling myself if I think that who I am today at 26 and who I am at 36 will be different just because I decide that it’s time for me to grow up. Life doesn’t woirk that way.

So next time you decide to swipe in real life, or on Tinder, ask yourself how swiping is changing the way you look at people. And remember that who you are in 10 years may be so similar to who you are now, it will surprise even you.

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.