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.

 

 

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

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

rosaparksnah

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