white dance

I can’t remember the exact day when I decided that it wasn’t my job to ‘break stereotypes’, but it should be marked as a day of rejoicing. It might have been somewhere between the time one of my consultants in medical school emailed me back to say of course I could have a day off to speak to the girls at my old secondary school because she understood why I would want to inspire those from less privileged backgrounds (I went to a private school), or the time my work colleague tried to fist bump me when I offered to check some blood results for him, but either way, the day came when I refused to participate in the lunacy any longer.

Growing up black and middle class, you’ll often experience that many  white people will treat you like a unicorn or at the very least, a mongoose. Something rare and unfamiliar. They are curious. What school did you go to? How are you so well spoken? Is the rest of your family like you? How have you managed to arise from the ashes of your inevitable council estate experience to the glorious present? View Post

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I made a Facebook status earlier today that said the attitudes of *some* Africans, and especially Nigerians towards Caribbeans had me questioning the idea of a global African identity. I also said (and I was called out for it, maybe rightly so), that the rise of Afrobeats and general popularity of (West) African culture in the mainstream has, in my opinion led to a rise in my African peers being openly negative towards Caribbeans and our culture.

If I’m honest, I was a bit in my feelings about various things I’d seen on the interwebs from my African (mostly Nigerian) brothers and sisters about Caribbean people and African Americans. There word ‘akata’ was flying around a lot. There were a few ugly stereotypes about Caribs being uneducated, lazy, drug dealers and having no respect for their elders.

But forget a one off internet session gone wrong. The tension between African and Caribbeans in the UK, and apparently between African Americans and Caribbeans and Africans (I know, it’s exhausting), in the U.S, has a long-ish history. View Post

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As far back as I can remember, my dream life has included an old Edwardian house with a massive back garden, 2 very cute children, and a very tall husband with kind eyes. The recurring image is generally of us, in the garden, him making mud pies with the kids and me pouring glasses of homemade lemonade into tiny plastic cups for them. It’s all very idyllic and archaic. Nowhere in this image is me hurriedly pouring the lemonade with a pair of A and E scrubs on, kissing my husband on the cheek and grabbing a child in each arm to hug them as I rush out the house to work.

The probability is that my future life is far more likely to be similar  to the second image, than the first.

The working mum isn’t a really a ‘thing’ anymore, is it?
Not many people raise their eyebrows  at the idea of a working woman having a couple of little ones at home. In a lot of circles, it’s assumed that you will go back to work after pregnancy, possibly take a year or two at the most.
All except conservative Christian (or other religious) circles.

Recently my denomination voted against women being ordained as ministers. It was a controversial vote mostly split along cultural lines. Many of  those in the West tended to be more in favour, and non- Western countries tended to be opposed to it. I haven’t studied it enough to make any informed commentary and so maintained a fairly neutral position although my natural tendencies lean towards being pro-ordination.

Aside from discussions about ordination, I was interested in the conversations about the different roles of women and men in the home and society. I’ve found Christian men have much more of a tendency to be in favour of my 1950’s daydream than other men. In fact, one of the women who spoke against women’s ordination stated that despite her current leadership position in a church organisation, that (loosely quoting from our denomination’s most important female leader) ‘her highest calling will be when she is a wife or mother’. Although I agree with the quote she used in it’s correct context –  I found it firstly, dismissive of those women who will never be called to be a wife or mother, and secondly, rooted less in sound theology and more in Victorian idealism.

The idea that your most important life work is to love and influence your immediate family is one that I subscribe to – but this is equally true of men and women. Interestingly enough, this argument is never used to prevent married men from occupying positions of leadership or demanding jobs even though the Biblical imperative to take care of your home first is actually directed at men and not women.

The concept of men going out to work and women staying at home is fairly modern concept. In times past, especially the time period  in which the Bible was written, men, women and children often worked alongside each other in the family business, women sold their wares at the market, and the concept of a ‘stay at home mum’ vs ‘working mum’ was non-existent. Women often worked from home, or took their children with them as they worked outside the home. Everyone pitched in to make enough money or produce for the family to survive – the family was a working unit.

