ImageI must admit, I was a little bit disappointed when I heard through the media grapevine the name of the newest member of the Royal Family. I hadn’t really expected anything too exciting – after all Will and Kate aren’t exactly poster children for their quirky style and radical departure from the status quo. Contrary to what the Daily Mail would have you believe, marrying a woman who spent most of her formative years in the most prestigious private boarding schools in the country, and whose parents are multi millionaires is NOT marrying a ‘commoner’. Neither is shopping at Reiss one step towards a Bolshevik revolution, Kate. Once you’re caught wearing a polyurethane Primark handbag, then you’re really down with the peeps. (Harry, if you want to be really radical – call me. I’m black. And I went to a private day school a half hour drive from Peckham. Now that’s marrying a commoner..)

So the Prince and his commoner Duchess decided to be as pedestrian as Oxford Street, and call their first child… George. Personally, I was rooting for something would show that they were trying to bond with the working class during this period of austerity – maybe Tyler or Conner – you know, recession style chic? Almost like the Queen knitting socks for soldiers during the war. Alas, it was not to be. To be fair to Will, he’d already gone far enough marrying Kate, and he probably didn’t want to condemn his unfortunate mongrel offspring to a lifetime of ridicule from his pure bred cousins.

So what’s in a name? A lot apparently. Katie Hopkins (of Apprentice fame) came under fire recently for saying she wouldn’t want her children to play with kids called Chantelle, Chardonnay, Tyler or Charmaine. She said “For me, a name is a shortcut of finding out what class a child comes from and makes me ask: “Do I want my children to play with them?” Now at face value, her comment is ridiculous, classist and egregious. (Google egregious – it’s a great word, I didn’t know what it meant till a couple days ago). But when I thought about it I realised that unfortunately, although I am a textbook Guardian reading left winging (most of the time) liberal, I slightly understand where she’s coming from.

When I was doing my Obs and Gynae (Mums and Babies and Women’s bits) block at uni, there was definitely a correlation between the social class of the mother and the name she gave the baby. Middle class stay at home Mums who have home births and shop at Waitrose, just don’t call their children Tyler. They might give him a ridiculous name like Tarquin. Hippy vegan Mums who do yoga instead of using an epidural are likely to name their children after a numerical value (Seven), a piece of fruit (Apple), or an element (Flame, Sky etc). ‘Afrocentric’ type Mums who are secretly snobby (me), will not call their first born son De’Andre, but definitely won’t hesitate to call him Oluwafemi. I do make judgements on people based on their names. Sure, my judgements are usually mild, and easily dispelled, but I do all the same. If your name is Septimus, I will assume that you are an upper middle class snob devoid of a sense of reality. I’ll still be polite to you though. Likewise, I’ve never envisaged bringing home someone called Tyrone and introducing him to my parents as my fiance. Which is actually ridiculous, because the one Tyrone I know is a perfectly upstanding member of society, devoid of cornrows and a criminal record. Before him, I didn’t personally know any Tyrone’s’, so it was nonsensical for me to make any judgement… but I did.

This is definitely a problem, but unfortunately a reality, and Apprentice woman is maybe just saying what too many of us are too cowardly to admit. Black people are especially notorious for making fun of ‘ghetto’ names because they’re ‘made up’ names. Clearly,  after a two second examination, this is a stupid argument, because all names are made up names. Duh. It’s really just the black middle class being embarrassed of the black working class and wanting to disassociate ourselves from them as much as possible.

There’s only one solution to this…we need to de-stigmatise these names. Make a pact with me on this day, that at least one of your children will be given a ghetto fabulous or common name. If you’re white, be double daring and call your son Jermaine. Then send him to Durham to study History of Art. If you’re proudly working class, call your son Benedict- yeah that’s right – make that name common as mud.  Perhaps I should call my daughter Bonquisha. She’ll go to Oxford, study PPE and be the first black female Prime Minister. Take that Katie Hopkins.

thats-racist

It’s 2013. In order for you to function in the workplace you should pretend not to be racist, even if you are a little bit. (Don’t worry, your secret’s safe with me…you’ve got nothing against them, it’s just that British jobs should go to British people first. I understand).  Maybe you’ve got yourself in a bit of bother saying something a little bit offensive at work. Which is understandable. Everything’s changing so fast…I mean what is the terminology now? 50 years ago it was Coloured then some time around 1982 they wanted to  be called Black, now it’s African Caribbean. Bleeding Nora, what a kerfuffle!

Here are my top five things not to say to your black colleague to keep you out of trouble. You can thank me by sending any unfinished bottles of Reggae Reggae sauce to my uni address. Cheers.

1) “Are you the Somalian translator?”

I know you’re a nurse, and that therefore life is hard. You’re the angels of the NHS. You’re overworked and underpaid. You see people’s poo everyday and wipe the snot from their nose, and all the thanks you get is a snarky little F1, fresh out of medical school messing up all your drips and overprescribing morphine. However, you still have time between shifts to go to Specsavers. Don’t ask a final year medical student of Jamaican parentage who turns up on the wards if they’re the Somalian translator. The Somalian translator knows who they are – when they get to the ward, they will present themselves to you. Many thanks.

2) “You’re so well spoken!”

Contrary to your sub-nutritional media diet of Top Boy and that dodgy So Solid Crew single you bought when you were 11, there are black folk who aren’t called Trevor McDonald who speak English. There are schools in Peckham, I promise.

3)”Can I touch your hair?” (whilst putting your hand in their hair).

If you really want to, then… Ask. Wait. Then touch. Or perhaps, Ask. Wait. Then don’t touch. I’m not your pet dog. My name is not Bingo. You are not Postman Pat. I am not your black and white cat.

4) “I have a friend from Uganda! She kinda looks like you…”

This is not a way to make friends with me. I’ve never been to Uganda. I don’t know anyone from Uganda. Uganda isn’t in the Caribbean. If you’re going to take a random stab at a country for your new black co worker to bond with you on, at least pick Nigeria. There’s lots of them about. You might get lucky.

5) “You’re Jamaican…I just love Jerk chicken! It’s so moist…”

I’m vegetarian. This isn’t really racist. It’s just annoying.I don’t tell all the new Chinese people I meet that I like noodles. Neither do I tell all the new Indian or Pakistani people I meet that I love curry. It’s just kinda….weird.Once you’ve been friends with someone for a while though, feel free to ask them for their jerk chicken recipe. After all, that’s what friends are for!

Oh let me add in a bonus one..

6) “You’re vegetarian? But I thought all black people liked chicken.”

This was said to me. By an Asian. I have no commentary.

I’ll just end by quoting Dave Chappelle… “All these years, I thought I liked chicken cause it was delicious; but turns out, I’m genetically predisposed to liking chicken!”

Peace guys 🙂

Disclaimer: This is all in jest. But many a true word is said in jest….just jesting!

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Sometimes I feel my life is like Jazz. I’m improvising, but the real musician understands the art behind it all and there is method to His madness. I wrote a poem about it. There’s a really interesting book by Donald Miler called Blue Like Jazz that talks about that..and it inspired this poem.

Blue Like Jazz

The chords come 

Frenzied

Purposeful

Scat scat layered

Over

tap taps

Hi hats and horns

I cannot explain

the soar of my spirit

The groan of my soul

the fly and turn and drop of 

dance

How swells and crescendos

Diminish to low tones

Seek to resolve

In soft moans

Uttered in um’s and uh huh’s

Soul talking

Spirit moving

Unwritten music

Blue Like Jazz

 

This afternoon, I met up with a friend and her Mum for brunch in Bath, and headed over to the central library for a reading of Pride and Prejudice. It was good fun – the first chapter was read by the guy who plays Mr Wickham in the BBC version of the film, and he had the perfect high pitched voice for Mrs Bennet,  as well as the the perfect posh English accent to go with it.