My Mum worked in a demanding and fairly high powered job  for most of my childhood and I don’t feel like I missed out because she wasn’t “there” as much as she would have been if she had stayed at home. Like most Mums she’d managed the art of being ever present even in her absences. Sometimes she would bring me into work with her during school holidays and seeing her as a black woman in a senior management position was extremely empowering for me. I would sit at her desk in her office, spin around in her big chair and pretend that I was the boss.  I have no doubt that a major part of my confidence and success came from seeing my Mum at work. Also, I was fortunate enough to have great nannies who looked after me and my brother and my experience of the world was enriched by my time with them – I consider them to be part my family.

If I’m honest, if  I ever do have children  I do want to be at home, at least when my children are young. I’m even warming to the idea of home schooling. I’m uncomfortable with the idea of a stranger spending more time with my children at a young age than me, even if my own childhood experience of that was great. But if I am called to work outside of the home, that does not make me less ‘virtuous’ than if I stay at home.

I refuse to believe that God wanted me to get a medical degree simply to pass time while I wait for the right man to whisk me off my feet and provide me with an expensive set of cooking utensils to facilitate his fabulous career. I’m also very confused as to why women who are significantly more intelligent, innovative and able than some men shouldn’t share this with the world but instead should feel some sort of moral burden to stay at home, concocted from a hodgepodge mixture of Victorian ethics and misused Bible texts, instead of discovering the cure for sickle cell. Lastly, the idea that being a stay at home Mum isn’t a job in itself, is insulting. If a woman stays at home both parents are working – one is working inside the home and one is working outside. Both are equally viable choices that families should make for themselves – without being made to feel guilty for either.

What do you guys think?

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I am so completely and utterly bored with discussions about colourism in the black community, and I’m sure many of you are. #teamlightskin, #teamdarkskin, #teamyawn.

But here we are again. Why? Because it hasn’t gone away  and unfortunately the biggest barrier to dealing with colorism in the community is that most black men are either in denial about their colourism, or in denial about how negative the impact of colourism is.The proverbial hamster wheel keeps on spinning because the hamster will not get off the wheel and admit that it’s not going anywhere. Black men keep spinning their wheel, and in 2015, in the year of Lupita, we are still having this conversation.

I was chatting with my Mum yesterday on the phone and telling her that while I was examining  one of my patients that evening, she stopped me and said,”You really are so beautiful”. Looks aren’t everything but they’re something, and it really touched me that although this lady was sick she took the time out to compliment me in the middle of a stressful shift. When I thought about it, what struck me is that most of the compliments I’ve had about my appearance have been from white people. I regularly get complimented on my looks by patients and colleagues and at first I found it rather unsettling. Mainly because I don’t really think of myself as particularly more beautiful than the average woman with good concealer, but also because up until the age of 18, I genuinely thought I was ugly.

On further reflection, I can remember that most of the negative comments I’ve had about my appearance have been from black men. From being called downright ugly to being told I was “just average”. I don’t have an agenda to make black men look bad – my Dad is a black man, my brother is, the majority of my male friends are, and my preference is that my future life partner will be too. But if I truthfully relay my experience , although I have faced numerous instances of racism and discrimination from white people, the majority of the instances where someone has said the words ‘you are beautiful’ to me, that person has been white, and if they have been black it has been other black women.

I have no doubt that at least part of the reason for this is that I am a self identified dark skinned, milk chocolate woman. (Ironically, also the lightest person in my immediate family, to who my Dad once sniffed his nose at and said “well, you’re not realllly properly dark skinned so you wouldn’t understand”. I look back and laugh only because it exemplifies the often complex and ridiculous obsession black people have with the various wonderful hues we come in.)

As a dark skinned woman I already know that in my community I am not at the top of the totem pole when it comes to desirability. I’m not suggesting that the majority of black men don’t find dark skinned women attractive at all. My Dad is married to my Mum, who is also a dark skinned woman, and my brother has also dated dark skinned women. Unfortunately though, for some men, a light skinned woman who looks like Shrek (who is someone’s beautiful treasured Queen – so no shade to her) is more eligible than an average looking dark skinned woman.