Pride and Prejudice is, in my opinion, one of the all time best love stories. It’s a classic boy meets girl, boy ignores girl, girl hates boy, boy falls in love with girl, girl scorns boy, girl and boy love each other in the end story. I love the films, I love the pomp and circumstance, I love the old fashioned male-female interactions, I find the slightly dry English wit hilarious, and I can totally imagine myself as Elizabeth Bennet – she’s not pretty enough to be the belle of the ball, but she’s smart, has a quick wit, is strongly opinionated, and sometimes says the right things at the wrong times. I want my own footman. I want a horse and carriage. I think I can reserve the right to have men stand up for me every time I enter the room. And why isn’t my own version of Colin Firth emerging from a lake looking endearing, and dripping with water and good looks to meet me as I stand in the morning dew outside my lecture theatre?

As we were walking back to the train station, my friend’s Mum suggested that next year, we meet up again for the Jane Austen festival, but this time in costume. I laughed, and said that I’d carry a parasol for fun, but that I’m not sure I’m keen enough to dress up. But inside my head what I really thought though was …. “I’m black, and I would feel super weird dressing up in 19th century costume…” And I wondered why I thought that.

Every little black girl realises soon enough, that modern media isn’t going to represent her. 4 year olds notice L’oreal adverts. 6 year old see covers of Marie Claire as they tiptoe in their Clarks shoes waiting for their Mum in the supermarket, and 10 year olds buy pre teen magazines with blonde girls on the cover, wearing pre-teen mascara and almost-grown-up lipstick. Soon, you learn that if you want to see yourself, you might have to search a bit. Not every W H Smith stocks Essence magazine, and Superdrug may or may not stock your foundation shade depending on how much cream is in your coffee. It’s annoying, but you get used to it. It’s a fact of life, like the birds and the bees, only not so much fun.

At the time Pride and Prejudice was written, I would have been a slave. In fact many, of the families in the book had their wealth from the slave trade, and many scholars agree that Jane Austen was disapproving of the slave trade. While Elizabeth Bennet was poncing around from ball to ball, deciding whether she should look smoulderingly at Mr Darcy to entice him for another dance, or forever scorn him for saying that her looks were ‘barely tolerable’, I would have been poncing about from sugar cane stalk to sugar cane stalk, wondering if I should risk running away to join the Maroons in the mountains. I’m not being deep, it’s just a fact of life. Because of that, I feel awkward dressing up in the costume of the time. It’s nice to immerse myself in daydreams of Mr Darcy, and Elizabeth Bennet, and Victorian romance with swooping classical music in the background, and my black stallion riding across the moors as I gaze pensively into the mist wondering if my English gentlemen will re-propose to me after I courteously denied him via epic fountain penned prose. But unfortunately, at the time, I would have been a slave. Try as I may to forget this, I can’t. Therefore, I don’t think I’ll be wearing a bonnet any time soon. Pride and Prejudice is great, but it’s not representative of me. It’s not supposed to be. I don’t resent it at all, I just accept it.

Maybe one day I’ll stop over thinking things and be able to happily don my bonnet and regency costume. Until then, I’ll sit in front of my laptop with some Tesco’s popcorn, put on my best accent and say..”A Miss Bennet, a Miss Bennet, a Miss Bennet….and a Miss Bennet”.

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stem cells

Saturday mornings are perhaps my favourite mornings. I say perhaps, because they vie with Sunday mornings for first place. Saturday mornings go like this.

1)Wake up, feel the dribble on my chin, look embarrassedly around, remember I am in a bedroom by myself.

2) Panic for a split second – there’s a tutorial at 9? Didn’t that ward round start at 8? Huh? I have no clean underwear!

3) Calm down 30 milliseconds later after realising it is Saturday, not Friday morning.

4) Smile and thank God it’s Saturday.

5) Call Mum and chatter on the phone while lying in bed.

6) Tell myself I should read my Bible and go to Church for Bible study.