The most ridiculous thing about this is that a lot of black men will either stay denying the colourism that is so prevalent amongst their counterparts with throwaway phrases like “a pretty woman is a pretty woman innit“, or “if you have self esteem then men will be attracted to you” (which is manifest nonsense – Precious can have all the self esteem in the world, but many men will still find her unattractive), or suggest that it’s not that big a deal – ‘it’s just their preference’. Ironically, many of these dark skinned men have a good chance of having a dark skinned daughter even if her mother is light.. I often wonder if, when their dark skinned teenage daughter is upset by her constant erasure in mainstream AND black media or being overlooked by teenage boys her age for her light skinned friend they will use the same redundant phrases to console her as they do for the dark skinned women their age? Will they tell her she needs more self esteem? Will they tell her that in terms of the problems facing the community, colourism is the least of our worries? Will they tell her to suck it up because it’s just their preference? If they have a light skinned daughter, will they appreciate her being treated as a trophy and objectified by younger men with the same attitude they had?

On Twitter, it’s sometimes horrifying to see how colourism and the objectifying of light skinned women spreads even to babies and young children. Grown black men will post pictures of lighter skinned babies with very disturbing statements about how they want their daughter to look. It’s never their sons they want to be light, it’s only their daughters – which effectively suggests that they want to create daughters that appeal to their own sexual preference. It’s just weird, and it shows how deeply rooted it is in some segments of our community.

What I don’t want to suggest is that every man who dates light skinned women does so because he is colourist. I applaud equal opportunity daters – men who date light, dark and in between, because they really do believe that a attractive woman (inside and out) is an attractive woman. And I know men like that. There are also men who simply will have light skin as an honest preference (although I do think it’s extremely difficult  to separate honest preference from the constant onslaught of colourism in society).

So what can be done?

Maybe controversially I think black women actually have a bigger part to play in this. Sadly, more black men are brought up by single black mothers  than in two parent households. If we want to deal with this cancer in our community, we cannot leave the formation of our children’s mindset on colour to chance. A healthy view of colour in a white supremacist society is the result of deliberate effort on the part of the parent. Yes, ideally black men should be equally involved in this but realistically they probably won’t be as much as women. So as black women (or white women with black/bi-racial sons) , we can make conscious efforts to promote positive images to our sons from an early age. It isn’t just a male problem – if we are the main parents for these men, the clearly we are also promoting colourism even if it impacts more directly in a negative way against us.

Secondly, I’ve begun to realise that on a personal level when a black man admits that he is colourist it’s probably far more useful to approach the conversation with understanding rather than instantly berating him for his preference. Colourism is something that most of us have to unlearn, but some of us do that work earlier than others. If someone admits that they are colourist and knows that it’s problematic, it’s much more progressive than the majority of men who are in complete denial and it’s the basis for some healthy conversation and growth.

Black women, does my experience ring true for you or not? Black men, is my analysis unfair? Everyone else, feel free to chime in also!

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Now I don’t advocate it, but watch any Tyler Perry movie and at least once, the “strong black woman” will pop up.

Typically the strong black woman has been through the fire, the flood and the broke black man. And the absent baby daddy. And the son who is a drug dealer who gets shot and gives his life to Jesus at the end of the film as he limps down the aisle while the strong black woman (who on top of her many responsibilities, also leads the church choir), sings her heart out.

You’ll often find this phrase circulating in memes round the internet. Black woman are STRONG. We are the originators of human life. The incubators of resilience. Black men ‘need’ a ‘strong black woman’ to lean on. White men who make videos about how much they love black women make various allusions to their ‘strength’.  This is seen as a positive thing. After everything we’ve been through, the double oppressions of racism and sexism, the constant invalidation and erasure, still like the phoenix, we manage to rise from the (strong) dark ashes.

Can I be honest? I think the ‘strong black woman’ stereotype/archetype is actually emotionally, spiritually and physically dangerous for black woman. View Post