7) See no 6.

8) See no.7

9) and so forth…

I have a confession to make. For those of you who may not know what Sabbath School is, it’s basically a big group discussion/ study of a specific topic in the Bible that the church has agreed to read together.  I have Sabbath School avoidance disease.  When did I develop this ailment? Around 5 years ago when I moved away to university and started attending a new church.

Let me put it frankly. The outlandish, ridiculous, and downright implausible statements I hear on Saturday mornings are giving the Daily Mail comment section a run for their money.

Today I was late. I had every intention of making it to church by 10 o’ clock. Well, perhaps I had half-baked intentions.  Either way, at 10.45 I scurried in to a very warm Jamaican greeting, too late to hear the wacky statements made that morning, but not late enough to not hear about them from someone who was early enough to hear them. (Did you follow that? I almost didn’t.)

This morning’s gem, was a mini speech on the evils of stem cells. No, not what you might think – not because embryonic stem cells involve destroying embryos, which is perhaps killing a life. I could understand the ethical dilemma surrounding that. No, it was because…wait for it…if they implant animal stem cells into humans, they are creating half animal half human hybrids, and if these unfortunate creatures are part animal and part human… can they receive salvation?

I couldn’t make this up. This is 100% real, certified Saturday morning live feed, from an anonymous church somewhere in the South West of England.

And so the service went on. To add to the stem cell unsettlement, there was the small matter of the hymns. Now, I’ll admit to being a bit of a music snob (by church standards). I don’t ask for much really, just that songs be sung in tune, and at a reasonable volume. Enthusiasm, originality and flair are optional added extras. I just live in hope that my first two requirements will be attempted, if not achieved. This morning there was possibly an attempt, definitely not an achievement. Directly behind me was a pleasant man intent on making a joyful but tuneless noise, no doubt to support the joyful and tuneless praises of the praise team.

And so the service went on. I found myself becoming increasingly critical and increasingly disgruntled. Why were 60% of the people photographed in the Messenger (church magazine) white? This was an inaccurate representation. “Institutionally racist..” I muttered. Why is that woman letting her child run amok, up and down the aisles? Had she not read the Proverb about sparing rods and so forth? Why is the pianist so out of time? “They really should audition church musicians”..I thought. Why do West Indians always slide the second to last note of every song? “So unnecessary”, I sulked.

And then it hit me. It  is easy to love the church from a distance. It is easy to sit at home and have nostalgic ideas about the body of Christ. It is entirely different to be part of that body. I was sitting in my chair, criticising and complaining, when maybe God was trying to teach me about my own pride and arrogance. Sure, the stem cell thing was ridiculous, but so was my smug intellectual pride. Yes, the pianist was a bit out of time, but she was clearly trying, and at least she had kept up with her piano lessons, unlike an unnamed blogger who wasted a few hundred pounds and only has a poor rendition of Fur Elise to show for it. Maybe the woman with the unruly child had had a rough week, and simply lacked the energy to run around after him.

In the Screwtape letters by C.S Lewis, a demon writes to one of his understudies about his new Christian charge.

“When he gets to his pew and looks round him he sees just that selection of his neighbours whom he has hitherto avoided. You want to lean pretty heavily on those neighbours. Make his mind flit to and fro between an expression like ‘the body of Christ’ and the actual faces in the next pew.….. Provided that any of those neighbours sing out of tune, or have boots that squeak, or double chins, or odd clothes, the patient will quite easily believe that their religion must therefore be somehow ridiculous.”

The search for a “suitable” church makes the man a critic where God wants him to be a pupil. What he wants from the layman in church is an attitude which may, indeed, be critical in the sense of rejecting what is false or unhelpful but which is wholly uncritical in the sense that it does not appraise- does not waste time in thinking about what it rejects, but lays itself open in uncommenting, humble receptivity to any nourishment that is going.”

Do you sometimes find yourself being irritated or unnecessarily critical at church? How do you deal with it?

Peace x